Spring in actually in the air here in Denver, which in March is welcomed sight. While I have mixed feelings about it (aka I'm just waiting for that giant spring snow storm to come decimate all the lovely buds and blooms) all of the sunshine and warm air has me on cloud nine.
Regardless of Denver's fickle weather, spring produce is about to be in full swing: asparagus, english peas, leeks, and carrots to name a few. While a lot of these items are available year round, veggies are their best selves when they are in season. So check out your local farmer's market, or ask your local grocer what he recommends from their latest stock.
To celebrate all things new, I teamed up with Jaime at South On Broadway to showcase some tips on spring menu planning and hosting a small group. Sprouts Farmers Market was kind enough to sponsor our post, and all of the ingredients pictured (except the fresh peas) are sourced from them.
Jaime headed up the hosting and styling portion of the night, making sure guests had something in their hand when they arrived, setting the table, and helping me prepare each and every dish.
For all of Jaime's Tips on hosting, click here.
We planned our menu around a few seasonal items available in spring: leeks, asparagus, blood oranges and fresh english peas. From there, we just made what sounded fresh and delicious to us.
Blueberry Rum Smash | English Pea Tartines
Summer salad | Roasted Leeks | Homemade Spaghetti with veggies and Pesto | blood orange tart
4 Tips for Menu Planning
Start With Seasonal Ingredients
We know that you can get most veggies year round at your super market, but that doesn’t mean they’re on par with their seasonal counterpart. Do a bit of research, ask your grocer what he recommends and build your menu from there. Google, Pinterest and Food Gawker are your friends here, and there's nothing wrong with experimenting.
Know your Guests
When planning your menu, keep your audience in mind - food allergies and all. Make sure there is something for your vegan, gluten free, or meat-loving friends. And don't be afraid to reach out to your guests and double check if a certain item is OK for them.
Part of the fun of cooking for me is experimenting. I love trying new dishes but I tend to incorporate at least one staple that I know I can pull off easily if we are inviting over acquaintances or are having a big group. You never know when that experimental dish is going to be a flop, and having to change up your plan at the last minute isn’t fun! For this gathering, it was the pesto and homemade spaghetti. Read on for more recipes below.
I always recommend getting started on prepping and cooking a little bit earlier than you think you need to. It's something I rarely estimate accurately (we were definitely still finishing up our dishes when guests arrived) but there is something to be said about not being rushed when it's actually time to sit back and enjoy your company.
Rum Blueberry Cocktails
This recipe yields about 8 cocktails.
1/5c blueberries plus extra to garnish
1/4c brown sugar
1/2c lemon juice
1c ginger beer
- Muddle 1.5c blueberries with brown sugar and lemon juice in serving pitcher.
- Add rum and ginger beer and stir to combine.
- Serve over crushed ice and top with fresh blueberries.
English Pea Tartines
This dish was the favorite of the entire night. It really does redefine peas as the hero of a dish, a distinct departure from the soggy, mushy peas of childhood.
2c fresh peas, shelled
1T lemon juice
1T olive oil
pinch of pepper
pinch of fresh oregano & thyme
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
fresh sourdough, bread or crackers of choice
- Bring a pot of water to a roiling boil.
- Place peas into pot, bring back to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes until bright green, testing for doneness every minute. They should still be crispy, but not hard. Don't overcook!
- Drain and let cool for a few minutes.
- Place in food processor with lemon juice, salt, pepper, herbs and garlic. Pulse until just incorporated and still chunky. You don't want it to turn into a mush or paste.
- Spread bread with mascarpone and top with peas and proscuito.
- Drizzle with extra olive oil and salt and pepper before serving.
This salad is a base for you to build your own with whatever veggies sound good to you! I like to keep this type of salad chunky and crisp.
1 head of romain, washed & roughly chopped
1 cucumber, peeled & sliced
2 carrots, peeled & roughly chopped
4 radishes, sliced thinly
1c cottage cheese
red wine vinegar
salt & pepper
- On a large serving dish, spread cottage cheese out in a thin layer
- Spread romain on top, layering with chopped veggies.
