Friday, March 20, 2009

Flavors of Spring

The first wild iris are blooming at work in the woods, the birds are singing up a storm most mornings and the forsythia bush is beginning to have branches with bright yellow flowers dancing up and down. Driving around and about lots of daffodils are seen and our ancient cherry tree is putting on it's short annual floral show. Spring...official starting today.

One of my favorite flavors of spring is asparagus. Those green spears which turn brighter green when cooked are crisp and somehow taste green to me. Grandma L brought us some Meyer lemons, too. Although I think of winter as the citrus season, there are lots of Meyer lemons around when spring arrives.

A great dinner using these two ingredients and a few others was a hit this week with Sweetie. Chicken breasts can be pretty bland on their own, but perk up a lot when covered with a layer of thinly sliced lemons, splashed with some chicken broth, then set to cook over low heat until cooked through and browned a bit as the broth evaporates. We don't usually eat the lemon slices, but they look pretty on the plate with the chicken and a wonderful pasta and asparagus dish.

The asparagus dish is a little more complex. Pasta, usually linguine but this time angel hair style, is cooked and some of the cooking water is mixed with ricotta cheese to make a sauce. While that is happening, asparagus pieces are cooked until al dente and bright green. It all gets mixed together, seasoned, and topped with fluffy drifts of grated real Parmesan Reggiano.

Enjoy the flavors of spring in any way you can, even if there is still a nip in the air and snow on the ground in places. Spring is partly a way of relating to the world as much as a true season. Happy spring to each and every one of you.

Pasta with Ricotta and Asparagus
from the Mediterranean Diet Cookbook

3/4 lb tender young asparagus
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
(optional - 2 tablespoons fresh mint, minced)
1 pound long pasta - fettuccine, linguine, spaghetti, angel hair are all good
6 quarts water
1/2 pound fresh creamy ricotta (or mild goat cheese)
dash nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper to taste (I like a lot)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Trim tough ends off asparagus. Cut tender parts into 2 inch lengths. In a saute pan, gently stew the garlic and asparagus in the oil until the vegetables are tender, but not brown (about 15 minutes). Stir in mint if using. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in lightly salted water. While pasta cooks, extract 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and mix it in a small saucepan with the ricotta. Set saucepan over low heat and gently cream the ricotta and cooking water. When the ricotta is warm, taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Add nutmeg and1 tablespoon grated cheese. Stir to combine.

Drain the pasta and combine immediately with the cheese sauce, tossing to mix well. Arrange on a warm platter and pour asparagus and oil mixture over the top. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and serve at once.

Serves 6


  1. Man, I wish I loved asparagus. Everyone in my family grooved on these things every Spring, with just a little lemon juice and olive oil and pepper and I cringed and didn't even want to smell them.

    And every year I try again, but... if I come across them in pasta or something, I don't really notice them. But definitely not plain!! Don't know why that is... I consider it a personal failing. What kind of vegetarian doesn't eat her vegetables!?

  2. Anonymous11:25 AM

    Hi there! My name is Alison Clancy and I work for Oldways, a non-profit in Boston. We created the Mediterranean Foods Alliance, and I liked your post so much that I posted a link to it on our Twitter at OldwaysPT. Hope you get to check it out, and thanks for helping us spread the word about healthy eating!

  3. Anonymous6:15 PM

    So excited for the spring produce. I share your love of asparagus.

  4. Oh if only!! Unfortunately, I am staring down Autumn and the misery of winter. Sigh!! I'm sure this asparagus dish would cheer me up no end.

  5. Such a lovely dish! Will try it, will try for sure!

  6. I'm glad you already got some spring weather. Here in Europe it's a bit of a late start this year.
    Until now, I've only had "ordinary" white asparagus. I will kepp a look-out for the green kind at my next visit to the green market.