M is for May! And Mom!

Hey everybody! While I am a major fan of fall, spring runs a close second: there's just something about the potential inherent in all of those blooming flowers and budding gardens. I love getting out into my tiny garden and get my hands dirty, planting tomatoes and herbs and whatever else strikes my fancy. But until my harvest (look for that in July!) I will have to settle for what's available at the greenmarket. (Which isn't really that much of a hardship.) My favorite thing this time of year is the brief appearance of ramps, those wild baby leeks that look similar to scallions. They are only available for about 4 weeks out of the year, so make sure you snap them up! Also keep an eye out for fiddlehead ferns, baby squashes, and morels (the mushrooms that lok like tiny brains).

This month, in honor of Mother's Day, I am doing it a little differently. Instead of posting separate seasonal recipes, this month I am sharing a menu that I would serve to my mom on Sunday (if we were in the same place). So here's to you mom, thanks for everything! (Shut up, I am not crying.)

Mother's Day Lunch

(p.s. sorry for the wacky formatting in the recipes... something is up with the machine...)

Lemon Cream Tart with Blackberry-Lavender Compote

I inherited my love for all things lemon from my mom; when there is a lemon dessert on a restaurant menu, I will order that over a chocolate one pretty much every time. If my mom was visiting this weekend, this is the dessert I would make for her to finish up her Mother's Day meal. You can use blueberries or raspberries instead of the blackberries; you may have to adjust the sugar a little. (Cape gooseberries would be awesome too!) You can also use sour cream in place of the crème fraîche.

Lemon Curd
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Gingersnap Crust
  • 1 1/4 cups finely ground gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 25 cookies ground in processor)
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Lemon Crème Fraîche
  • 3/4 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup crème fraîche
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

Blackberry-Lavender Compote
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons seedless blackberry jelly
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Flowers from 2 sprigs lavender (or 1 tablespoon dried lavender)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 lb blackberries (about 2 cups)

Day 1: Make the lemon curd. Heat a medium saucepan of water over medium heat until simmering. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks until blended. In a large metal bowl, combine the lemon juice, butter, and 1/2 cup sugar. Set bowl over the saucepan of simmering water and whisk until the butter melts and sugar dissolves. Gradually whisk one-third of the hot butter mixture into the eggs, then whisk mixture back into the bowl set over simmering water. Whisk constantly until custard thickens and a thermometer inserted into mixture (not touching the bowl) registers 180°F, about 5 minutes (do not boil). Set a fine strainer over a medium bowl and press the lemon curd through it. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the lemon curd and refrigerate overnight. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Day 2: Make the crust. Heat the oven to 350°F. in a medium bowl, mix the cookie crumbs, sugar, and ginger until blended. Stir in the melted butter, blending until the mixture is evenly moistened. Transfer crumb mixture to a9-inch springform pan; press the crumbs firmly and evenly onto bottom and 1 inch up the sides of the pan. Bake until crust is firm and slightly darker in color, about 8 minutes. Let the crust cool completely.

Make the lemon crème fraîche. In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the whipping cream, crème fraîche, sugar, and lemon zest in large bowl until stiff peaks form.

Spoon half of the lemon curd and half of the lemon crème fraîche into a large bowl. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold curd and lemon crème fraîche together, just to create a marble effect. Spoon the mixture into cooled crust. Repeat with remaining curd and crème fraîche mixture. Using tip of a table knife or a teaspoon, swirl and pull mixture upwards in peaks. Refrigerate the tart for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Make the compote. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, simmer water, jelly, lavender, and sugar, stirring occasionally, until syrupy and reduced to about 1/3 cup, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, then pour syrup over blackberries and gently stir to combine. Let stand until the mixture is slightly warm room temperature, about 20 minutes. Serve with tart.

Morels in Cream on Brioche (Morilles à la Crème)

  • Fresh morels are one of the many, MANY wonderful things about the farmer's market in May. You can also find them dried all year-round, so if you are craving this in October (and who could blame you?), use 1 ounce dried morels in place of the fresh. Soak them in very hot water for about 20 minutes to re-hydrate them. Drain them, rinse them, and proceed as below.

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound fresh morel mushrooms, trimmed, washed well, and patted dry (see below)
  • 1 cup mushroom or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 5 slices brioche, each cut into 2 triangles and toasted

1/4 cup crème fraîche

1 tablespoon snipped chives

Salt and pepper

In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter, letting it cook until the foam subsides. Add the thyme and morels, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are golden and slightly crisp, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the remaining butter and the shallots. Sauté until the shallots are translucent, about 2 minutes, then pour in the broth. Raise the heat to high and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the cream, season with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.

For a fancy presentation, place 1 toast triangle on each of 4 plates. Top with a few tablespoons of the morel mixture. Place a second triangle at a different angle on top and spoon over the rest of the mushroom mixture. Dollop each serving with creme fraiche. Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately.

Washing morels: The trick to washing vegetables like morels or leeks is to lift them out of the water instead of pouring the whole thing through a strainer. (When you do that, you just pour any sand or grit back over them, which kind of defeats the purpose!) Fill a large bowl with cold water, add the vegetables, and swish them around. Lift them out of the water and transfer to a strainer. Repeat with fresh water a couple of times.

Seared Halibut With Spring Vegetable Ragoût

I love sea bass, but it has been so overfished that it's approaching endangered status, so I'm using halibut here instead. You can also use black cod, if it's available where you live. The ragout and fish are so flavorful and delicious, I don't think you need to go to the trouble of making a separate sauce.
1/2 pound washed and drained fiddlehead ferns (see below)
1/2 pound baby pattypan squash, stem ends trimmed
1/4 pound ramps, washed and trimmed and green tops roughly chopped
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup vegetable or chicken broth
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 (6-ounce) halibut fillets
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish
Salt and pepper

Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice; set aside. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Boil the fiddleheads for 4 minutes or until they are very bright green and crisp-tender, then transfer them with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Boil the squash for 3 minutes or until are crisp-tender, transfer to the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, then transfer them to paper towels to drain. Boil the peas and ramp bottoms for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they are just tender, and drain them.

In a large heavy skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the garlic and stir just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the fiddleheads and squash, and broth. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer; cover and simmer for 1 minute. Add the peas, ramp tops and bottoms, and mint. Cover and simmer for 1 minute, then stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, until the butter is just melted. Season the ragout with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat another large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot enough that a few drops of water sizzle and evaporate very quickly (like less than 5 seconds), add the vegetable oil and tilt the pan to even coat the surface. Season the skin side of the fish (the rounded side) and place the fillets skin-side down in the pan. Season the other side. Cook until lightly golden on the skin side, about 4 minutes. Carefully flip them and cook on the other side until cooked through but still translucent in the center, about 3 minutes more.

To make a fancy presentation, place a pile of the ragout at about 10 o'clock on each of 4 plates. Place the fish on a diagonal (with the bottom side facing about 5 o'clock), with one corner slightly resting on top of the ragout. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

To clean fiddleheads:
Soak the fiddleheads in a sink half full of cold water, lifting them out to leave the water behind and changing the water several times to remove any grit or casing particles. Drain thoroughly.