Saturday, April 14, 2012

Spring Vegetables with Summer Herbs

Easter at our house means chocolate eggs and wide-spread validation for the lamb decorations that perenially crop up. As you can imagine from the name of this blog, the lambs are a plenty in my home, and they aren't trotted off to slaughter for Easter. Nevertheless, the lambs that so many other household prepare inspire many recipes in the media, mint frequently topping the list. All this mint-in-my-mind left me yearning for a sprig from our typically robust plant. However, it's far too early in Seattle for mint in April, as the patch in our garden which mere months from now we will be hacking down with a machete is still but a muddy mound of bare twigs.

But who was that genius last summer that, as the bounty came indoors to simmer into syrup for juleps, siphoned off an ice-cube-trayful for the freezer?? Why, it was The Lamb! The little white wooly who plays dumb but wisely realizes that if we get our mint-fix with bourbon and carrots, we won't have an appetite for lamb chops!

Wok-Seared Carrots with Orange-Mint Glaze
serves 4
4 medium carrots, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch rounds
1/2-1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper
2-3 teaspoons mint syrup
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Heat oil over medium high heat. Add carrots and stir to coat. Cook, tossing periodically, about 3 minutes, until starting to discolor around the edges; do not allow to burn. Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking and stirring over medium heat about 3 minutes more, or until desired tenderness. Pour 2 teaspoons mint syrup down side of pan and toss with carrots to glaze, adding additional if needed to coat. Sprinkle with orange zest and serve warm.

And in another indication that either Seattle is much too far north, or that they can grow anything anytime in California, the market had tender, straight asparagus and gorgeous fresh basil wafting to my noise like the siren to Odysseus's ship. I was weak and had no destination, so easily succumbed. The result was neither shipwreak nor drowning: this most enticing salad. Sadly, Will was not wowed by it. But I was!

Asparagus-Basil Salad
Serves 6
1 pound asparagus
2-3 8-inch stalks fresh basil
1/4 fresh lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons shaved paremsan
4 teaspoons toasted pine nuts

Steam asparagus just to take off the rawness, but still crunchy - 2-3 minutes. Plunge into an ice-water bath to stop cooking and cool asparagus. Squeeze lemon over drained asparagus and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and toss to coat. Right before serving, chiffonade the basil or tear into small pieces, and toss with salad. (Basil starts to discolor soon after leaves are removed from stem.) Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired, and sprinkle with pine nuts and cheese.

I served these as sides to some chile-braised beef short ribs and homemade corn bread for my mother-in-law's birthday. The braising liquid for the short ribs was amazing. After the ribs slow-cooked in it for 8 hours, what didn't get served and mopped up with cornbread I used later in the week to slow-cook a pork roast! This recipe was originally prepared for us by our friend Anna, who learned it in a cooking class at Delanceys.

Chile-Braised Short Ribs
serves 8 (with plenty of left-over sauce for another round of braising)
1 and 1/4 ounces dried ancho chiles (3 to 4 medium)

2 cups boiling hot water
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped canned chipotles in adobo plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons molasses (not robust or blackstrap)

2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 whole cloves
2 and 1/3 cups cold water, divided
5 pounds beef short ribs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 pound sliced bacon, chopped
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1 bunch cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Wipe anchos clean, then stem and seed. Discard ribs and tear anchos into pieces. Soak anchos in boiling-hot water until softened, about 20 minutes. Transfer anchos to a blender or food processor, reserving soaking liquid. Puree anchos with onion, garlic, chipotles with sauce, tomato paste, molasses, brown sugar, salt, cumin, cloves, and 1/3 cup of water.

Pat ribs dry and season with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Heat oil in a wide 6 to 8 quart heavy pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Brown ribs in batches, about 6 minutes per batch. Transfer as browned to a platter (or into crock of slow cooker). Discard fat from pot.

Preheat oven to 300 degree F with rack in middle (not necessary if cooking in slow cooker). Cook bacon in pot over medium heat until browned, then transfer with a slotted spoon to platter. Stir chile puree into fat in pot (it may spatter). Cook, stirring frequently, 6 minutes. Stir in reserved chile-soaking liquid, remaining 2 cups of water, and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil.

Return ribs and bacon to a pot and braise, covered, in oven until ribs are very tender, 4 to 4 and 1/2 hours (or add sauce to crock and cook on low heat of slow cooker for 6-8 hours).

Remove the ribs from the pan and skim the fat from the sauce. Adjust the seasoning and thickness as desired. Return the ribs to the finished sauce and garnish with cilantro before serving.

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