Cooking Fresh in Early Spring

by Irene Costello and Joan MacIsaac

Spring has arrived! And no one has to tell our internal clocks. After a winter of simmered stews and root vegetables, we naturally begin to crave foods that are green and clean. There are a wide range of vegetables, herbs and greens that arrive in the spring, some with just a short growing season and others that last well into the summer. It’s a great time to experiment with a little of this and that, and really enjoy the seasonal flavors.


Serves 4

1 pound spinach, cleaned and trimmed of stems
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

3 tablespoons tahini (be sure to stir the jar contents)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
½ to 1 teaspoon water

Bring a large 4-quart pot of water to a boil. Add ½ teaspoon salt. Have a large bowl of iced water ready near your workspace. Submerge the spinach in the boiling water and blanch until it all wilts, approximately 20 seconds. Using a Chinese strainer, remove the spinach and submerge in the ice water to stop the cooking. The spinach should cool in a few minutes. Take it out of the water and drain. Squeeze the water out by pressing in a colander, repeatedly turning it and pressing. Lay the spinach on a kitchen towel, roll it into a log and press to remove the excess water. This can be refrigerated up to a day ahead of time.

Place the spinach on a cutting board and chop it into small pieces. Combine the sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds and toss it with the spinach in a bowl. Set aside.

For the dressing, combine the tahini, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, vinegar and water in a bowl. Whisk to combine. (This is an intense dressing and should be used lightly.)

Press the spinach into ramekins or shapes, and un-mold each onto a salad plate. Lightly drizzle the sesame dressing over the spinach and garnish with the spicy carrots.

Spicy Carrots
1 pound carrots, peeled
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ginger, diced fine
1½ tablespoons peanut or canola oil
3–5 Thai dried chilies, crushed; or ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
pinch salt
¼ cup cilantro leaves, packed and torn

Slice the carrots on the mandolin into long thin ribbons about a 1/8-inch thick. (You can also use a vegetable peeler with a large opening to make the ribbons). Place the carrots in a bowl and set aside. In a small bowl combine the vinegar, sugar and ginger and stir to combine. Toss the carrots with the vinegar-sugar mix and set aside for 20 minutes.

Drain the marinade and set aside. The carrots should still have a bit of a crunch. Heat a sauté pan on medium, add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the dried chilies (or red pepper flakes) and heat through for 2 minutes.

Pour the oil over the carrots. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and toss well. Add the cilantro leaves and serve alongside the spinach salad.


For the following recipe I was able to purchase sheets of fresh pasta packed in plastic at a local grocery store. At the same time there are a number of pasta shops in the Boston area that sell fresh sheets of pasta. The store-bought pasta tends to be a bit thicker than homemade but overall it worked well, saving many steps.

Serves 6

Ravioli Filling
2 bunches Swiss chard, stemmed, washed and torn into 3-inch pieces
2–3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups diced sweet onion
2 small garlic cloves, cut in half
1 tablespoon chopped sage
2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted and ground fine
2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted and rough chop
¼ cup currants or golden raisins, rehydrated in water and drained
2–3 ounces Great Hill Blue Cheese, crumbled fine
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Heat a large sauté pan on high. Add the water and bring to a boil to create steam. Add the Swiss chard, mounding it in the pan. Rotate the chard with tongs, allowing the steam to gradually wilt the chard. Once wilted, remove chard and drain in a colander. Let cool. Squeeze the water out by pressing in a colander, repeatedly turning it and pressing.

Lay the chard on a kitchen towel, roll it into a log and press to remove the excess water. This can be refrigerated up to a day ahead of time.

In a small sauté pan heat the butter on medium-high. Add the onion, garlic and sage and sauté the onions for 4–5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium and continue sautéing the onions until they lightly brown, about 4–5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Place the Swiss chard on your cutting board and roughly chop. Add the onion mixture and continue chopping the filling until the pieces are fine and blending together. Transfer this mixture to a bowl and add the ground hazelnuts, chopped hazelnuts, currants, blue cheese and cracked black pepper. Combine the filling, breaking up some of the blue cheese with your hands to form an almost-bound filling. Taste and season as needed.

8 sheets fresh pasta, 4–5 inches wide
1 egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water
1 cup semolina for dusting and storing

Set up your workspace with the pasta sheets, semolina for dusting, egg
wash and a container to hold the raviolis in a layer. Lay a sheet of pasta dough on your workspace and dust off any excess semolina. Brush the pasta with enough egg wash to just cover the surface.

Spoon the ravioli filling in large teaspoon-size dollops (with two finger-widths between the dollops) on the bottom half of the pasta sheets leaving a ½ inch border. Fold the top portion of the pasta over the chard filling. Starting at the folded edge, gently press the dough together as your fingers seal the dough around the filling. Continue pressing toward the outer edges, allowing the air to escape. Make sure the edges are sealed and that there are no air pockets in the filling. Use a ravioli cutter or knife to cut between the raviolis and trim the edges.

Lay the completed raviolis in a container with ¼-inch layer of semolina. As you add layers of raviolis, add plenty of semolina between the layers, to ensure that the dough won’t stick together.

Refrigerate or freeze the ravioli prior to cooking.

