“April, April – der macht, was er will” is an old farmers’ saying around these parts. Roughly translated, it means April does what April wants. Which is generally fine by the locals, because of two things. The first is another maxim: “Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, nur falsche Kleidung!” (There is no bad weather, just the wrong clothing!) And second: the only unacceptable spring is a spring without asparagus.
German food culture is pretty resolutely seasonal. That’s been loosening up more in the last couple of years, but there are some things you just don’t bother with out of season. Asparagus, Bärlauch (aka ramps, ramson or wood garlic) and rhubarb are really only available in spring. Some things like spring onions and spinach are always around, but you can tell by their snappy texture and extra sweetness that this is when they really shine. So put on your Übergangsjacke, throw a café blanket over your lap and get those spring treats while supplies last.
This is a pretty basic pasta salad preparation, with a few tweaks for my palate. I got the original recipe from a food blog called From Away which has now evolved into Mealhack. I blanch the asparagus with the pasta for the last minute or so and started dressing the pasta warm after reading this list of tips. You can change up the proportions of vegetable to starch to suit your own tastes. And if you can, make it a day before you plan to eat it. The flavors improve with time.
1 T olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb/250 g orzo
1 lb/500 g green asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-pieces
2/3 lb/300 g marinated artichoke hearts
10-15 oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and cut into strips
juice and zest of one lemon
1/4 c/55 mL sherry vinegar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/3 c/75 mL olive oil
Small deep bowl
In a small skillet, heat a bit of olive oil to medium. Add shallot and garlic and cook until tender and fragrant. Remove shallot and garlic to a small deep bowl. Add lemon zest and juice, vinegar, salt and pepper to bowl. While whisking, drizzle in rest of olive oil. Set aside.
Cook orzo in salted water for 1 minute less than package directs. Add asparagus to orzo for last 2 minutes of cook time maximum! You want the asparagus to be bright green and still a little crispy when you drain the pasta. Drain the orzo and asparagus well and immediately pour into a large salad bowl. Toss orzo with about 2/3 of the dressing. Add artichokes and tomatoes, toss with the rest of the dressing and adjust seasonings if necessary. Cover the bowl with a towel and let cool. Once the salad is room temperature, cover with plastic and chill in fridge for at least 3 hours, preferrably overnight.
1/2 lb/250 g fresh baby spinach, rinsed and spun dry
1 jar pickled beets
1/2 c/100 g feta cheese, crumbled
toasted walnuts (optional)
grilled sliced chicken (optional)
1-2 t mustard
1/2 clove garlic, lightly crushed
salt and pepper to taste
3 T sherry vinegar
6 T olive oil
pinch of sugar or a few drops of honey (optional)
herbes des Provence, ground (optional)
All the bowls
A jar (if you don’t have an almost-empty mustard jar)
I like to keep the salad components separate and assemble it into my bowl. So pile your rinsed spinach into a big bowl, another small bowl for your feta crumbles, something else for your crunchy components and so on. I don’t even bother draining the beets, rather I just fish a few out with my fork, but you can pour the beets into a small sieve.
For the dressing, if you’re lucky enough to have an almost empty jar of mustard: congratulations! You won’t waste a bit of it. Otherwise, use a clean, sealable jar. The jar should have 1-2 teaspoons of mustard remaining in it; I usually use a honey dijon, but whatever you like will work here. Add the gently smushed clove of garlic, and salt and pepper to the jar, then pour in the vinegar. Whisk the mixture together with a fork, just to make sure it’s mostly combined, then pour in the oil. Now screw the lid on and shake it like it owes you money. Taste it for seasoning adjustment (a sweet element is nice here) and watch out for that garlic when you pour.
Once you’ve got all your fixins prepped, throw a couple handfuls of spinach into a bowl. Top with the beets, cheese and assorted goodies. Drizzle the whole mess with dressing and enjoy.
Toasted Walnuts: Grab a small cookie sheet or an oven safe skillet. Preheat your oven to 350°F/175°C. Scatter a couple handfuls of walnut pieces on your dry pan (there should be space between them). Roast the nuts for about 10 minutes; you should start to smell them for the last few minutes and they’ll darken a little. Don’t go much over 10 minutes, they’re likely to burn.
Croutons: This is a little more involved, but once you know how, you’ll never throw out stale bread again. Take half a loaf of whatever decent bread is around and cut it into bite-size cubes (I like baguette or ciabatta for this). Spread the cubes on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Put in a barely warm oven (210°F/100°C) and let toast for about an hour. The cubes will shrink as they dry, but you don’t want them to brown. After an hour, grab a bread cube and try it; when it’s crunchy all the way through, they’re done. Put the cubes in a large bowl, drizzle and toss with olive oil. Now heat a large skillet to medium and cut one small garlic clove into 3-4 slices. Pour enough olive oil to cover skillet surface and add garlic, heating until the garlic starts to sizzle. Now, add your bread cubes to the skillet, tossing until well coated in oil. Sprinkle croutons with a couple pinches of salt and a few generous cranks of fresh ground pepper. I like to add herbes des Provence as well, but you do you. After seasoning, stir the cubes around; they should be starting to brown nicely. Brown them on a couple more sides, then remove to a bowl to cool. Pick out the garlic slices; they infused the oil and we respect them for their sacrifice, but they’re probably unpleasantly bitter. In an airtight package, the croutons will keep for a few days. They’re great with soups, too.
Grilled Marinated Chicken: I found this marinade at The Whole Cook. It worked beautifully, even on notoriously finicky pounded chicken breasts. I halved the recipe (it’s for 6 whole breasts), assembled the marinade in a Ziploc bag, dropped the chicken in, squished it around and forgot about it in the fridge for a couple of hours. Then we fired up the grill to high and my Pitmaster grilled it for about 3 minutes on each side. Remove chicken to a cutting board to rest for a few minutes, then slice. The vinegar flavor is pronounced, just FYI, so use one you like.
I’ve tried lots of ramp recipes, but the mania about this ingredient didn’t really make sense to me until I found this one. The prep method for the ramps really brought out a fun intensity of flavor.
This Nigella recipe calls for frozen peas, but if you want to grab some lovely fresh ones and (ugh) shell ’em, it will only be more delicious. The only thing I’d change is to add tons of freshly ground black pepper.
Grilling season is well-and-truly here, so how are you going to add interest to the meat parade? This is excellent on a cheeseburger. I need to try it again with red onions, but it’s low effort with humble ingredients for a really impressive result. And if you’re a canner, this might make a fun gift.
Back to Budget Bytes for this beauty. I made a few adjustments (mainly using two whole bunches of robust spring onions and cooking them and some garlic and ginger with the meat), but the base recipe is very solid.
I know I’m jumping the gun, but I already did my rhubarb thing last month and I’m not repeating recipes for the life of this project (gotta have a framework, right?). I got some EU strawberries that I smelled from an aisle away, so I say they count. Are the local ones coming in next month better? Natüüüüürlich. This recipe succeeds brilliantly as a transportable treat, so think about this when you get tasked with dessert for a grill party.