With these rainy, cool mornings and sunny afternoons edging toward hot, we're oscillating between seasons.
The kids are still in school but dreaming of summer vacation. Farmers are squeezing the last harvest from their spring crops with an eye toward the summer bounty ahead. Leafy greens are plentiful, green onions are standing tall and the loquats are hanging on for another week or two.
In my backyard garden, my very first homegrown peaches aren't yet ripe, but their soft fuzz promises many sweet summer days ahead.
The official start to summer is more than six weeks away, but the early days of spring are far enough behind that we're starting to swap out the galoshes for swimsuits and the roasted root vegetables for lighter fare.
Here are five recipes that straddle the seasons and celebrate the liminal space of late spring in Central Texas.
Roasted Grape Sandwich With Chicken and Brie
This sandwich is best served when the chicken and grapes are still warm. The juicy grapes pop in the mouth and act like a little chutney and work so well with the crispy-skinned chicken and creamy brie.
— Rosie Reynolds
4 skin-on chicken thighs
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Small handful thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
10 1/2 ounces seedless red grapes, pulled from the stalks
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
8 slices grainy brown bread
3 1/2 ounces brie, sliced
A couple of handfuls lamb’s lettuce, to serve
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the chicken, skin side up, in a baking dish with the garlic and thyme. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil, season the chicken skin, then roast for 30 minutes. Ten minutes before the end of cooking, add the grapes and continue to cook.
Remove the tray from the oven and stir in the vinegar. Return to the oven and roast for a further 8 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through and the skin is golden and crisp. Transfer the chicken to a chopping board, allow to cool for 10 minutes, then slice.
Meanwhile, transfer the roasted grapes to a plate. In the tray, squash the garlic out of their skins (discarding the skins) and stir in the remaining oil, with the mustard and some seasoning. Mix with the tray juices to make a dressing. Spread half the dressing across four slices of bread, then layer with chicken, grapes, brie and a few leaves of lamb’s lettuce. Drizzle over the remaining dressing, sandwich with the remaining bread slices and serve. Serves 4.
— From "Posh Sandwiches: Over 70 Recipes, From Reubens to Banh Mi" by Rosie Reynolds (Quadrille, $19.99)
Spicy Corn and Crab Chowder
Crab claw meat is a darker color than larger, pricier lump. It also has a stronger flavor, which works beautifully in dips and soups like this summer chowder. Poblanos range in heat and are sometimes quite spicy, especially if you’re not a fan of fiery flavors. Substitute a red bell pepper or an Anaheim pepper if you want to ensure low-level heat. The portion size on this chowder is ample, close to 2 cups per serving. Serve it for lunch, and you won’t need anything to round out the meal.
— Julie Grimes
1 medium poblano pepper
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3 cups fresh corn kernels (from 4 ears)
1 cup half-and-half, divided
1 pound russet potato, peeled and diced
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup bottled clam juice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (6.5-ounce) container crab claw meat, shell pieces removed
Freshly ground black pepper
1 green onion, trimmed and thinly vertically sliced
Arrange the top rack of the oven 7 inches from the broiler element. Heat the broiler to high.
Place the poblano on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil 8 minutes on each side or until blackened. Place the pepper in a small paper bag; fold to seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and chop the pepper.
Meanwhile, place the drippings and butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat; cook until melted. Add the onion, salt, sugar and cayenne pepper; saute 4 minutes. Add the corn; saute 2 minutes. Remove 3/4 cup corn mixture from the pan and place in a blender. Add 3/4 cup half-and-half to the blender; process until smooth.
Add the potato to the pan; saute 1 minute. Stir in the cream and clam juice; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until the potato is almost tender, stirring occasionally. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup half-and-half and flour in a small bowl, stirring until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the pan. Stir in the corn puree, chopped poblano and crab; bring to a simmer. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until the potatoes are tender, stirring frequently. Adjust the salt and black pepper as needed; sprinkle with the green onion. Serves 4.
From "$10 Dinners: Delicious Meals for a Family of 4 That Don't Break the Bank" by Julie Grimes (Oxmoor House, $21.99)
Rainbow Spaghetti With Parmesan, Parsley and Crispy Bacon
I confess to being swept up by spiralizer mania and the delicious vegetable noodles that result along with many others. I also confess that the ingenious contraption I have for the task is now collecting dust at the back of a deep cupboard. It is a brilliant design that folds down to a small discreet box, the issue being that it requires the skill of a 10-year old whizz at Lego to assemble and I don’t use it often enough to remember how to do it. So during those minutes spent scratching my head and working out is that a shaft or is it the handle, I could have done it by hand.
But, I am not giving up, because if you do want to go down this route, and this dish is a very good advertisement for spiralized veggies, then they are infinitely better made at home than bought. Like other prepared vegetables, they rapidly succumb to drying and browning where they are cut, and there is no way of trimming them. So I won’t be throwing my spiralizer out just yet.
— Annie Bell
3 to 4 slices bacon, diced
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed to a paste
Sea salt, black pepper
2 cups zucchini noodles
1 cup carrot noodles
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra to serve
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon wedges, to serve
Gently heat the bacon in a large, nonstick frying pan over a medium heat and fry in the rendered fat for 4 to 7 minutes until golden and crisp, stirring frequently. Transfer to a double thickness of kitchen paper to drain.
