Spring may not be here quite yet, but I’m more than ready for it. Ready for lighter, brighter colors and flavors. Ready for clear skies. Ready for a dinner that tastes like spring, verdant and hopeful.
Wild dandelion is abundant in the spring, as any forager will tell you. Dandelion has been valued for medicinal purposes for centuries, long considered to be a cleansing tonic, used in teas, soups and tinctures. The tender young leaves are prized for salads.
Nowadays, you can buy organic cultivated dandelion from California in supermarkets around the United States, sold in half-pound bunches. It has a pleasant, prominent bitterness, best paired with a zesty dressing, such as the mustard-based one used in this menu. (Dandelion is also very good with a sharp anchovy dressing.) You’ll want to look for bunches with smaller leaves here; large leaves are better for cooking. Substitute sturdy, peppery arugula or radicchio if you wish. With its earthy marinated beets, chèvre and walnuts, this is a flavorful salad, eminently suitable for a light lunch. But here, it’s refreshing as a first course, a perfect beginning to the meal.
For a main course, I craved a mild chicken dish. I imagined it with a rich broth simmered down to make a gorgeous white gravy, finished with a dollop of crème fraîche and showered with a heady mixture of parsley, chives, tarragon, dill and lemon zest.
Loosely based on the French preparation (usually of veal or chicken) known as blanquette, this comforting recipe will please anyone who likes a chicken potpie, with its similar flavors made more elegant. It’s not hard to cook, but it does take time and patience.
Ideally, this dish celebrates fresh spring vegetables and herbs, too, but we’re pushing the season a bit. I felt just fine using peas, artichoke hearts and lima beans from the freezer, and I picked up young carrots and turnips at the market. The vegetable combinations can, of course, be altered to taste or be fewer in number. This is the abundant company version.
My repertoire of sweet lemon recipes is limited. As it happened, my friend, the Irish pastry chef JR Ryall, was in town recently, on with his new cookbook, “Ballymaloe Desserts,” for which I wrote the foreword. It contains a recipe for a homey hot lemon pudding, a dessert I thought would be just right as an ending for this spring meal. He even showed me how to make it — not difficult.
It is not a soufflé, but it has a similar airy feel. The batter is poured into a baking dish or small ramekins. As it bakes, the pudding separates into distinct layers, custardy on the bottom and spongy on top. Served warm from the oven, golden and dusted with confectioners’ sugar, with a dab of softly whipped cream, it’s a satisfying experience, spoonful by spoonful.