Lose an hour, gain a season

Cynthia Stone
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You can live with losing an hour tonight because, apart from rolling up the rim, taking the clocks down and resetting them is a signal that we will eventually be able to leave the house wearing ordinary shoes.

For me, it also signals the freshening up of the grocery stores after a long, cold, shrivelled season. All winter I take a list with me, but this time of year, I just wander through the vegetable and fruit aisles, building my week’s menu around whatever makes me believe it’s finally going to be spring soon.

Spaghetti with swiss chard and bacon

Yes, I hear you. I know we don’t grow greens in March, but aren’t they starting to look especially fresh and delicious in the store right now? There is no better way to usher in the green season than with this light and delicious dish. This amount makes four servings.

1 large bunch Swiss chard, red or green variety

6 slices meaty bacon, diced

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 large shallot, minced

6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

4 servings spaghetti, cooked al dente or according to package directions, with 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water reserved

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cut the leaves off the Swiss chard and chop them coarsely. Slice the stalks finely as you would celery. Set both aside.

Fry bacon in a large frying pan until crispy. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels; set aside. Add red pepper flakes and shallot to bacon fat and fry until soft. Add Swiss chard stalks and cook together about five minutes, until they are soft. Add leaves to pan and cook another three or four minutes, then add garlic and cook another minute or two, just until fragrant. Add olive oil and cooked spaghetti to pan, along with enough of the reserved pasta cooking water to make a loose sauce in the frying pan. Continue cooking until spaghetti is to your taste, but don’t overcook it — a minute or two at the most. Stir in Parmesan cheese and taste; add a little salt if needed. Serve immediately with bacon pieces (and more cheese if you like) sprinkled on top.

Buttered baby carrots

We’ve spent a long winter eating root vegetables and roasting meat. A side of brightly flavoured, pretty baby carrots is just the dish to spruce up a delicious piece of fish or a grilled chicken breast. This amount serves 4.

1 lb. baby carrots

1 tbsp. butter or margarine

1 tbsp. firmly packed brown sugar

1 pinch ground cumin

1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Boil carrots in lightly salted water until nearly tender but they still have some resistance to a fork, about five minutes, depending on their size. Drain and set aside.

Melt butter in the same cooking pot. Add brown sugar and heat until it sizzles. Add cooked carrots, cumin and thyme and cook, stirring, over medium heat for a minute or two. Add lemon zest, lemon juice and pepper and stir to combine. Serve immediately or keep warm up to 30 minutes.

Asparagus with toasted pine nuts

It ain’t spring until you have a mound of asparagus on your table. The flavours in this dish are simple, but they should be, so the distinctive taste of asparagus can shine through. You can use any nuts you prefer in this dish, but the buttery bite of pine nuts is perfect if you ask me.

When buying asparagus, look for the tips to be tightly closed. If little bits of green are starting to fall away, the asparagus is old. The stalks should be firm to the touch but not woody, without wrinkles, and the tiny triangles marking the outside of the stalks should be supple, not dry and papery.

The beauty of this recipe is it all happens in one frying pan. This amount serves four.

1 lb. fresh asparagus

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 tbsp. unsalted butter (no other)

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

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

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Trim away the dry bottoms of the asparagus stalks. I know you’ve all heard that you can snap it at the sweet spot, but I haven’t had much luck and I always feel like I’m throwing away perfectly good asparagus.

If you have very thin stalks, use them as is. If you have thick asparagus, peel the bottom half of each stalk with a vegetable peeler to get rid of the tough skin. Place in a single layer in a large frying pan and pour about one inch of boiling water over the top. Cover and simmer two minutes. Drain and rinse asparagus in cold water; set aside. In the dry frying pan, add pine nuts and toast them over low heat until they are barely taking on a little colour. If you burn them — and it takes just a second’s inattention to do so — they will make the entire dish bitter. I’ve thrown the works away and started again — crying over the wasted money, of course — but better that than lose everything. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add butter to pan. Fry garlic until fragrant, then return asparagus. Fry until hot through but don’t let the garlic get too brown. Sprinkle on the salt and pepper. Arrange on a serving plate and top with reserved toasted pine nuts and Parmesan. Serve at once.

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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