Flowers and sunshine

Cynthia Stone
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Yeah, I know … we can have our nastiest weather this time of year and any glimpses of sun we’ve had must be cherished but not dwelled upon.

As an eternal optimist, I simply can’t help it. I’m looking forward to warm days and light summer suppers and it’s time to start thinking ahead. As I’m putting away the winter sweaters, so goes the slowcooker.

Asparagus, corn and sweet pepper salad

with sunshine vinaigrette

Small plates of this beautiful dish will turn your table into a flower garden. Delicious and easy, try this recipe to impress guests or just because you love your family.

I like to serve asparagus whole because it is so pretty, but I have to admit it’s easier to eat when cut into smaller lengths — up to you. This amount serves four as a starter salad or light lunch.

1 lb. fresh asparagus, thinnest stalks possible

1 tsp. each vegetable oil and butter or margarine

2 tbsp. sherry or white wine vinegar

1 pinch saffron threads

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. honey

1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 small can corn kernels, well drained (or thawed frozen kernels)

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

1/2 yellow or orange bell pepper, finely diced

4 servings mixed salad greens

Trim off the woody ends of the asparagus. If you could only find thick stalks, peel the bottom halves with a vegetable peeler. Wash and drain thoroughly. Heat oil and butter in a large frying pan until quite hot and add asparagus. Roll them around until they are starting to turn brown and soften but still have some crispness. Remove from pan and set aside to cool. If you prefer you can boil or steam the asparagus instead of frying it.

Heat sherry vinegar in the microwave until steaming hot and stir in the saffron. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. Whisk in mustard, honey, salt, pepper and olive oil. Toss dressing with corn, red onion and bell pepper. Arrange asparagus stalks on a bed of salad greens on individual serving plates and top with dressed chopped vegetables.

Spring potato pea soup

I’m done for now with heavy bean stews and creamy soups, but there’s still plenty of nip in the air to warrant a hot supper starter. This brothy dish smells light and fresh but will take the chill off after a day outside. This amount serves six to eight people.

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 or 3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 small onion, diced

1 clove garlic, peeled and left whole

4 sprigs fresh thyme

4 cups frozen baby peas

1/2 tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper (or white pepper if you prefer)

2 green onions, green part only, finely sliced

Bring chicken broth to a boil and add potatoes, onion, garlic and thyme. Reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until potato is tender. Add peas and cook five minutes longer. Discard thyme stalks and puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Strain through a sieve if you like a creamier texture. Add salt and pepper and taste — add a little more if you wish. Serve with green onion floated on top.

Salmon and orzo with swiss chard pesto

So light and delicious, this dish is perfect for a quick supper or as one course in a fancy meal. Traditional basil pesto has a powerful flavour, and some of the bottled ones aren’t bad at all, but it’s too strong in this dish. The lighter flavour of Swiss chard is perfect with the sweet taste of fresh salmon. Substitute spinach if you wish, of course. This dish serves four.

1 large bunch Swiss chard, red or green

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/3 cup pecans

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 cup firmly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper, divided

1-1/2 lbs. fresh salmon filet

1 lb. orzo or other small pasta, prepared according to package directions

Wash Swiss chard thoroughly and remove the stalks. Slice stalks fairly finely. Heat up about one tbsp. of the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add chard stalks and cook over medium heat until they are starting to wilt, about five minutes. Add chard leaves and cook another three or four minutes, until tender. Remove from pan and set aside to cool slightly. Add pecans to pan and heat over medium until they are fragrant, three or four minutes—be careful not to scorch them. Add garlic and bobble it around to get a bit of colour.

Place Swiss chard, pecans, garlic, parsley and Parmesan cheese in a food processor and puree. Add remaining olive oil in a fine stream with the processor running. Season with about half the salt and pepper — you may want a little more of each.

Sprinkle remaining salt and pepper on both sides of salmon and fry in the same pan until it is barely cooked through — add a drop of oil if the pan is completely dry. As soon as it is cool enough to touch, flake salmon apart with your fingers. Prepare orzo and drain, retaining about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Stir pesto into orzo, adding enough of the cooking water to make a smooth sauce. Very gently fold in the salmon and it’s ready to serve.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in

St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o

The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

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