The thing about early spring, at least here in the Hudson Valley, is that it basically looks and feels exactly like winter. For most of March and even into April, it’s cold and damp, and nothing in the garden will grow. During these dog days, a bright and zingy citrus salad feels like a life-saver. And it’s simplicity itself: juicy, sweet blood oranges (and a few mandarins for variety’s sake), tossed with crisp endive and some quick-pickled red onions. Toss over a little peppery mint and pistachios for crunch and that’s it. A drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of flaky salt is all the dressing it needs.
If fresh, local asparagus is in the stores, it must be early Spring. This vegetable is one of the first to beckon in the new season and herald an end to Winter. We simmer the delicate white asparagus spears until they become tender and sweet, then drizzle them with a homemade aioli flavored with black garlic, lemon, and miso. It’s both simple and incredibly delicious.
Note: This recipe will work just as well with green asparagus, if that’s what you have (and the Black Garlic Aioli is delicious on just about anything. It’s crazy good).
Creamy, cheesy Cheddar polenta with charred ramps (wild garlic) and grilled sausages: a dish made for Spring. The sweetness in the corn pairs beautifully with extra-sharp cheddar cheese, and a topping of garlicky grilled ramps is as delicious as it is simple. If ramps are not available, scallions make a great substitute. The addition of good quality sausages turns it into a meal.
There comes a time for most people when they experience a food in a totally different way from how they’ve been used to. For us, that revelation was stone-ground polenta. For the longest time, we’d stuck to the packaged tubes of pre-cooked polenta that you slice up and grill. Now, there’s nothing wrong with them, and we still cook with that variety from time to time, but can we tell you, the first time we had really good, slow-cooked traditional polenta, it was like night and day.
Of course we, along with the rest of the world, have been stuck inside our home so we’ve been craving something warm and comforting even more than usual. When we found a bag of really good polenta, we knew exactly what we wanted to do with it — combine it with our favorite extra-sharp cheddar cheese from our friends at Cabot Creamery.
This cheddar polenta is a sponsored recipe in partnership with Cabot Cheese.
This post is sponsored by Cakebread Cellars. Thank you for supporting Nerds with Knives’ sponsors!
Whenever we cook for a crowd, baked pasta is our go-to. All the prep can be done ahead of time, so all that we have to do is pop the pan in the oven, make a quick salad and open the wine. This time of year, the farmer’s market is bursting with early summer vegetables like Swiss chard, baby peas, spring onions and basil. So to celebrate the season, we made our stuffed shells with a mix of our favorite greens and paired them with the most delicious fontina cream sauce. And then popped the corks on a couple of bottles of white wine and enjoyed the sunshine!
Our wine of choice to pair with a beautiful early-summer outdoor dinner is something light with a subtle floral and fruit character. We’ve paired up with Cakebread Cellars’ Napa Valley Chardonnay and our garden peonies opened up just in time to help us celebrate the season.
One thing we should mention upfront, if you haven’t gleaned it already from our occasional disorganized garden posts, is that we’re not really “lawn people”. We do have, behind the house, a stretch of grassed yard, but it’s not flat (so we can’t put tables or chairs out there), it’s kind of public (we live on a busy road with a lot of hiking traffic), it does nothing for the biodiversity of the area, and we hate mowing it. In short, it gets a little neglected. And because of that benign neglect, we have areas that sprout whatever the hell they want to, and luckily for us, in early spring, that’s violets. Lots, and lots, of tiny, pretty, violets.
So in our ongoing quest to rid our garden of weeds — by eating them — we bring you homemade Violet Syrup, possibly the prettiest concoction ever. And we’re using that syrup to create a version of the classic Aviation cocktail, which just happens to be perfect for a celebratory Mother’s Day brunch!