Monday, March 23, 2009

springing forward

Several years ago, when I was an intern at Southern Living, the magazine's garden editor said, "Spring's about to explode any day now." It was the end of March and the seasons hadn't quite changed yet in Alabama. Being a life-long Floridian (winter who?), I had never experienced spring before, and I thought that was a strange choice of words for something I imagined to be so soft, so delicate, so light. But he was right. Spring does explode. After months and months of bare branches—wham!—the trees are suddenly covered with yellow-green leaves and little blossoms that fall like confetti all over the sidewalk. First comes the shockingly yellow forsythia, then tiny little snowdrops, Easter egg-colored crocuses, then daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, and my favorite, cherry blossoms. Now that I've lived through several New York springs, I know how the colors and aromas (and pollen, unfortunately) can be a whack to your senses after winter's bleak cold. The garden editor was spot-on, as he was with everything else nature-related, and I always think of him this time of year.

Spring officially began on Friday, but you wouldn't know it here. It's still kind of grey and chilly and drab outside. (These photos are from last year.) Little green things are just starting to push out of the soil--yesterday I saw a sunny patch of daffodils and almost cried--and tree branches are still dotted with hard, knobby buds. I know change isn't far off, but it feels like spring is really dragging its heels. I have a theory that the dismal state of the economy has made this winter feel even longer and more treacherous. Obviously the return of spring won't help my unemployed friends find jobs or get the stock market to stabilize, but there's something sightly helpful about it mentally. I'd like the illusion of turning a new leaf, at least.

So I'm taking matters into my own hands and moving on. No more roasted vegetables, no more puffy coat. See ya, electric blanket. Last weekend, I wore my lightest jacket (I was a little cold, but whatever) and went to the grocery store, where I grabbed a bunch of skinny, bright green asparagus, radishes, fragrant chives, and some ruby red rhubarb, the first I've seen since last summer. What I made with these ingredients was nothing complicated or especially special, but dinner tasted so good and fresh. It is exactly what I want to eat right now. Hello, spring.

Tuna, asparagus, and new potato salad with chive vinaigrette and fried capers
Do you notice anything missing in the photo? Tuna, perhaps? I was so absorbed in chopping and blanching the veggies that I completely forgot to add the tuna. But this salad (from Bon Appetit's March issue) is so good, I didn't even realize it was missing until I brought our dirty dishes back into the kitchen and noticed the unopened can of tuna sitting there on the counter. D'oh! There's so many delicious little things going on in this salad we didn't even miss it, although the tuna does make it a more substantial meal. Which might keep you from doubling up on dessert. Not that we did that.

A few notes: I love BA, but sometimes its instructions can be a little wonky. I simplified the vegetable and egg cooking process by just keeping one pot of water boiling on the stove, to which I added and removed ingredients. I also dressed the veggies and lettuce in one bowl; so much easier than doing everything separately.
(Serves 4)

For the vinaigrette:
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
cup Champagne vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
small shallot, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. honey
tsp. Dijon mustard
cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad
1 1/2
lbs. thick asparagus, stems peeled (I used thin and skipped the stem peeling step)
1 1/4
lbs. baby red potatoes, halved or quartered
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup capers, drained, patted dry
8 oz. mixed spring greens
16 large radishes, trimmed, very thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
3 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled, quartered
12 oz. imported tuna packed in oil, drained
Chive blossoms (optional)

For the vinaigrette:

Puree first 5 ingredients in blender until smooth. With machine running, gradually add vegetable oil, then olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the salad:
Cook asparagus in large skillet of boiling salted water until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Use tongs to transfer the asparagus to 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan (or large bowl) of ice water to cool. Drain asparagus and pat dry. Keep the water boiling

Place the potatoes and eggs in the boiling water. Cook until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on size of potatoes. Drain and transfer the potatoes and eggs into a large bowl of ice water (use the one for the asparagus but refill with cold water and ice). Let cool 5 minutes then drain. Crack the eggs and remove the shells. Slice into quarters and set aside. Place the potatoes in a large bowl with the radishes and the greens. Add 1/3 cup vinaigrette; toss to coat. Add 1 more tablespoon vinaigrette if dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the capers:
Heat olive oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add capers and fry until capers are crisp and open like flowers, stirring often, 45 to 60 seconds. Using slotted spoon, transfer capers to paper towels to drain.

Plate the greens, potatoes, and radishes prettily on plates. Add the eggs, tuna, and asparagus on top. Drizzle some vinaigrette over the tuna. Sprinkle with the fried capers and chive blossoms if you have them (I didn't).


Ulla said...

Gorgeous blog post! i can barely wait for spring:)
The salad looks wonderful too!

brooke said...

i love crispy fried capers as a garnish - they make any dish seem extra special. your salad looks delicious.

Daniel said...

Just keep repeating to yourself, "out like a lamb, out like a lamb, out like a lamb." That's what I did on my way to work this morning when it was 29 degrees outside.

Vanessa said...

I feel for you! But it'll be here before you know it.

Isn't that funny about bon appetit? My friend got me a Gourmet subscription right when I started cooking more, and I always had wished she'd gotten me BA since I thought it was easier. But then I re-subscribed to Gourmet and added on BA (as per their clever promo) and now that I can compare the two side-by-side, Gourmet seems much more user-friendly, despite all of BA's attempts at comparative accessibility. Oh well, so many cooking magazines, so little time!

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way. I want to put away the sweaters and soup recipes and get spring/summer going! It's clear but cold here in SF but it feels not too far away.

Lisa said...

Ulla: Thank you!

Brooke: I am addicted to fried capers. I want to put them on my cereal.

Daniel: I've been thinking the same thing! Nice to think about little fuzzy lambs when you're on your way to work, half-frozen.

Vanessa: I'm so jealous you're already experiencing spring. Although Santa Rosa seems pretty nice year-round.

And yes, to the strangeness of BA recipes. Love the magazine, but I always read their recipes all the way through before making them, something I don't always do with other recipes. Which I should, I guess...

Vanessa said...

Santa Rosa is pretty but you don't get that desperate, grateful, excitement that you get in NY upon spring's arrival. Like you tearing up at the daffodils, etc. My mom's birthday is April 30 and I can't tell you how infuriating it was to have to leave NY that week to visit her in FL, after so many months of relentless miserable weather. Inevitably, I always had to be on my way to the airport during that one amazing week when all the cherry blossoms are in bloom and everyone is leaving work early to go have afternoon cocktails outside in sidewalk cafes. I was like Sanibel, schmanibel! And you know I love Sanibel.

Phoo-D said...

Love the salad and spring photos! I've been wearing my thinest coat so I share your sentiment of protesting the cold. Thanks for stopping by - I'm glad I found your blog too!

Paulita said...

great post Lisa

It seems like ages ago you were in Alabama (I remember when you left)

Lisa said...

Deelish Dish: Nice to know it's not only the east coast that's suffering.

Vanessa: You hit the nail on the head with "desperate, grateful excitement". But I think I'd still take Sanibel over NY spring.'s a toss-up.

Phoo-D: Hi! Thanks for posting. I really like your blog.

MMP: Yeah, it seems like ages ago to me too. It kind of was!


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