With spring more a suggestion than an actual season in this part of the world, it is warm enough to instil hope that summer will arrive. But the sting of winter isn’t so far behind us that we can easily forget the cold.
This is the long weekend to find something to celebrate. Leave behind whatever made the past months long or difficult, and share a special meal with people you really want to nourish.
Rags and riches
(Pappardelle Pasta with Lobster Vodka Sauce)
If this isn’t a celebratory dish, I don’t know what it. It stretches one of our most expensive treasures as far as it can go while still showcasing the incredible flavour of lobster.
Pappardelle are wide strips of pasta that I make from fresh lasagna sheets found in most grocery stores now. This pasta is great with thick creamy sauces, and is often calls rags — hence the name of the recipe. If you can’t find fresh, substitute any larger variety of dried pasta. This amount will serve 4 to 6.
1 medium onion, minced
1 tbsp. each butter and olive oil
1 pinch red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small bottle (about 1 cup) clam juice (or chicken broth)
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 lb. cooked lobster meat, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp. each fresh chopped parsley and tarragon
1 cup whipping cream
1 360 g package fresh lasagna pasta sheets
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fry onion in butter and olive oil until soft but not brown. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook just until fragrant. Add clam juice and tomatoes and simmer together 20 minutes. Add vodka and cook 15 minutes longer.
Add lobster meat, parsley and tarragon and cook a minute or two. Stir in whipping cream. Cut pasta sheets in half crosswise then into 1-inch wide strips. Boil in salted water for 2 minutes then fold into prepared sauce, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Simmer together 2 or 3 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan. Add salt and pepper, then taste and add a little more if needed. If mixture is too thick, stir in enough pasta cooking liquid to loosen it to your taste.
Asparagus with lemon butter sauce
When you serve a pasta dish as a main course, you need a green vegetable, preferably something with crunch, but especially one that stands up in flavour. The asparagus in the stores is finally looking crisp and fresh and it’s begging for a spot on my table. Choose small stalks with tightly compact, firm tips. Serve these with or without the sauce for a perfect spring side dish.
1 cup dry white wine
1 lemon, juice and finely grated zest
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, smashed but left whole
1/4 cup soft unsalted butter (not margarine)
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper (divided)
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 lb. asparagus
2 tbsp. olive oil
Make the sauce first. Bring wine, lemon juice, lemon zest, shallot and garlic to a boil in a small pot. Simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes or until reduced by about half.
Strain through a sieve and return to pot.
Add butter by small spoonfuls over low heat, stirring until each melts before adding the next. Add half the salt and pepper along with the parsley, and keep warm.
To prepare the asparagus, trim off the tough ends. Fry whole spears (or cut into 2-inch lengths) over medium heat in olive oil until starting to soften — don’t cook them to tender because you want the crisp freshness in this dish. Sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper and serve bathed in the lemon sauce.
Mocha banana cake
If you’re done with the fussing but still want a rich, sweet morsel to end a fabulous meal, then I offer you this solution. It keeps moist for an incredibly long time, making it perfect for long-weekend snacking. It is darkly elegant but not cloyingly sweet, and tastes all the better with a spoonful of fresh fruit or berries on the side — then you can justify eating it for breakfast.
1 cup each white and firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups cake flour (or 1-3/4 cups all-
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp. each baking powder and baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 medium-sized)
1 cup very warm but not boiling hot
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp. good quality vanilla
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup good quality finely chopped chocolate
Whisk together white sugar, brown sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, bananas, coffee, milk, oil and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry all at once, stirring until combined and smooth but don’t overbeat it. The batter will be fairly loose. Pour into a well-greased 9 by 13-inch baking dish and bake at 350 F for 35 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. The centre shouldn’t be jiggly and the edges will have pulled away slightly from the pan. Cool completely in pan. For the ganache, heat whipping cream almost to the boiling point — watch carefully as it boils over in a second of inattention. Pour over chocolate and stir gently until completely melted and mixture is smooth. Pour over top of cake and spread to the edges. Refrigerate until set. Cut with a sharp knife, wiping it after every slice, into 24 pieces.
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.