North Fork Chef: Local vegetables make for savory spring

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Are you getting hungry staring at this quiche? Go make it yourself.

Out walking in the swamp picking cowslip, marsh marigold,
This sweet first green of spring. Now sautéed in a pan melting
To a deeper green than ever they were alive, this green, this life,

Harbinger of things to come. Now we sit at the table munching
On this message from the dawn which says we and the world
Are alive again today, and this is the world’s birthday. And

Even though we know we are growing old, we are dying, we
Will never be young again, we also know we’re still right here
Now, today, and, my oh my! don’t these greens taste good.

“The First Green of Spring”
by David Budbill

It has been one of the longest winters in memory and the signs of spring have been slow to come. But as the weather warms, we begin to search for the first local things that stimulate our appetite and give us hope that another good season is on the way. One way to ensure that you will be able to enjoy fresh local food every week is to join one of our many CSAs on the North Fork. Community supported agriculture began in the 1960s in Germany, Switzerland and Japan as a way to guarantee safe, healthy food that was grown organically and biodynamically. Having a group of subscribers (a community) pay up front in the spring gives the farmer some much-needed cash to start the season, and it gives the consumer a steady supply of the freshest local food available. Along the way the farmer and the consumer get to know each other and develop a relationship that everyone enjoys. This system has become so popular that there are more than 13,000 CSAs in North America alone.
But what to do with that box of veggies every week? It sometimes looks overwhelming and too repetitive. The secret is to keep an open mind and focus on each ingredient separately. Should it be eaten raw in a salad? Should it be slightly wilted and served under an entrée? Or should it be fully cooked and incorporated into the main dish? These variations can transform a leaf of spinach into three completely different experiences. Here are some ideas:

Asian Style Slaw
with Field Spinach
Rinse and remove stems from one bag of spinach, 2 heads of baby bok choy and 1 head of Napa cabbage. Make sure the leaves are dry and slice them thinly, julienne style. Toss them together in a large bowl and add 1 thinly sliced red onion and 6 thinly sliced scallions.
For the dressing combine 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/4 cup soy sauce. Add to this 2 tablespoons grated ginger, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar. Toast 2 tablespoons sesame seeds in a dry sauté pan and add them to the dressing. Whisk in 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 1/4 cup canola oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Toss at the last minute with the greens and serve.
Serves 6-8.

Sole with Wilted Spinach
Sprinkle 1 1/2 pounds of flounder, lemon sole or fluke fillets with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. Dredge them in 1 cup flour and set aside.
Rinse and remove the stems from 1 bag of local spinach to make about 8 cups. Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When oil is hot, cook the fish in batches to a golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. (Do not crowd.) Remove the fish fillets and keep warm. Place the rinsed spinach in the same pan and cover. Cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste and remove to a colander.
Divide the spinach between 4 plates and place the fish on top. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the hot pan along with 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Stir with a spoon and pour over fish.
Serves 4.

Spinach Quiche with
Catapano Goat Cheese
Prepare a pie crust by combining 1 1/4 cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor. Cut 3 tablespoons shortening into chunks and pulse into the flour mixture. Cut 5 tablespoons unsalted butter into chunks and add to processor. Pulse until it resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a bowl and stir in 1/4 cup ice water until dough forms. Flatten into a disk and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate while preparing other ingredients.
Thoroughly rinse 2 bags of field spinach and pick the leaves off the stems. Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a large soup pot and add 1 teaspoon sea salt. Add the spinach and cover. Cook for 2 minutes and drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out all the moisture you can and chop with a chef’s knife. Set aside.
Whisk 4 eggs in a bowl with 3/4 cup heavy cream and 1 cup milk. Stir in 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and the juice from 1 lemon. Add the chopped spinach to the egg mixture along with 4 ounces of Catapano goat cheese broken into small pieces.
Roll out the pie crust and place in a 9-inch pie tin with high fluted sides. Pour in the spinach mixture and top with 2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese. Place in a 375-degree oven and bake about 40 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.
Serves 6-8.

Pan Seared Sea Scallops
over Spring Mirepoix
A mirepoix is a mixture of aromatic vegetables used to flavor a dish.
Wash and cut the stems off of 1 bunch of asparagus. Cut into half-inch pieces and add to a large bowl. Trim 1 bunch of radishes and chop into quarter-inch pieces. Add to the asparagus. Trim 6 scallions and cut into quarter-inch pieces, using both the white and green parts. Add these to the asparagus along with 4 carrots that have been peeled and diced. Stir in 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves.
Dust 1 pound of fresh sea scallops with 1/2 cup of flour. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter to a large sauté pan. Heat until butter is frothy and add the scallops one at a time, being careful not to crowd. Cook at high heat until golden and remove. Keep warm.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the same pan and add the chopped vegetables. Sauté at medium heat until they begin to soften. Toss in 2 cups of lightly chopped spinach and season with 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and the zest and juice from 1 lime. When the spinach is wilted, place the mixture on plates for service.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the same sauté pan and heat until it begins to brown. Quickly add the juice of 1 lime and 1 tablespoon Roses lime juice. Toss the cooked scallops in this mixture until they are hot and place on top of the cooked vegetables.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected].