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A Taste of Spring

June 4th, 2012 by Janet

When my husband and I go to visit my family down in Champaign, there is always a big focus on food.  Whether our trip is planned around a holiday or just some free time, my mother and I usually have some idea of what everyone might like to eat when our whole family gets together.  There is always a pork loin or six in the freezer, a full pantry, and my Dad is always willing to take a trip to the grocery store for anything we are missing.

Our last trip was before the garden was in full swing, but Spring had definitely sprung.  The family crowd was not as big as usual (we are almost twenty people when all of my siblings can come over) so this time my husband and I were just cooking for my parents and our friend Francie.  Lucky for us, my Mother and I were going for a walk and we ran into our neighbors, who had just returned from fishing and morel hunting and had been quite successful in their adventures.  Better yet, they offered us some of their bounty!  We were the happy recipients of two lovely trout and a bowl full of morel mushrooms.  This, along with some new purple asparagus from my parent’s garden, would create a lovely Spring dinner.

The best part about cooking this meal was that it was so incredibly simple, and each ingredient shared being the star of the dish.  The morels were large, plump, and easy to clean.  The asparagus tasted more vibrant than any bunch you would every buy in the grocery store, and the fish was so fresh and beautifully tender.   I decided to simply grill the fish whole, as my mother had a handy contraption to hold the fish and flip them over easily on the grates.  After splitting the morels in half lengthwise and rinsing them several times, I let them dry on paper towels for a while so that they would sauté a bit more easily.  The asparagus was so tender that I didn’t have to peel it, so I just sliced the spears thinly on a bias and left the tips whole.  A hot sauté pan with some olive oil and shallots was all I needed as a base for my spring vegetables.  A splash of white wine, a dab of whole butter, and a sprinkling of chives from the herb garden on the patio were my finishing touches.

It turns out that our walk was beneficial for a couple of reasons!  I look forward to more of these light and simple meals as summer approaches.  Hopefully this is an incentive for you to explore your own gardens or markets for delicious and healthy treats like these.

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Janet Kirker is the Executive Chef of The Chopping Block. She oversees the culinary staff at both of The Chopping Block locations, manages the curriculum and menu development teams, and works with the Event Sales team to organize private events. Cooking is still her favorite hobby, whether it be a simple dinner for two or a huge family gathering. Wine is a major interest, and it often dictates where she and her husband choose to vacation.

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