Bring a large (unsalted) pan of water to the boil. Melt the butter with the garlic and some seasoning in a small saucepan.
Add the noodles to the boiling water, blanch for 1 minute, then drain into a colander and shake dry for about 30 seconds. Return these to the saucepan, pour over the garlic butter, scatter over the parsley and half the Parmesan and toss to coat.
Divide between two shallow soup bowls. Scatter over the remaining Parmesan, a little more parsley and the bacon, then drizzle over some olive oil. Accompany with lemon wedges.
— From "Low Carb Express: Cut the Carbs With 130 Deliciously Healthy Recipes" by Annie Bell (Kyle Books, $19.99)
Coconut Rice Pilaf
My dad spent some time in Hawaii during his stint in the Army. He has since sworn off all pineapple and coconut things. Being the loving daughter I am, I make it my goal to get him to eat these things anyway. Traditional rice pilaf consists of rice and toasted nuts. It’s deliciously simple, even when you sneak in some coconut milk, shredded coconut and macadamia nuts. This rice is a dream and steams up so easily. I would highly recommend it to anyone skeptical about coconut. It pairs well with a nice piece of grilled or sauteed fish or chicken, especially if you have a mango salsa on the side. You can cook this in an Instant Pot, but if you don't have one, build the layers of flavor by sauteeing the aromatic ingredients in a pot and then you'll cook the rice with a lid on for about 15 minutes.
— Stefanie Bundalo
2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, grated
1 cup long-grain jasmine rice, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/3 cup coconut milk
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut flakes
1 teaspoon fresh chopped basil
1 teaspoon fresh chopped parsley
Press saute on the Instant Pot and wait 1 minute for it to heat. Add the olive oil along with the onion, garlic and rice. Cook the rice, stirring regularly, for 3 minutes. Press cancel.
Season the rice with the coriander, cumin, pepper, salt and orange zest. Mix to combine. Mix in the coconut milk and water.
Secure the lid, with the vent in the closed position. Press pressure cook until the display light is beneath "high pressure.” Use the “−/+” button to adjust the time to read 3 minutes.
While the rice cooks, toast the nuts and coconut in a dry pan over a low flame for 5 minutes. Stir regularly to prevent any burning. When the Instant Pot’s timer goes off, allow the pressure to natural release for 15 minutes. Quick release any remaining pressure.
Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork. Transfer it to a serving bowl. Mix in the toasted coconut and nuts along with the basil and parsley. Serves 4 to 6.
— From "Quick Prep Cooking With Your Instant Pot: 75 Big-Flavor Dishes That Require Minimal Work" by Stefanie Bundalo (Page Street Publishing, $21.99)
Tortellini Salad With Asparagus and Basil Dressing
The new America's Test Kitchen book, "Vegetables Illustrated," is full of ideas for asparagus and dozens of other vegetables. And the book is worth buying for the tips alone, such as how best to store (standing the spears up in a glass filled with 1 inch of water, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated); to peel or not (yes if they're thick, no if they're pencil-thin); and whether you should follow that old advice to snap them at their breaking point (no, too wasteful).
This super-easy pasta salad combines convenient store-bought cheese tortellini, crisp asparagus and a dressing that uses the ingredients in a classic pesto. Don't forget to plunge the blanched asparagus into an ice bath after briefly boiling, which sets the spears' bright color and prevents them from overcooking. It keeps the texture crisp, all the better to pair with the tender cheese tortellini and fresh tomatoes. The salad gets the rest of its flavor from the ingredients in classic pesto, making this ideal for the warmer days of spring and even early summer. It tastes great at room temperature, too, which means picnic planning is in order.
— Joe Yonan
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 pound asparagus
1 pound fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
12 ounces cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl halfway with ice and water. Line a baking sheet with paper towels or lay a clean kitchen towel on the counter.
Trim 1 inch from the ends of the asparagus stalks. If some of the stalks are much thicker than a pencil, use a vegetable peeler to remove the woody exterior from the bottom half of each one. Cut the stalks and spears into 1-inch lengths.
Add the asparagus to the boiling water; cook until crisp-tender and a more vivid shade of green, about 2 minutes; do not drain the water. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the asparagus to the ice-water bath until cooled. Spread the asparagus on the baking sheet or kitchen towel to dry.
Return the pot of water to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook, stirring often, until tender, according to the package directions. Drain the tortellini, rinse it with cold water and drain again, leaving it slightly wet.
While the tortellini are cooking, toast the pine nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for several minutes, shaking the pan to avoid scorching, until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool completely.
Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, shallot, garlic and the 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a serving bowl. Add the cooked tortellini and tomatoes, tossing to incorporate, and let sit for 15 minutes. Chop the basil leaves and add them to the bowl, along with the asparagus, Parmesan and the toasted pine nuts. Taste, add more salt and pepper as needed, and serve. Serves 6.
— From "Vegetables Illustrated: An Inspiring Guide With 700+ Kitchen-Tested Recipes" by America's Test Kitchen (America's Test Kitchen, $40)