The Simple Art of Cooking: Splendid Spring Greens

My grass is greener than I could ever remember—no doubt due to April showers, as we’ve had a fair amount. Yet green is more than a beautiful lawn—it’s everywhere—from green energy efficient products, to the “green” canvas bags being carried into supermarkets and specialty stores to carry out our groceries, to kitchens that are going completely green with “green” materials from floors to counter tops. Yes, we all want to do our part to save the planet and to save ourselves—and one of the best ways is to simply eat local and to eat “green.”

The cool green colors of watercress, zucchini and leek combine to create a splendid do-ahead “green” soup. Leafy green artichokes can be enjoyed in a variety of ways—trimmed; cooked whole and presented at table shaped like a flower and served with a piquant dipping sauce; delectably stuffed Italian style. But have you had them braised in a sweet and sour sauce? This recipe with roots in Spain is sure to please.

With warmer days welcoming the spring harvest and local farm stand openings planned, the best is yet to come.

Watercress, Leek and Zucchini Soup

A splendid “green” soup.

Serves 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 to 3 leeks, thoroughly washed, about 2 cups

thinly sliced

1 1/2 pounds narrow zucchini, peeled and diced

5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade or low

sodium canned

Kosher salt to taste and freshly ground pepper

1 bunch watercress, stems removed

1/2 cup of half and half

2 tablespoons minced chives

1. Warm oil with butter in a large saucepan. When butter melts and foam subsides, add the leek and zucchini and stir to mix. Cover with a square of wax paper to sweat the vegetables for 6 to 7 minutes. Uncover, discard paper; pour on stock and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, add watercress, adjust heat and cook at a brisk simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool.

2. Purée the soup directly in the same pot the soup cooked in with a hand immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Return to rinsed-out saucepan, add half and half. Reheat over low heat, taste for seasonings and serve with chive garnish.

Braised Sweet and Sour Artichokes

This intriguing dish has roots in both Spain and in the South of France. Trim the artichokes carefully as they cook a short time and must be tender enough to eat entirely. Serve as first course.

Serves 4

1 lemon

4 small or 8 baby artichokes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup water

2 tomatoes, preferably on-the-vine, peeled, seeded

and diced

1 bay leaf

2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf Italian

parsley

1. Fill a bowl with fresh cold water. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice from one half into the water. Put in the squeezed lemon half as well. Cut the stems of the artichokes to about 1/2 inch from the base. Break off first two rows of leaves from the base and discard, then bend back and remove as many rows as necessary to arrive at the tender inner rows. Cut about 3/8 inch off the artichoke tops and discard. Peel the artichoke bottoms and stems, rubbing the cut surfaces with the remaining lemon half as you work. Cut the artichokes in half to expose the choke. With a metal spoon, remove the inside hair of the choke and drop into the acidulated water as they are done. Drain and pat dry before cooking.

2. Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and put in the onion slices. Sauté, stirring occasionally for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the drained artichokes in a single layer and toss to coat in the oil. Add about 1/3 cup water and bring to the edge of a simmer. Add the tomato and bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Pour over the lemon juice and white wine vinegar and stir in the sugar. Spoon over the onion and tomatoes and cook, covered, over low heat about 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes longer. Check with the tip of a knife to be sure that the artichokes are tender. Remove and discard bay leaf, sprinkle with parsley and serve hot.

Visit Silvia’s website at savoringthehamptons.com to read her blogs and more recipes.

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