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Make the most of spring's fresh crop of vegetables

| Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring 2011 is shaping up to be a normal year at farmers markets, unlike last year, when an early, warm spring meant lots of early produce. Here are some of the fresh vegetables that are available now or within the next weeks.

  • Arugula
  • Asparagus (end of April, early May)
  • Baby beets
  • Baby chard
  • Baby kale
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Leaf lettuces
  • Micro greens
  • Pea shoots
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower shoots (sprouts without the root)

Braised Chicken Thighs with Spring Vegetables

Preparation time: 10 minutes; total time: 30 minutes

The radishes lose a little of their bite and become slightly sweet when cooked. This recipe was adapted from "Real Simple Dinner Tonight: Done!" by Real Simple magazine (Time Home Entertainment, $24.95).

  • 8 small bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth
  • 12 medium radishes, halved
  • 3/4 pound carrots (about 4), cut into sticks
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 10 ounces spinach, tough stems removed
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Trim any excess skin from the chicken thighs.

In a Dutch oven or skillet large enough to hold all the chicken, heat the oil over medium-high heat.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add it to the pan, skin-side down, and cook until browned, for 6 to 7 minutes. Turn over and cook for another 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Spoon off and discard any fat. Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the broth and scrape up any brown bits from the pan with a spoon or spatula.

Stir in the radishes, carrots and sugar.

Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, partly cover and simmer until it is cooked through, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove chicken and vegetables from the skillet and keep warm. Add the green onions and raisins to the skillet, and cook for 30 seconds. Add the spinach and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing the spinach, until just wilted, for about 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice.

For each serving, place 2 thighs on a plate and sprinkle with chives. Surround with vegetables and spinach.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 326 calories, 16 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 71 milligrams cholesterol, 24 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams dietary fiber, 615 milligrams sodium.

Asparagus and Leek Tart with Goat Cheese

Preparation time: 10 minutes; total time: 1 hour

This tart works greats as a main dish served with mixed spring greens, or it can be cut into appetizer portions. The recipe was adapted from "Fine Cooking in Season" by editors and contributors of Fine Cooking magazine (Taunton Press, $22.95).

  • 5 slices bacon, diced
  • 2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, washed well, sliced
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), tough ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 sheet ( 1/2 pound) puff pastry, thawed
  • 5 ounces soft goat cheese (plain or herb), softened
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg yolk mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large nonstick skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp, for about 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pan. Add the leeks to the skillet and saute for about 2 minutes or until softened. Add the asparagus and cook over medium-high heat until the asparagus is crisp-tender, for about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the cooked bacon.

On a lightly floured piece of kitchen parchment, roll out the pastry to a 10-inch by 16-inch rectangle. Transfer the pastry, still on the parchment, to a baking sheet.

Evenly spread the softened goat cheese onto the pastry, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the asparagus mixture evenly over the goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the edge over and crimp for a decorative edge, if desired.

Brush the edge of the tart with the egg wash. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Cut into 6 pieces and serve warm.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 366 calories, 25 grams fat (7 grams satrated), 53 milligrams cholesterol, 13 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 469 milligrams sodium.

Creamy Spring Peas with Pancetta

Preparation time: 10 minutes; total time: 20 minutes

Substitute thick-sliced bacon for the pancetta, if desired. This recipe is from the Food Network magazine..

  • Water
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups shelled fresh English peas or 1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas
  • 1 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed of tough strings
  • 1/4 pound snow peas, trimmed of tough strings and thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups less-sodium, fat-free chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice water. If using fresh English peas, add to the boiling water and cook for about 1 minute. (Frozen peas are added later.) Add the snap peas and cook until bright green, for about 2 minutes, then add the snow peas and cook 30 seconds. Drain the peas and plunge into the ice water to cool.

In a large skillet, cook the pancetta over medium heat until crisp, for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon to drain. Add the flour to the drippings in the skillet and cook, whisking, for about 1 minute. Whisk in the chicken broth and cream, and cook until the mixture is reduced by one-third, for about 6 minutes.

Drain the peas, shaking off the excess water, then add to the skillet. (If using frozen peas, add them here.) Cook, stirring, until heated through, for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with the crispy pancetta.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 239 calories, 12 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 36 milligrams cholesterol, 14 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams dietary fiber, 800 milligrams sodium.

Spicy Pork with Asparagus and Jalapeno

Preparation time: 25 minutes; total time: 25 minutes

We used pork tenderloin when testing this recipe, and ground it in a food processor. Place the tenderloin in the freezer for about 20 minutes before slicing and grinding it so it doesn't turn to mush. The recipe is from Bon Appetit magazine.

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided use
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 12 ounces coarsely ground pork
  • 3 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided use
  • 12 ounces thin to medium asparagus spears, trimmed, cut on extreme diagonal into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 red jalapeno, minced with seeds
  • 1 tablespoon minced, peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced on diagonal
  • Water, if needed
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

In a medium-size bowl, whisk 1 tablespoon soy sauce, rice wine and cornstarch. Add the pork; toss to blend. In a wok or large deep skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil over high heat. Add the asparagus, jalapeno and ginger. Toss until the asparagus is crisp-tender, for about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus mixture to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the wok. Add the pork mixture and stir-fry until browned, using a spoon to break up any clumps of meat, for 2 to 3 minutes. Return the asparagus mixture to the wok. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, oyster sauce and honey; stir-fry until the pork is cooked through, adding water by tablespoonfuls if mixture is too dry, for about 2 minutes. Add the green onions; toss to incorporate.

Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 286 calories, 18 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 67 milligrams cholesterol, 21 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 1,287 milligrams sodium.

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