Herb-Garlic Broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 shallots, peeled and sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped sage
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup dry sherry or white wine
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano
¼ cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

Heat a medium sauté pan on medium-high and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the shallots and garlic and sauté for 2–3 minutes or until the shallots are softened. Add the herbs and red pepper flakes and continue to sauté for 2 minutes. Increase the heat to high and add the sherry or white wine and reduce the liquid by half of its volume, about 3 minutes. Add the stock and continue to reduce the liquids by half, about 4–5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the butter. Season the broth with salt and pepper and set aside.

In the meantime, in a large pasta pot bring plenty of water seasoned with salt to a boil. Drop the raviolis in the pot. Stir. The raviolis will float to the top of the water. Once they come to the top, let them cook for 3–8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough. Remove one and test an edge for doneness. Reserve some of your pasta water for the sauce.

Add the raviolis to the broth with ¼ cup of the pasta water to help thicken the broth. Gently toss with the toasted hazelnuts and half of the grated Parmesan. Transfer the raviolis to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.


Serves 6

Spice Rubbed Chicken
2 tablespoons cumin seed
2 tablespoons coriander seed
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon fennel seed
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces and boned
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and cut into ½-inch rounds
2 apples, cored and cut into ¼-inch rounds
2 cups canned chickpeas drained, rinsed and patted dry
¼ pound arugula, washed and trimmed
⅓ cup reduced cider vinaigrette (recipe follows)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place cumin, coriander, cinnamon stick, fennel seed and cayenne on a sheet pan and toast for 4–5 minutes in a 350° oven. Let cool and grind in a spice mill. Transfer to a container and add the remaining sugar, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly. This is a great spice mixture to have on hand.

Rub the chicken pieces with the olive oil and 3–4 tablespoons of the spice rub. Set aside. Lightly rub the red onion slices and apple slices with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Start an even bed of coals in your charcoal grill or preheat your gas grill on high. Grill the chicken skin side down for 4 minutes on the hotter part of the grill. Flip to the reverse side and grill for 4 minutes. Move the chicken to a cooler part of the grill and finish the chicken for 2–3 minutes.

Use a thin small knife check for doneness. Transfer the chicken to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Grill the onions for 4–5 minutes on each side, until softened. Grill the apple rounds for 2–3 minutes per side and set aside. Slice the chicken into ¼-inch slices. Separate the onion rings, removing the outer charred pieces.

Place the arugula in a large bowl, sprinkle with salt and dress with enough cider dressing to just coat the leaves. Place the arugula on a large serving platter, making a well in the center.

In the same large bowl combine the chicken, grilled onion rings and chickpeas. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with 3–4 tablespoons of the cider vinaigrette. Gently toss and mound in the center of the dressed of arugula. Place the grilled apples around the platter and drizzle the whole platter with 2 tablespoons of dressing.

Reduced Cider Vinaigrette
2 cups apple cider
½ cup reduced cider (see below)
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon shallots, diced fine
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
½ to 1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup canola oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, heat the cider on high heat. Bring to a boil, making sure it does not overflow. Reduce the cider on medium-high heat to a third of its original volume. The reduced cider should be the consistency of syrup. Set aside and let cool. (The reduced cider can be stored up to 2 weeks.)

In a mixing bowl combine ½ cup of the reduced cider, sherry vinegar, shallots, chopped thyme and ½ teaspoon of sugar. Gradually add the canola oil by whisking vigorously. Season the dressing with salt and pepper and taste. Use the arugula to taste the vinaigrette and adjust the seasonings accordingly.


One of the early treasures of spring?Wintered-over parsnips. Parsnips that are left in the ground in the fall, covered with protective mulch and harvested in the early spring are referred to as wintered-over or spring-dug parsnips. The stored starch in the root converts to sugar in the early spring in preparation of new spring growth. These parsnips are especially tender and sweet.

Serves 4–6

1½ pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
½ pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup green garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
cracked black pepper to taste

Combine the parsnips and potatoes in a saucepan with ½ teaspoon salt and cover with water. Bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking for 15–18 minutes (depending on the thickness of the vegetables). The parsnips should be soft enough to mash with a fork on the side of the pan. Drain the parsnips. Return the parsnips to the saucepan. Use a small whisk or potato masher to mash the parsnips to a smooth consistency. (If you prefer a softer consistency, stir in a few tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid.)

In a small sauté pan heat the butter on medium. Once melted, add the green garlic and stir occasionally until the garlic has evenly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic butter to the mashed parsnips with the salt and some black pepper. Fold in the butter and green garlic.

Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly.

Irene Costello is co-owner of Effie’s Homemade and Ruby Chard Cooking Classes. After 20 years in the corporate world, Irene broke out to develop her passion for cooking. She has a master’s degree in gastronomy and a certificate in Culinary Arts from Boston University. You can reach her at

Joan MacIsaac is executive chef/partner of Effie’s Homemade and Ruby Chard Cooking Classes. Joan brings more than 20 years of professional culinary experience to Effie’s Homemade and Ruby Chard. She worked six years in the restaurant industry before returning to Boston to start her own business, Ruby Chard Catering in 1996. Effie’s Homemade was launched in February 2008. You can reach her at


This story appeared in the Spring 2009 issue.