I'VE recently noticed a few little green shoots nosing their way out of the ground.
The mornings are lighter, the days are getting warmer, and spring can't be that far behind. At this time of year I always start to crave the light, fresh flavours associated with spring: young, tender asparagus, tangy salads of baby greens and tart-fruit desserts. While technically we have to wait a couple more weeks for the official start of the season, there's no reason to delay enjoying the tastes associated with nature's renaissance. Here's a menu to help you on your way.
ASPARAGUS & TOMATO TART
1 refrigerated pie crust (from a package of two; you could also use a frozen pie crust or make your own)
12 thin stalks of asparagus
4 cups of prewashed baby spinach (about two big handfuls)
12 grape tomatoes, cut in half
3 extra large eggs
2 ?3 cup light cream
½ clove of garlic, finely minced
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided use (I prefer the shredded variety to the powdery kind, but you can use that in a pinch) Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a nine-inch tart pan or pie plate; fit the pie crust inside, leaving a bit of excess sticking up over the rim (crust will shrink a bit when baking). Place a circle of parchment paper over the bottom of the pie crust and weigh down the paper with dried beans or pie weights (this prevents the crust from bubbling). Bake the crust for about 20 minutes or until it is light golden brown. Remove from oven and remove the pie weights and parchment. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus. Add the asparagus to a large saucepan of salted boiling water; cook for one minute, then remove asparagus with tongs and pat dry.
Add the spinach to the same water and then immediately drain into a colander and squeeze spinach dry.
In a medium bowl, mix together the eggs, cream, garlic and black pepper to taste. Cut the asparagus into two-inch lengths. Arrange the asparagus, spinach and cherry tomatoes in the pie crust; sprinkle with the basil and one-quarter cup of the Parmesan. Pour the egg mixture over top. Bake for 35 minutes or until filling is set. Remove from oven and sprinkle with the remaining quarter cup of Parmesan. Let tart cool to lukewarm (about 15 minutes) before serving. Push up on bottom of tart pan to release the tart. Makes four to six servings.
ASIAN PEAR & GOAT CHEESE SALAD
1 Tbsp finely chopped shallot
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 ?3 cup extra virgin olive oil Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste Salad:
6 cups mixed baby greens
½ cup crumbled goat cheese
1 ?3 cup toasted pecan halves
Half of a large Asian pear, core removed and cut into thin slices (you could substitute a firm but ripe regular pear or a tart green apple)
To make the vinaigrette, add all the ingredients to a small jar with a tight lid and shake vigorously. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add more vinegar, oil or sugar if necessary to reach desired flavour.
To assemble salad, place greens in a large bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. Place an equal portion on each of four plates; top each with equal portions of the goat cheese, nuts and Asian pear. Makes four servings.
TRIPLE BERRY YOGURT PARFAIT
4 cups mixed berries (blackberries, blueberries and raspberries are a good mix) save a few whole berries for garnish
4 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 Tbsp cold water
2½ cups plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp granulated sugar
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
Add the berries to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the water, butter and the two tablespoons of sugar; bring mixture to a boil. Allow to boil gently for about two minutes, stirring frequently. Add the cornstarch mixture, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for another two to three minutes, stirring until smoothly thickened. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Mix the yogurt, two teaspoons of sugar and lemon zest together.
To assemble parfaits, place about half an inch of the yogurt mixture in the bottom of four six-ounce wine glasses or parfait glasses; top with about half an inch of the berry mixture. Repeat the layers twice. Top each parfait with a couple of the reserved berries and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes four servings.
Angela Shellard is a self-professed foodie. She has done informal catering for sports and business functions and enjoys entertaining family and friends at home. Contact: email@example.com.