By David Tanis, The New York Times
Spring may not be here quite yet, but I’m more than ready for it. Ready for lighter, brighter colors and flavors. Ready for clear skies. Ready for a dinner that tastes like spring, verdant and hopeful.
Wild dandelion is abundant in the spring, as any forager will tell you. Dandelion has been valued for medicinal purposes for centuries, long considered to be a cleansing tonic, used in teas, soups and tinctures. The tender young leaves are prized for salads.
Nowadays, you can buy organic cultivated dandelion from California in supermarkets around the United States, sold in half-pound bunches. It has a pleasant, prominent bitterness, best paired with a zesty dressing, such as the mustard-based one used in this menu. (Dandelion is also very good with a sharp anchovy dressing.) You’ll want to look for bunches with smaller leaves here; large leaves are better for cooking. Substitute sturdy, peppery arugula or radicchio if you wish. With its earthy marinated beets, chèvre and walnuts, this is a flavorful salad, eminently suitable for a light lunch. But here, it’s refreshing as a first course, a perfect beginning to the meal.
For a main course, I craved a mild chicken dish. I imagined it with a rich broth simmered down to make a gorgeous white gravy, finished with a dollop of crème fraîche and showered with a heady mixture of parsley, chives, tarragon, dill and lemon zest.
Loosely based on the French preparation (usually of veal or chicken) known as blanquette, this comforting recipe will please anyone who likes a chicken potpie, with its similar flavors made more elegant. It’s not hard to cook, but it does take time and patience.
Ideally, this dish celebrates fresh spring vegetables and herbs, too, but we’re pushing the season a bit. I felt just fine using peas, artichoke hearts and lima beans from the freezer, and I picked up young carrots and turnips at the market. The vegetable combinations can, of course, be altered to taste or be fewer in number. This is the abundant company version.
My repertoire of sweet lemon recipes is limited. As it happened, my friend, the Irish pastry chef JR Ryall, was in town recently, with his new cookbook, “Ballymaloe Desserts,” for which I wrote the foreword. It contains a recipe for a homey hot lemon pudding, a dessert I thought would be just right as an ending for this spring meal. He even showed me how to make it — not difficult.
It is not a soufflé, but it has a similar airy feel. The batter is poured into a baking dish or small ramekins. As it bakes, the pudding separates into distinct layers, custardy on the bottom and spongy on top. Served warm from the oven, golden and dusted with confectioners’ sugar, with a dab of softly whipped cream, it’s a satisfying experience, spoonful by spoonful.
Recipe: Dandelion-Beet Salad
By David Tanis
Wild dandelion greens are abundant in the spring, and you can find the organic cultivated ones from California in most supermarkets. They have a pleasant bitterness and are best tossed with a zesty dressing like the one here. But if you cannot find dandelion greens, you can also substitute sturdy, peppery arugula or watercress.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 20 minutes
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice (from 1 large lemon) or use sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 medium beets, cooked, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
- 1 bunch tender dandelion greens (about 1/2 pound), washed, dried and bottoms trimmed
- 1 (4-ounce) log plain goat cheese (chèvre), in 1/4-inch-thick slices
- 3/4 cup toasted walnut pieces
1. Make the vinaigrette: Put 3 tablespoons lemon juice in a small bowl. With a fork, whisk in mustard to dissolve. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside.
2. Season the beets: Put beet wedges in a wide, low bowl or baking dish. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice or sherry vinegar. Add 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette and toss well. Let marinate for at least 10 minutes. Taste before serving: They may need more salt and acid.
3. To serve, put dandelion leaves in a large mixing bowl. Add a pinch of salt and half of the remaining vinaigrette and toss to coat. Taste and add more vinaigrette to your preference. Pile salad onto a platter or individual plates. Top with beets and goat cheese in a random pattern. Sprinkle with walnuts.
Recipe: Creamy Chicken and Spring Vegetables
By David Tanis
Based on the French preparation known as blanquette, this light, comforting dish will please anyone who likes chicken potpie. It’s meant to celebrate fresh spring vegetables and herbs, but frozen peas, lima beans and artichokes are also fine here. The vegetable combinations can be altered to taste or to be fewer in number. This is the version for company, with its savory white gravy enriched with white wine. A dollop of crème fraîche is added just before serving, along with a shower of fragrant fresh herbs. There are a lot of ingredients listed, but it’s not hard to put together this elegant meal.