- Top with fresh dill, walnut oil, red wine vinegar and salt & pepper.
When slowly roasted, leeks turn into the most wonderfully creamy consistency.
6 leeks, cut lengthwise and washed
1t orange zest
salt & pepper
handful of pine nuts
- Preheat oven to 300 and place leeks cut side down on baking sheet.
- Drizzle with olive oil and coat well. Sprinkle zest on top of leeks and cover with foil.
- Bake at 300 for about 90 minutes.
- Uncover, top with pine nuts, increase heat to 400 and return to oven.
- Bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Spaghetti with Pesto & Spring Veggies
I'm hesitant to share the pasta dough recipe we used. I've yet to find a dough recipe that works as instructed in our dry Denver climate, so I'll be working to develop my own. Use your favorite past dough recipe or pre-made pasta. We topped this with grilled chicken for some added protein.
2c carrot leaves
(removed from stems, washed & dried)
1⁄2c olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
pinch of pepper
1⁄2c grated parmesan cheese
1 package dried spaghetti or
1 recipe fresh spaghetti
1 bunch of asparagus, ends removed and chopped into 2" pieces.
1c mushrooms, rinsed and
- Combine carrot leaves, olive oil, walnuts, garlic, salt, pepper and parmesan in a food processor. Blend until it comes together, adding more oil as needed
- Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add chopped asparagus and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- While asparagus is cooking, prepare a large bowl of ice water. Remove cooked asparagus to ice water with slotted spoon. Leave until chilled, then drain and set aside.
- Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1c of cooking liquid before draining pasta. Set aside.
- In a large pot, sauce mushrooms until just tender. Remove liquid from pan. Off heat, add in pasta, asparagus and pesto, adding in reserved pasta water as needed to prevent the pasta from clumping.
- Mix until pasta is well coated. Serve immediately.
Blood Orange Tart
This method and recipe for the blood orange curd is adapted from Tartine's Lemon Cream.
For the Crust
9T unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large + 1 large egg yolk at room temperature
1 3/4c all purpose our, sifted
2t cold water
For the Filling
juice from 4 blood oranges
Zest from 1 blood orange
1/4 c fresh lemon juice
3 whole eggs
1/2 c sugar
Pinch of salt
1c unsalted butter
- Fit your stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until well combined and smooth.
- Add in whole egg until combined. Add yolk until combined.
- Turn off your mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add in the sifted flour. Turn mixer onto low and mix until it has a sandy texture.
- Add in 1-2t of cold water and mix until dough comes together a bit more. Dough should not have come together into one mass, but it should stick together when you press it together with your finger.
- Start pressing the dough together in your tart pan piece by piece until you have the entire tin filled, with the dough patched together at a thickness of about 1/4 inch.
- Pour remaining dough out onto a clean work surface, press into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and store in freezer up to a month.
- Prick dough in your tart pan with fork, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 400°. Remove tart dough from freezer. Line with tinfoil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.
- Place tart shell in oven, reduce heat to 350° and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake for an additional 5 minutes.
- Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes.
- While shell is cooling pour 2" of water into a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. In a heat resistant bowl that fits snugly on top of the saucepan, whisk together the blood orange juice, zest, lemon juice, egg, egg yolk, sugar and pinch of salt.
- Place bowl on top of sauce pan and whisk until it becomes very thick (about 12-15 minutes). Never stop whisking the mixture.
- Remove curd to a high speed blender or food processor. Blend in chilled butter, one tablespoon at a time, making sure each piece is fully incorporated before adding another one.
- Alternatively, you can reduce your sauce pan to low and incorporate 3/4 of the butter a table spoon at a time over low heat with a hand mixer. Remove from heat and add remaining 1/4 of butter, piece by piece in the same method.
- Once mixture is incorporated, pour and press into a sieve, removing all of the clumps.
- Pour into cooled tart shell and chill for a few hours before serving.