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Wednesday, August 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 69.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Heading back to the farmers' market (recipe)
Ways to use the first crops of spring
on
Roasted Radish Flatbread with Ricotta, Honey and Herbs.
Credit:Anna Thomas Bates

This year's severe and seemingly endless winter is slowly yielding to the song of the red-winged blackbird, the green tips of daffodil leaves and that familiar smell of damp earth.

The deep freeze may delay Wisconsin's early produce by a few weeks, but soon the farmers' markets will move outdoors. The Dane County Farmers' Market returns to the Square on Saturday, April 19. Some of the first produce will be rhubarb, radishes and asparagus. But cooks can also seek out green herbs, baby vegetables and foraged foods like nettles, watercress and morels, using them on flatbreads or in soups and salads. Take advantage of still-cool temps to gently oven-braise meats and stews or to broil or roast dishes. Sylvan Meadows Farm will be selling spring lamb at the market on the 19th.

Welcome spring with a feast to honor the change in the weather and the growing season that is just beginning. It's hard to believe that in a few short months you'll have more tomatoes than you know what to do with.


Roasted Radish Flatbread with Ricotta, Honey and Herbs
Serves 4-6

Crispy flatbread showcases earthy spring radishes, their bite softened with creamy ricotta and a drizzle of honey. Toss a handful of herbs over the top and you have an appetizer with spring appeal. Start the dough the evening before for best results.

  • 1 flatbread dough (see recipe)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3/4 cup ricotta (full-fat)
  • 3-5 plump spring radishes, sliced paper-thin
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives and parsley
  • flaky sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, preheat it too. (Otherwise, use a baking sheet.)

Stretch dough into a thin round. Brush with olive oil and spread ricotta on dough. Lay radishes in a single layer on top. Bake for 7-8 minutes, until crust edge has golden spots.

Remove from oven. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle herbs and salt. Serve immediately.

Dough

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 heaping teaspoon fine salt

Dissolve yeast and honey in water and let sit until foamy. Whisk together flour and salt, pour in water, lightly stir and let it rest for 20 minutes. Knead dough until smooth and supple. For best results, place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise overnight in the refrigerator. Let come to room temperature before using. Otherwise, cover and let rise for about an hour at room temperature.


Braised Lamb Shanks with Gremolata
Serves 4-6

Appetites crave fresh vegetables and bright flavors, but there's still a chill in the air that welcomes a dish braised slowly in the oven. This can be made ahead and stored overnight prior to removing the meat and pureeing the sauce. Before serving, take out the meat, remove accumulated fat, reheat and puree the cooking liquid and vegetables.

  • olive oil to cover the pan
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • pinch salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 meaty lamb shanks
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 small bundle fresh parsley
  • gremolata, for serving (see recipe)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Cover bottom with olive oil and add onion. Sauté until it begins to turn translucent. Add carrots, celery and a large pinch of salt. Cook everything until vegetables are soft, 7-8 minutes.

Add garlic and tomato paste, and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Nestle lamb shanks in vegetables and add broth, wine, bay leaves and parsley. Cover with lid and place in oven. Cook 3-4 hours until meat is very tender.

Remove shanks and take meat off the bone. Set meat aside (bones can be saved for making broth) and keep warm. Discard bay leaves and bundle of parsley. Spoon fat from surface of sauce. Puree liquid and vegetables. Serve lamb warm, on top of pureed vegetables with gremolata sprinkled on top.

Gremolata
Makes 3/4 cup

  • 1 cup packed fresh parsley leaves, finely minced
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, finely minced
  • zest from one lemon, finely minced

It's easiest to mince the parsley when it is dry. Gently stir minced herb leaves, garlic and lemon zest together.


Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Strawberries
Serves 6-8

The pavlova hails from Down Under (it is Australia's national dessert) and is a welcome departure from heavier winter desserts. The shell is a cloud of whipped meringue, baked until crispy on the outside and the interior is the texture of marshmallow. Top it with tart lemon curd (homemade or store-bought) and fresh strawberries.

Wisconsin strawberries will not be available until late spring. If you want to stick with local offerings, swap lemon curd for whipped cream and top with rhubarb compote. Bring four cups chopped rhubarb and 1 cup sugar to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 7-8 minutes until rhubarb is tender. If desired, add a tablespoon of lemon juice and a teaspoon of vanilla extract).

Shells

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups prepared lemon curd
  • 3 cups sliced strawberries

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. You can make one large 9-inch shell or eight small ones (2-1/2 across). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a pencil and a 9-inch pie plate to draw one large circle on parchment paper or a drinking glass to draw eight circles. Flip paper over.

In a large bowl, beat egg whites until beater leaves a trail. Add sugar while continuing to mix on high. Beat until meringue has stiff peaks; don't underbeat, or shells won't hold their shape when spooned onto baking sheet.

Sprinkle cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla over top. Mix at a lower speed for 20 seconds to fully incorporate.

Spoon meringue into disks, filling circles drawn on parchment. Use damp fingers or a wet spoon to lightly shape. It's okay if they're messy, but try to leave a shallow indentation to hold toppings.

Bake individual shells for 50-60 minutes (or single large shell for 60-70). Shells are done when dry to the touch and sound hollow when lightly tapped. Prop open oven door and let completely cool and dry for several hours or overnight. Meringues can be made ahead of time and stored at room temperature for two days.

When ready to serve, top with lemon curd and berries or whipped cream and rhubarb compote.

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