I cook for a living and spend most of my week planning menus, shopping, prepping and organizing celebrations. I’m out late most weekends cooking so by the time I get into be in the wee hours of Sunday morning I’m ready for a break.
I love reaching Sunday—it’s an unfussy and relaxed time. Gone, temporarily, is that worrisome weekday feeling that I’ve forgotten or neglected something work-related. With my husband and two teenaged children sleeping in, I can prep a few things in my kitchen to get ready for our family Sunday dinner while the rest of the house is quiet. The meal is always simple but I spend all week mulling it over. Since I know what I’m serving, I’ve been slowly collecting ingredients through- out the week. My goal is to not have to enter a market or wine shop on Sunday. If I’m lucky I won’t have to leave my apartment at all.
Everyone gathers for an early, haphazard lunch of left- overs and then a nice long nap before dinner. Once the sun goes down we get started on the evening. Often everyone hovers in our tiny city apartment kitchen sipping a cocktail or mocktail, talking and listening to music while I finish cooking. It’s a ritual I love and find completely restorative.
Spring is an especially sweet time to enjoy this little Sunday treat. There are loads of fresh and wonderful things at the market. The woody vegetables stored in farmers’ root cellars have finally given way to new, bracingly fresh carrots, tiny turnips, radishes, leeks and tender greens. It’s a fun time to be a cook.
In spring the most prized vegetables show up only for a brief time. It’s a fun challenge to use them in as many ways as possible, gorging ourselves daily for a week or two. When they are nearly in danger of becoming mundane, they give way to the next new crop and won’t be tasted again until next year. I’ll miss them, but it’s a good reminder of another season passing and time moving forever onward.
These Sunday dinners are equally fleeting. By spring their days are seriously numbered, as soon we’ll abandon the practice in favor of outdoor adventures until fall rolls around. Standing in that hot (did I mention tiny?) city kitchen in the glare of incessant afternoon sun is hardly welcoming, but that is still months away. Until then we happily gather at the table, with the spring air drifting in and the candles lit, eating family style with little fuss. And after a late winter’s struggle to wrestle yet another root vegetable into something new and appropriately cold-weather-hearty, my springtime menus are full of light and delicate foods, prepared simply and easy on the palate.
Every item in the following recipes can be gathered in one stop from either your local grocery store or farmers market. Poaching is a simple and beautifully light technique that relies entirely on the flavor and quality of your ingredients. They are unmasked, their essence coming through cleanly and elegantly. This is a real advantage for the cook: Your only task is to assemble ingredients carefully. There is minimal work and even less active cooking time. A little bit of prep in the quiet morning before everyone gets up, a break in the afternoon while the main course simmers away—largely ignored—and a final bit of pulling it all together at the end while you munch on olives and have a drink. All that’s left is to light the candles and serve, family style.
After the olives, feast on shallow bowls of green garlic and potato ravioli poached in broth. Next comes a platter of sliced poached local chicken, bundles of simmered spring vegetables ladled with broth and dotted with punchy salsa verde. Add a pile of thinly sliced, grilled sourdough bread and you have a meal. It’s a fairly light supper so you can splurge on a rich wedge of triple crème cheese at the end. Add a small plate of cookies from the market, some chocolate or whatever fruit you have on hand, and while the evening deepens into night pull out the digestivo with berries that’s been “poaching” in the fridge and serve it in tiny glasses. A most celebratory way to face the new week.
MICHELLE MULFORD is the chef/owner of Uncommon Feasts. She owes her love of cooking and eating to her Sicilian great aunts and uncles. She learned by watching them work their small backyard gardens, sitting with them at the kitchen table while they prepared handmade meals for enormous family lunches and holidays After 14 years as a cook, caterer, pie maker, and a stint at Formaggio Kitchen-South End she started Uncommon Feasts in 2013.