Wednesday, April 13, 2011

CHASING DUST BUNNIES AND A SPRING AWAKENING

Typical of early springtime in Ohio, we’ve recently had a day or two of really nice weather and then a drop back into the shivery damp that reminds us that Mother Nature truly has a wicked sense of humor.

April is time to change our wardrobes from bulky wool sweaters and leg-hiding tights to sleeveless tops and lighter fabrics that expose our pale limbs to the light of day. Now is the time to open windows and let in the breeze and sunlight so that we can find those cobwebs and dust bunnies that have skittered unseen across the floor all winter.

My kitchen also generally undergoes a transformation in spring. While it isn’t yet ready to give over to summer salads and barbecues in the back yard, I find myself passing over recipes for meatloaf and stews in favor of lighter fare. Macaroni and cheese makes way for pasta primavera. Long baking roasts take a back burner to quick sautés with light sauces. Hearty Chowders give way to lighter, broth based soups.

The grocers and farm stands are still stocked with root vegetables from winter, but tender springtime choices are beginning to show up regularly such as asparagus and young spinach. The recipe offered below makes the switch from heavy cream-based soups that were warm and comforting last month, to light and refreshing quite nicely. Using some winter pantry staples but leaving room for springs freshest offerings, this is a showcase for clean fresh flavors. Paired with a fresh green salad this soup is a perfect choice for a light lunch. For dinner, add a sturdy sandwich on the side and you have a terrific transition meal for a cool spring night.

A chance peek at last year’s chive pot surprised me with new shoots already large enough to cultivate. A small bunch was a nice addition to this recipe but if your chives aren’t up yet or you don’t want to go purchase any, this soup would be just as good without them.


ZUPPA DI PRIMAVERA
(Soup of Spring Awakening)
Nothing is easier than this soup.  Not at all fancy, it is springtime in a bowl - clean flavored and straightforward. 
1 ½ cups vegetable or chicken stock or broth (low sodium)
1 small new potato, washed and diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
3-4 fresh asparagus spear, washed, trimmed and cut on the bias into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
For the soup: Place broth in a small saucepan and heat to boiling over medium-high heat. Add the diced potatoes and sliced carrots; simmer for 20 minutes. Add the asparagus pieces and about half the chives. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a few more chopped chives.


3 CHEESE PANINI
This sandwich was inspired by a lunch over at one of my very favorite local bars, The Ido, down on South Main Street. This was served as one of their daily lunch specials and may just be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten there. Except maybe for their pot pie soup…or maybe their tortilla soup….or maybe their Friday fish fries.........

What's so special about a grilled cheese sandwich?  I think what caught us all off guard was the use of thick sliced, homemade style bread and then that it had been grilled with Parmesan Cheese on the outside of the bread.  I think I captured the idea here, not exactly the flavor, but you get the idea.  Feel free to mix up the cheeses but DO try the parm on the outside.  Also, if you happen to have gigantic sized bread like I had tonight, you might want to double up the inside cheeses so the bread doesn't overpower the cheesey goodness.

2 slices whole wheat bread
2 teaspoons softened butter
1 teaspoon pesto (optional, The Ido did not use this)
2 slices American cheese
4 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese


Heat a heavy skillet or grill pan over medium high heat. Spread pesto over one side of one slice of bread and arrange American and mozzarella cheeses evenly over the pesto. Top with the other slice of bread and butter the top and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the parmesan cheese.


Perfect spring soup - simple and delicious.  Zuppa di Primavera and 3-Cheese Panini.

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