Asparagus & Chickpea • Romaine with Celery, Walnuts, and Garlic-Anchovy Dressing • Barley Levain • Lemon Cream Cake
We went away for a few days last week and came home to a house that was only forty-eight degrees. Brrr! That’s what happens after five days without a fire in the pellet stove, and you live on the shady side of the street; it’s winter over here. But just a few houses down, on the sunny side, it’s getting to be spring in my parents’ yard. The magnolia’s almost blooming, there are daffodils and grape hyacinth popping up everywhere, and it’s warm.
When I’m at my parents’ house I’m in flip-flops, laying out on the front porch in the sun, right next to the dog. But when I’m at home I’m wearing cabin socks and my favorite fuzzy-lined sweatshirt that was a hand-me-down from my gigantically-tall brother, turning on the electric blanket to heat up the bed. Today’s meal is designed for this mullet-y situation (when the season is spring in the front/winter in the back). We’ve got some asparagus—the quintessential spring vegetable—but the meal isn’t delicate or subtle at all. It’s punchy and savory and pungent, with the kind of flavors that will wake you up and warm you up.
Asparagus is combined with chickpeas and some potatoes in an Italian-inspired soup. I used way more onions and garlic than you would think, with a good few pinches of red pepper flakes. The ingredients are simple, but the result is full of complex flavors—the sweetness of onion, the earthiness of asparagus, the heat of red pepper. Those of you who eat dairy can add Pecorino Romano cheese, which I absolutely love (in general, sheeps’-milk cheeses are my favorites; sheeps-milk feta, Ossau-Iraty, really good Manchego…).
The salad is equally bold in flavor. I had a few inspirations for this salad—the Roman salad of puntarelle with anchovy, bagna cauda with cardoons, Casear minus the croutons and cheese—but mainly I wanted to eat garlic and anchovy in some form or another. A whole Meyer lemon and a bit of mayonnaise mellow out the garlic-anchovy combo, while Sherry vinegar and a big dollop of Dijon mustard keeps the flavors balanced. It’s a dressing that would be delicious on any vegetable, but it particularly shines on the trio of Romaine, celery, and walnuts.
For dessert, we’ve got the birthday cake I didn’t make for my mom. I can’t remember what we had instead for her birthday dinner in January, but lemon cream cake is one of her favorite cakes, so I made an extra one today just for her. There are two layers of lemon sponge cake, filled with citrus curd lightened with whipped cream, with more vanilla whipped cream on top. It’s a cake that manages to be light and airy while still being rich and fragrant. I can see why my mom likes it!