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A Taste of Spring

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Welcome the season with a menu inspired by the market’s freshest ingredients

And after months of hearty winter produce, the arrival of delicate spring vegetables at my local farmstand offers plenty of inspiration for a dinner menu. Wild mushrooms, the happy result of plentiful spring rains, are sautéed with shallots, fresh thyme, then mixed with  a little crème fraîche and spooned onto toasts as “a little something” for guests as they arrive.

Fresh asparagus and new potatoes, both treated with a very light hand, round out a main course of roasted Cornish game hens. And while your market may still be skimpy on seasonal fruit, who’s going to argue with a dish of vanilla ice cream drizzled with an espresso-flavored caramel sauce? Some things are inspirational at any time of year.

Download a pdf of this menu, including all recipes, shopping list, and timeline.

Menu Timeline

Up to a week ahead

  • Make the caramel sauce

The night before

  • Marinate the hens.
  • Wash the lettuce and refrigerate, covered with a damp towel.
  • Clean the mushrooms and refrigerate, covered with a damp towel

In the afternoon

  • Make the mushroom topping.
  • Make the chapons.
  • Cut the bread for the toasts.
  • Trim the asparagus.
  • Peel the potatoes and cover with water in a pot.

About 30 minutes before guests arrive

  • Mince the shallots and combine with the vinegar for the salad.
  • Mince the shallots and combine with the lemon for the potatoes.
  • Set the butter out to soften for the potatoes.
  • Brush the baguette slices with oil.
  • Put the hens on a baking sheet and leave at room temperature.

Soon after guests arrive

  • Put the hens in the oven.
  • Finish the Wild Mushroom Toasts.

Before serving each course

  • Toss the salad.
  • Make the pan jus for the hens.
  • Boil the potatoes.
  • Roast the asparagus.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce

  • 1 lb. wild mushrooms, such as chanterelles, maitakes, hedgehogs, or morels
  • 4 medium and 1 large shallots
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 head garlic
  • 6 large handfuls (about 1/2 lb.) mixed baby lettuces
  • 2-1/4 lb. small (2-inch) new potatoes, such as Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 small bunch fresh chervil
  • 2 lb. asparagus, preferably thin spears
  • 1 medium orange
  • 1 small yellow onion

Meat, Eggs & Dairy

  • 3 Cornish game hens
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche
  • 1 oz. chunk Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 pints vanilla ice cream

Other Groceries

  • 1 baguette
  • 1 crusty, country-style bread (such as Italian batard or levain), at least 3/4 lb.
  • 1 bottle dry white wine, such as Sauvignon blanc or Pinot Grigio
  • Kahlua (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate-covered espresso beans (optional)
  • 1 cup low-salt chicken broth
  • Ground espresso beans for brewing (if you don’t have an espresso machine, pick up a single brewed espresso at a local café just before making the caramel sauce)

Pantry Staples

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. honey (preferably wildflower)
  • Crushed red pepper flakes (pinch)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 Tbs. sherry or red-wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • Black peppercorns

Wine Choices

The dishes in this spring meal call for light, vibrant, youthful whites with juicy fruit and mouthwatering acidity and light-to-medium-bodied reds without a lot of oak or tannin. With the salad, serve a white such as Albariño or Sauvignon Blanc. I recommend the 2005 Vionta Albariño ($13) or the 2005 Valminor Albariño ($14), both from the Rias Baixas region of northwest Spain; or if you prefer Sauvignon Blanc, look for the 2006 Babich ($14) from the Marlborough region of New Zealand or the 2005 Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc ($13.50) from California’s Sonoma County. For the main course—or if you want just one wine to serve with the entire meal—Pinot Noir is a delicious choice. Look for the 2005 A to Z ($18) or the 2004 Andrew Rich ($25). Both are from Oregon, and both have appealing red-berry fruit and soft tannins.

—Tim Gaiser is a contributing editor and a master sommelier.

The Menu


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