Depending on where you live, when March arrives, either spring has arrived or you really wish it would start springing.
Tired of squash and parsnips? I’m too.
But, if certain spring produce, like the new-crop turnips or strawberries called for in these recipes, isn’t yet available in your area, give yourself permission to skip the season a bit. Buy onions and leeks at the farmer’s market, but buy organic berries at the supermarket. (In Southern California, where I recently arrived, you’ll find strawberries at most farmers’ markets at this point of the year.)
Of course, you can find onions at any time. But at this time of year, when product options are more limited, it’s nice to let them show off a bit. With leeks and a little garlic, slowly softened onions serve as the base for a savory starter tart. For the best tasting garnish, use a good fruity extra virgin olive oil and season the alliums well with salt, pepper and thyme. Make this onion base whenever you have 10 or 15 minutes to spare. It can stay at room temperature until you’re ready to assemble the pie (or refrigerate it and use it in a few days).
Once the filling is ready, the heavy lifting is done. All that remains is to spread the prepared onions on a sheet of rolled out puff pastry, then cover them with anchovy fillets and capers, and cook until golden brown. Use any type of puff pastry or pie crust you like, or you can even spread the mixture on risen pizza dough. But using store-bought or homemade puff pastry gives the most dazzling impression. Serve slightly warm out of the oven or at room temperature. A bowl of lightly seasoned green salad served on the side would also be welcome.
Let’s move on to the main course. If you ask a friend to come get some lamb and turnips, the response may be less than enthusiastic, as it conjures up the image of a heavy, wintry mutton stew. (It may have been fine a month ago.) But this lamb and turnip dinner is quite the opposite. He calls the most succulent cut of lamb, the rack, roasted over sprigs of rosemary, then cut into chops. An eight-bone rack of lamb can be cut into four double chops or eight small chops. Although I think one rack of lamb is enough for four servings, you may want to roast two for guests with heartier appetites.
As for turnips, this menu features new little sweet turnips, no bigger than ping pong balls, and definitely not the big purple-headed turnips you usually find next to potatoes at the grocery store. New turnips are sent to market with their green stems attached and are worth seeking out. Use the smallest you can find, halved or quartered, or cut medium white turnips into small wedges. (In a pinch, you can also use round red radishes, and if you don’t have turnip greens, use spinach, mizuna, or other fast-wilting greens.) Tiny turnips cook quickly in a pan , barely covered with water, with a chunk of butter – or a big sip of olive oil – thrown in. They are simmered briskly for five minutes, until tender, then the greens are tossed in to wilt. Finally, the heat is increased to cook most of the water. Cooked this way, young turnips are simply exquisite.
Finally, for dessert, I always find that fresh fruit is the best option. The choice was easy, as ripe, sweet organic strawberries are now available at my West Coast Farmers Market. I added a pool of custard, an easy-to-make pastry cream, and a little rose water, since strawberries are botanically related to roses. It makes a cute couple and a few rose petals add drama. While a sprinkle of icing sugar and a splash of champagne aren’t a bad idea either, give everything a festive sweetness that invites spring to hurry and arrive.