A Verdant Table

Spring is here, and with it comes a flurry of freshness. Hearty green herbs are sure to add plenty of flavor into your kitchen.

Photos by Todd Douglas

The season’s best herbs, garlic and onions are the perfect way to introduce major flavor to your dishes without extra salt, sugar and fat. Searching local farmers markets for these garden beauties is half the fun, but if you can grow them in your own patch of dirt, even better!

Most cooks have no doubt used basil, rosemary and parsley in their kitchens. Cilantro proves to be either loved or hated with equal gusto. It leaves behind a soapy aftertaste for about 10 percent of the population, but those who enjoy it can’t get enough. The herb is perfect in Latin dishes, Mediterranean cooking and Asian cuisine of all stripes.

There are hundreds of varieties of mint, and besides tasting great and improving our breath, the herb has dozens of medicinal uses as well. It is an obvious addition to desserts and cocktails, but when used in savory dishes and raw salads, it is especially exciting. Use mint, cilantro and basil together in Southeast Asian dishes such as lettuce wraps, summer rolls and our fresh Thai Summer Roll Salad, pictured above, for a burst that will wake up your palate after a long winter.

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You might have thought the bulb of a garlic plant was the only part you could consume, but, like most vegetables, the entire plant is both edible and delicious. You rarely see the stalks, leaves and flowers in grocery stores because they do not travel well or last long on the shelf. However, this month they can all be found at your local farmers market. Garlic scapes, used here in our pizza recipe, are the flower and stem of the garlic plant. Farmers remove the scape so the plant can send all its energy into the development of the bulb. The entire scape is edible and has a mild garlic flavor. Admired for their dramatic curly stalks, they can be chopped and sautéed with most any dish, and they make a wonderful pesto that can be frozen for later use. To extend their long shelf life, keep in a glass of water in the refrigerator.

Spring onions are simply regular onions harvested before a mature bulb develops. Seedlings are planted in the fall and are ready for market in the spring, thus the name. They resemble large green onions and have a flavor that is milder than mature onions and more tender than leeks. They are often culled from the field to make room for other onions to mature, and this surplus certainly does not go to waste!

While plenty of herbs can be found year-round at your local grocer, some specialty items are only available for a short time. Get out there and visit your farmers market today and get your kitchen buzzing with green vibes.

Thai Summer Roll Salad

Inspired by Asian summer rolls, where herbs and raw veggies are rolled up in a soft rice paper wrapper, this salad boasts bold flavors. The quinoa gives a protein boost, and the spiralized zucchini adds bite. It makes a tasty entree when topped with roasted shrimp, chicken or salmon.

2 zucchini, spiralized or thinly grated
2 cups chopped kale
2 cups cooked quinoa
Peanut Dressing (see below)
1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced into thin strips
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons each fresh basil, mint and cilantro, thinly sliced
2 scallions, chopped
1 lime, cut into 4 pieces

1. In a large bowl, combine the zucchini, kale and quinoa. Top with half of the dressing (or to taste) and toss to coat.
2. Divide the salad between 4 plates and top with red bell pepper, almonds, herbs and scallions. Drizzle a small amount of dressing over salad and save the leftovers in the refrigerator for another use. Serve with a lime wedge. Serves 4.

Peanut Dressing

2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1-inch knob of ginger, grated
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup almond milk
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha
water, as needed

1. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Add a tablespoon of water as needed to thin out the dressing until pourable.

Garlic Scape White Pizza

Plan ahead so this pizza crust recipe has time to rise, but it is easy to roll out and shape. Time saving trick: Make the dough the night before, and let it rise in the refrigerator until ready to use.

1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon liquid honey
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon medium ground cornmeal
1 cup ricotta cheese, divided
kosher salt, freshly cracked pepper
1 bunch garlic scapes, tough ends trimmed
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, yeast and honey. Stir to combine, then let sit until foamy. Add 1 cup of
flour, salt and olive oil. Mix with a dough hook until dough comes together in a ball. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, if needed, and work it in. Rub a clean bowl with olive oil, then place the dough inside, turning to coat. Cover with a towel and put in a warm place to rise for 2 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the upper third. Place a pizza stone in the oven to preheat.
3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll it as thin as possible with a rolling pin.
4. Remove the hot pizza stone from the oven. Sprinkle cornmeal over the stone. Transfer dough to the stone. Spread 3/4 cup ricotta over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Lay garlic scapes over the ricotta and top with Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses. Drizzle with olive oil.
5. Put the stone back in the oven and bake pizza until garlic scapes are tender, cheese is browned and bubbly and the crust is deep brown, about 15 minutes. 6. Remove pizza from oven and top with dollops of the remaining ricotta. Let pizza cool slightly before slicing. Serves 2 – 4.