Yield: 6 servings
Total time: 2 hours
- 8 medium boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds), patted dry
- Salt and black pepper
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- Neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable, for browning the chicken
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- A tiny pinch of ground cayenne
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 4 slender long carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths
- 8 very small turnips, with tops if possible
- 2 cups sliced white button or King (royal) mushrooms
- 1 medium leek, white and tender green parts, in large dice
- 1 cup small green peas, thawed if frozen
- 1 cup small lima beans, thawed if frozen
- 1 cup small artichoke hearts, thawed if frozen (not canned)
- 1/2 cup crème fraîche
For the Herb Topping:
- 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
- 1 tablespoon tarragon leaves
- 1 tablespoon dill
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1. Lay the chicken thighs in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Season generously on both sides with salt and pepper. With fingers, a fine-mesh sieve or sifter, dust the thighs very lightly with flour, then shake off any excess.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a deep, wide skillet or, preferably, a Dutch oven over medium. When oil is wavy, add 3 or 4 thighs to the pan, making sure not to crowd them. Cook thighs gently for about 5 to 8 minutes, turning with tongs about halfway through, just until faintly browned, then transfer to a clean plate. Repeat with remaining thighs. Set thighs aside and wipe out the pan.
3. Add 2 tablespoons butter to the pan. When it sizzles, add onion, and season with salt and pepper, stirring to coat. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until completely softened but not browned, about 8 to 10 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary.
4. Raise heat to medium-high. Add wine, tomato paste, bay leaf, nutmeg and cayenne. Stir to combine and continue cooking until wine has evaporated, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons flour over the mixture and stir well. When the mixture begins to dry out, add 2 cups broth, whisking rapidly as the mixture begins to thicken. When it begins to simmer, whisk in 2 more cups, then repeat with the final 2 cups.
5. Add the thighs and any accumulated juices to the pot and bring everything to a gentle simmer. Cover, leaving lid ajar. Cook until thighs are tender when probed with a fork, about 40 minutes. Remove chicken. Reduce broth over medium-high heat to a gravylike consistency, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes.
6. Skim any rising surface fat. Taste and adjust seasoning. Turn off heat.
7. Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add carrots and simmer for 6 to 9 minutes, until tender. Remove and set aside. Now cook the turnips for about 5 minutes, until tender, then remove and add to carrots. Drain the pot, wipe out and set aside vegetables.
8. When ready to serve the vegetables, in the same pot, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and leek, and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes without browning. Add peas, limas, artichokes, carrots and turnips. Season vegetables with salt and pepper, and stir gently to combine. Add 1 cup water and put on the lid. They should all be heated through in 5 to 6 minutes.
9. To serve the chicken, return thighs to sauce and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the crème fraîche. Prepare the herb topping: Mix herbs and lemon zest in a small bowl.
10. Transfer chicken and sauce to a serving bowl or individual shallow bowls. Sprinkle with herb mixture. Garnish with some of the vegetables; pass the rest in a separate dish, leaving the liquid behind.
Recipe: Baked Lemon Pudding
Recipe from JR Ryall
Adapted by David Tanis
My repertoire of sweet lemon recipes is limited, but, as it happened, my friend, the Irish pastry chef JR Ryall, was in town, with his new cookbook “Ballymaloe Desserts,” for which I wrote the foreword. It contains a recipe for a homey hot lemon pudding. It’s not a soufflé, but it has a light, airy feel. And, as it bakes, it separates into distinct layers, custardy on the bottom and spongy on top.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 1 hour
- 1 tablespoon/15 grams unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/225 grams granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
- 3 tablespoons/30 grams all-purpose flour
- 2 large lemons, grated and juiced (about 2 tablespoons zest and 6 tablespoons juice)
- 1 cup/250 milliliters whole milk
- Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
- Softly whipped cream, for serving
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and set a rack in the middle of the oven.
2. Place butter in a medium mixing bowl. Gradually add sugar as you mash the mixture with a wooden spoon until it looks like damp sand.
3. Mix egg yolks into sugar mixture, then beat in the flour. Add lemon zest and juice, then whisk in the milk.
4. In a separate clean large bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold whites by hand gently into batter.
5. Pour mixture into a 5-cup ceramic or glass baking dish (or Pyrex pie plate). Bake in the middle of the oven for about 40 minutes, or until mixture is just set and top is golden brown. (Alternatively, bake in individual ramekins or custard cups for about 20 minutes.)
6. Serve warm, dusted with confectioners’ sugar, with softly whipped cream alongside.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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