Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Proof Is In The Fool

I love many things about being a teacher, but sometimes I look around and wonder: what do I have to show for all of this work? Final projects and end-of-term assessments only show what students have processed over the course of the semester; the real proof of effective teaching as far as I’m concerned is if six months, six years, sixty years later my students find themselves drawing on, being inspired by, work that they did in a class with me. I’m sure one of the reasons I so love to cook lies in the immediacy of the result. But this semester proof came in the form of an email asking to retrieve an old final project. Soon Robbin Crandall was in my office talking about her plans for pieces and ideas developed in the Food Writing course I taught last Fall. But actually, I can take little credit. Robbin is a foodie and a writer, an accomplished home cook with gourmet tendencies and patience for the aesthetics of presentation that I can only admire from afar. So it is with great pleasure that I introduce Robbin Crandall as a guest contributor. I think this will not be the last time we’ll hear from her.

“New England Spring-Summer Recipes”
by Robbin Lynn Crandall

Anyone who has spent any time at all in New England probably knows that some years, spring can tend to bleed into summer, with the lines of demarcation between the two being somewhat blurry and squishy. And along with that smudgy line between spring and summer, comes a pretty fuzzy line between spring and summer fruits and vegetables as well. But we just go ahead and give both seasons the benefit of the doubt because it is during both that we get some of the finest and most tender fruits and vegetables.

So if we have to go working in the mud of the garden a bit to get at that first tender spring bounty, then so be it. It’s worth it. For those of us who are a bit faint-hearted and know that digging around in the mud is not exactly our thing, there’s always the anticipation of the first open farmers’ market or farm stand. Oh, one will still likely encounter mud and have to go traipsing through it from the parking lot to the stand itself, but there’s a lot less to deal with in a parking lot than wrestling with it oneself out in the garden.

Here are a few of my favorite recipes that use those first lovely spring-summer fruits and vegetables: tender, young asparagus; succulent, red rhubarb; and plump, juicy raspberries; all of which are so plentiful during our best New England spring-summers. 
Smoked Turkey Salad with Raspberries and Asparagus

Inspired by the recipe in Country Living Magazine, June 1996
12 stalks (about ½ lb.) asparagus
Raspberry Vinaigrette (recipe follows)4 slices (4-oz.) smoked turkey breast, about ¼” thick each
4 c. mixed salad greens
½ c. (½ half-pint basket) fresh red raspberries

1. Trim and discard tough stems of asparagus stalks. (Once trimmed, if the ends are still tough or pithy, I also peel them a bit with a vegetables peeler.) In a 3-qt. saucepan, heat asparagus and enough water to cover to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook one minute. Drain asparagus in colander and set aside to cool to room temperature.
2. Prepare Raspberry Vinaigrette. Set aside in blender.
3. To serve, arrange three stalks asparagus side by side on each of four serving plates. Place one slice of turkey on top of asparagus. Cover stems of asparagus on each plate with one cup of salad greens. Divide fresh raspberries among serving plates. Pulse Raspberry Vinaigrette in blender several times; pour into pitcher and serve over salad.
Raspberry Vinaigrette:
In blender, blend: ¼ c. olive oil, 3 Tbls. raspberry vinegar, 2 Tbls. fresh raspberries, 2 tsps. sugar and 1/8 tsp. salt.
Serves: 4 main-course salads

¬Roasted Asparagus
Robbin Lynn Crandall

1 lb. asparagus
2 -4 Tbls. olive oil
Kosher salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Trim and discard tough stems of asparagus stalks. (Again, peel ends if necessary.) Cut into diagonal 1-inch pieces. Toss the asparagus in a bowl with the olive oil. There should be enough oil to coat the asparagus, but not enough to puddle in the bottom of the bowl.
2. Turn asparagus out onto a baking sheet and place in the oven. Roast for about 10-12 minutes, or until the asparagus is sizzling and is a bit wrinkly and browned, stirring once or twice.
3. Remove from oven, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper and serve.

Rhubarb-Ginger Fool

The original recipe, which I’ve modified, comes I think from somewhere in my cookbook collection, but I can’t seem to actually find it. Wherever it comes from, it is
guaranteed to delight rhubarb and ginger lovers alike!

1 ½ to 2 lb. rhubarb, ends trimmed (about 8-10 short stalks)¾ c. granulated sugar, more or less to taste
2 Tbls. chopped candied ginger
2 Tbls. freshly grated ginger
1-1 ½ c. heavy cream

If the rhubarb stalks are more than 1-inch thick, cut them in half lengthwise; trim ends. Cut the stalks into 1-inch long pieces. In a stainless-steel or non-stick Calphalon pan with a tight-fitting lid, combine the rhubarb, sugar, candied ginger, and fresh ginger.*** (You will be tempted to add water, but there’s no need to add any; though it will look dry at first, the rhubarb will release enough water to cook without scorching.) Cover and cook over low heat (if using the non-stick pan, start with a medium-high heat and lower once the rhubarb starts to bubble) until the rhubarb is tender and falling apart, about 30 minutes. Let cool and then refrigerate until well chilled.

Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Gently fold in the chilled rhubarb mixture until well combined. Spoon into serving glasses and chill until ready to serve. Decorate with mint leaves and/or extra pieces of chopped candied ginger, if desired.

Yield: 7 cups; serves 6.