Friday, May 3, 2013

Jewels of Spring

I can hardly wait for the farmer's markets to open every spring.  Not only do I love the fresh fruits and vegetables, I'm also always on the lookout for a new variety or an unfamiliar food to try.  My local market has a lot of fruits and vegetables that you won't find in any store - I just ask the grower what they are, what they taste like, and how to cook them.  Most are very accommodating and will even give you a taste.  It's a great way to expand your horizons.  We also like to visit farmer's markets when we travel -  they're great photo ops as well as interesting places to buy local items to bring home.  (The picture at the top of my blog is from the market in Aix-en-Provence, France.)

Two of my spring favorites are familiar to everyone - asparagus and rhubarb.  I discovered a great recipe for an elegant Asparagus Soup that I want to share.  Since that's such a classic dish, I decided to feature something a little more off-the-wall for rhubarb than your typical muffin or crumble.  How about Chicken with Rhubarb Sauce?  Now that's different, as they say in the midwest.

First the asparagus soup - thickened with leek, zucchini and potato, it has a more complex flavor and is healthier than a cream of asparagus soup.  It's a really easy recipe if you have thin asparagus, otherwise you peel the stalks which takes a long time.  Try to avoid that unless you're feeling a need to be punished for something.

If you have a lot of asparagus or your asparagus is too thick for the soup recipe, check my blog archive at left for April (Asparagus Tart), January (Chicken and Asparagus Stir-Fry) and March (Spring Risotto) for other ideas.

On to the chicken with rhubarb sauce - boneless chicken thighs (or boneless skinless breasts if you prefer) flavored with orange, ginger, sherry, honey, cardamom and rhubarb. I served it over white rice and topped it with some fresh pea shoots I found at the market for fun.

* * click here for a printable Asparagus Soup recipe * *

Asparagus Soup
Serves 4 to 6

Note: potato and zucchini help thicken the soup and give it a creamy texture without any cream.

2 lb (two bunches) thin asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, sliced and washed
1 large potato, peeled and cut into large dice
3 cups chopped zucchini (about 2 large)
4 cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Trim the woody ends off the asparagus, then cut off the tips and reserve. If your asparagus is thin there’s no need to peel the stalks, otherwise they should be peeled to ensure the fibrous exterior doesn’t get in the soup. Cut the stalks into 1 to 2 inch pieces and set aside.

Bring some water to boil in a saucepan, add the asparagus tips, reduce the heat and simmer covered for 4 minutes. Remove from the water and immediately immerse the tips in ice water to stop cooking. Drain and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and sauté the leek for a few minutes. Add the potato, zucchini and asparagus stalks and continue to sauté for a few more minutes. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Puree the soup in a blender, working in small batches to prevent an explosion of hot liquid, and return to the soup pot. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, then add asparagus tips and bring to a simmer again before serving.

* * click here for a printable Chicken with Rhubarb Sauce recipe * *

Chicken with Rhubarb Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs (or can substitute chicken breasts)
Kosher salt
Black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium shallots, fineloy chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup dry sherry
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
¼ cup honey
¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice (from about 1 medium)
1 pound rhubarb stalks, medium dice

Preheat oven to 375d.

Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large oven-proof skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Place half the chicken thighs in the skillet and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Remove and repeat with the other half of the chicken.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the shallots, ginger, and cardamom. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until the shallots are soft, about two minutes. Pour in the sherry, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any brown bits, and reduce the liquid by half (about 3 to 4 minutes). Add the chicken stock, honey, and orange juice and stir. Add the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan, turn the chicken to coat, and bring to a boil.

Place the pan in the oven and cook until the sauce is vigorously bubbling around the sides and the chicken is cooked, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, scatter the rhubarb pieces between and around the chicken, and return the pan to the oven until the rhubarb is knife tender, about 15 minutes more.

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