Green Pea Soup with Mint

While frozen green peas are certainly available year round, it is a real treat to find freshly shelled peas in springtime. The mint amps up the flavor factor, and your garnish options are endless.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 leeks, chopped, white and light green parts
1 cup chopped yellow onion
4 cups chicken stock
5 cups freshly shelled peas
2/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sour cream
optional garnishes: freshly chopped chives, toasted croutons, small dollop of sour cream, crispy fried onion straws

1. Heat the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and onion, and cook over medium-low heat for 5 – 10 minutes, until the onion is tender. Add the chicken stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add the peas and cook for 3 – 5 minutes, until the peas are tender.
2. Remove pot from the heat and add the mint, salt and pepper.
3. Puree the soup in batches in a blender on low speed. Whisk in the sour cream and add additional salt and pepper, if desired. Serve warm with optional garnishes. Serves 6. Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

Grilled Spring Onions with Romesco Sauce

This is a traditional dish from Barcelona known as calçotades. Spring’s first green onions are grilled over a large fire, then wrapped in newspaper and sold by the bundle. To eat, simply grab an onion by the dark green leaves with your bare hand, peel away any charred outer layer that is not to your liking and drag the bulb end through a bowl of smoky romesco sauce. Then tilt your head back, pop it all in and enjoy.

4 bunches spring onions
olive oil
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
​Romesco Sauce (see below)

1. Preheat charcoal grill or electric grill to high heat.
2. On a large baking pan, combine the spring onions, olive oil, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat. Transfer the onions to the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until the onions are soft and have char marks, 10 – 12 minutes.
3. Transfer the onions to a platter and serve immediately with the Romesco Sauce for dipping. Serves 8. Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

Romesco Sauce

1 large plum tomato, halved and seeded
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and quartered
1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves in their peel
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 thick slice country bread, crusts removed
4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place tomato, bell pepper and yellow onion on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss to coat. Roast for 40 minutes, adding the garlic during the last 10 minutes of roasting. Transfer to a shallow bowl, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let stand for 20 minutes. Remove skins from the tomato, bell pepper and garlic.
2. Heat a small, dry sauté pan on medium-low and add the almonds. Toast until golden brown, 10 minutes. Remove almonds from pan and set aside. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the same pan, and once heated, fry the bread until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Let the bread cool, then tear into pieces.
3. In a food processor, combine the almonds, bread, vinegar, paprika, cayenne, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and roasted vegetables and blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Sauce will keep in refrigerator for 5 days.​

Herb Crusted Rack of Spring Lamb

2 large racks of Lamb
Kosher Salt to taste
Fresh cracked pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 slices of stale bread, made into crumbs
7 tablespoons grated parmesan (roughly 1/2 a cup)
3 sprigs fresh parsley
2 sprig fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons creamy dijon mustard 

1. Place lamb on cutting board fat side up. Remove excess fat to your liking and trim down the bones, making ‘lolipops’. Allow lamb to come to room temperature.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
3. Lightly score the chops with a sharp knife. Generously sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper until it is thoroughly coated.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large cast iron skillet or oven-proof pan on the stove top on medium high heat. Place the lamb in the pan and sear it, rotating, until lightly browned on all sides.
5. Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees for medium rare.
6. Place 1 tablespoon olive oil and all the remaining ingredients except the mustard into a food processor and pulse until pureed and bright green. Pour the mixture onto a plate and set aside.
7. Remove the lamb from the oven and brush generously with dijon. Dip the lamb into the herb mixture, coating it completely.
8. Return to the oven for 5 minutes to brown the crust. Remove from oven and allow meat to rest at room temperature for 5 minutes. Slice and serve. Serves 4.

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