Sunday, March 25, 2012

Foodbuzz 24x24: A Spring Fare Lunch

I love the changing of seasons because it brings on a fresh array of ingredients to use with recipes that I have been jotting down through out winter and, it is all I can do not to buy everything at once and indulge in a smorgasbord of what the new season has to offer.  

I consider spring to be the in between season in the way of produce, offering of a mixture of lighter flavors perfect for crossing over from rich winter comfort recipes.    

When it was time to submit proposals for Foodbuzz 24x24 I knew right away the perfect menu to submit.  One showcasing the flavors of spring in a variety of healthy and flavorful ways.  Here is what I have in mind;

Citrus Fennel Salad
A fresh salad of fennel and segmented citrus drizzled with a simple
dressing of the fruits juices and extra virgin olive oil

Slow Roosted Tomato Soup with Grilled Lemon
Slow roasted tomatoes blended into a light soup enhanced with griled lemon

Herbed Gnocchi with Pesto
Classic gnocchi flavored pack with fresh thyme, basil, and parsley
served in a lemony pesto

Caramelized Pear Tarts with Brie
Diced Asian pears caramelized and served in delicate puff pastry
shells with fresh brie

Fennel Citrus Salad

Light, fresh and crisp with bursts of sweet tart citrus flavor, this is what I consider to be a great way to start off a spring meal.  The key to making this salad is keeping the components roughly the same size.  Thinly slicing the fennel, topping it with fresh citrus segments enhances the natural sweetness and balances the flavors perfectly.

Serves four

2 fennel bulbs
1 honey tangerine
1 pink grapefruit
Extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tbsp grapeseed oil

To prepare the fennel; remove the top leaving about an inch of green, as well as the outer layer [this part tends to be fibrous] and then slice the fennel into 1/4 inch pieces.  Next, segment the citrus, and slice the Asian pear arranging onto a platter with the grilled fennel slices.   This salad is best served with a mix of arugula, mint leaves and fennel fronds, lightly dressed with a good squeeze of the juices left in the citrus after it has been segmented, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Slow Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Lemon

For this recipe, I like using vine ripened tomatoes , and in this case the riper the better.  Slow roasting maximizes the intensity in flavor adding an amazing richness and eliminating the need to finish with heavy cream.  Served over homemade gnocchi speckled with fresh herbs, and then finished with a bright squeeze of grilled lemon makes for a wonderful twist on a comforting home style classic.

** The slow roasting takes six to seven hours.  This is important to keep in mind if planning to serve at a lunch or dinner party.

Serves four

For the soup;

Two pounds of vine ripened tomatoes
1 carrot
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 stalks lemon grass
4 cups vegetable stock, low sodium is best
2 lemons, halved
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Remove the tomatoes from their stems, lightly pierce the skin in three or four places to prevent them from bursting, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper then slow roast until concentrated and chewy, about 6 to 7 hours.  This step is best completed the night before, and make extra which can be kept in the freezer for later use. 

In a separate pot; sauté the onion and carrot until tender, and then add the garlic continuing to cook until fragrant.  Next, add the thyme, tomatoes and stock, bring to a boil then reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove thyme sprigs, check the seasoning and using an emulsion blender, pulse until smooth.  

As an accompaniment, I like to serve this soup with a wedge of grilled lemon.  The heat loosens the juices, and also mellows the flavor which compliments this recipe beautifully.  Simply halve the lemons and put them on a hot grill for a couple of minutes before serving.

Whole Wheat Herbed Gnocchi with Pecorino

Light, fluffy potato dumplings flavored with fresh herbs and served with pecorino in a lemony pesto, what’s not to love?

Michael Chiarello’s recipe for gnocchi is a beautifully simple yet and extremely flavorful.   The only changes I have made are in the preparation, and with the addition of fresh herbs.  If this is your first time making gnocchi, don’t be intimidated, you will be surprised at how easily they come together, and while practice makes perfect in the way of shaping them there is really no right or wrong.   

Gnocchi Ingredients
Serves four

One pound russet potatoes
3 large egg yolks lightly beaten plus, one extra on reserve if needed
1 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp fresh parsley
1 tbsp fresh basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup all purpose flour

Peel and boil the potatoes until tender, let cool slightly then mash using a whisk or fork.  On your counter or in a bowl using the potatoes create a mound with a well in the center, just as you would when making pasta dough.  Start by adding the egg yolks, cheese, herbs salt and pepper, then using a fork mix until evenly combined, then start adding flour about a quarter cup at a time folding [not kneading] it into the dough just until it holds together.  If the mixture ends up becoming too dry add another egg yolk.  When ready, the dough should be firm but, give under light pressure and should hold together when rolled into a half inch tube.  If your dough hasn’t reached this consistency it is easily fixed by folding in a little more flour until the dough yields as described above.

Next, divide the dough into four equal parts, roll each into a rope 1/2 inch in thickness, then cut it into 1/2 inch long pieces and toss in lightly flour to keep them from sticking.  To make the signature grooves; take each piece and push on it lightly with your thump against the tines of a large fork while pushing it away from you.  The gnocchi should take on a cupped shape.  Another method is to shape each gnocchi into ovals then indent with your thumb and roll them on your palm.  The grooves not only hold in the sauce but, also allow for more even cooking.  [Side note: It took several practice runs to get the hang of shaping them and I still by no means make perfectly shaped gnocchi but, I think that adds a rustic character to the dish that I love.]  Dust lightly with flour; spread the gnocchi in a single layer onto a cookie sheet and allow them to dry (preferably in front of or under a fan) for half an hour.  At this stage the gnocchi can be frozen for use up to one month later. 

When ready to cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt, drop the gnocchi into the water and once they float to the top cook for about 90 seconds, remove and drain.  At this point, I like to toss them in a little extra virgin olive oil to prevent them stick to each other. 

Pesto Ingredients

1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 cup arugula
1/2 cup Italian flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh mint
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup pecorino
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

In a food processor; toss in the arugula with the basil, mint, parsley, garlic clove, lemon zest and juice, then pulse until blended, add the pecorino and while processing, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto comes together.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, toss with the gnocchi and serve with a sprinkling of pecorino.  This dish is best served at room temperature.

Caramelized Pear Tarts with Brie

Originally, the plan was to make dessert style flat breads with fresh apricots or nectarines but, after not being able to find ripe produce, the plan quickly changed.  Asian pears, while pricey, are in season and offer a crisp bite to rich, creamy brie.  I already had a package of puff pastry shells on hand so instantly I know the perfect replacement would be these Caramelized Pear Tarts.  


6 puff pastry shells
2 Asian pears, peeled and diced
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
4 ounces fresh brie
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and cook the puff pastry shells until golden.  

In a pan, melt the butter, brown sugar, spices, salt and butter.  When bubbling add the diced pear and lightly toss to coat.  Allow the pears and caramel to simmer until tender but, not mushy, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool.

While the oven is still warm, warm the brie until sightly melted.  Then spread about 2 teaspoons onto the bottom of each shell, cover with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the pear mixture and then top each, evenly with the remaining brie.  Serve immediately.


  1. Congrats on 24x24! Everything looks so yummy, I'm in love with your slow roasted tomato soup!

  2. What a bounty of amazing recipes! :) Love the salmon!

  3. What a wonderful meal! Everything looks so fresh and light!

  4. That is an amazing menu--I don't know which dish I covet more, the gnocchi, the salad or the tarts!

  5. Love the look of that citrus salad - so bright and light!

  6. These look great, and I am a tomoato soup junkie! will def be trying this out.

  7. Thanks Kristin - I'm a tomato soup junkie myself :) Hope you enjoy the recipe!