by Jean Redstone…
Here we are, nearly full swing into the very best part of the year for pleasing your family’s palate and I almost overlooked it. It’s the season of fresh, people, and nobody does fresh better than right here where we live.
If I hadn’t let a friend talk me into lunching out, I might still be lost in winter laziness. But we went to The Blue Plate in Mullica Hill and the menu was loaded with one of my favorite spring words: “asparagus”! Seriously. Practically every other listing, from quiche to cake, featured asparagus. It was like a knock on my noggin to wake up to good-tasting times!
Thanks to owner-chef Jim Malaby, I was face to face with the start of Season Fresh. Turns out Malaby has a philosophy of food that fosters finding local farmers, many of whom do not even advertise, and grabbing the first of their fields as fruit or vegetable harvests progress.
The asparagus in my quiche came from a Clarksboro farm, “with just a little hand-painted sign that says ‘asparagus’ and ‘open’, but his asparagus is delicious,” Malaby said when I asked him about his menu. “We buy it right from the field. The difference (from buying at the market) is mind-numbing.”
Like most “farm to fork” chefs, Malaby uses local freshness in creative ways. To give you a chance to do so, too, he offered three recipes using produce that is seasonal through June.
ASPARAGUS STUDDED CHOCOLATE CAKE
Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 C all purpose flour (extra for dusting of pans)
2 C sugar
3/4 C good (unsweetened) cocoa powder
1 C grated fresh asparagus (rinse before grating)
1C chocolate chips
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 C buttermilk, shaken
1/2 C vegetable oil
2 extra large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 C freshly brewed hot coffee
Chocolate Fudge Buttercream (see recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. Sift the 1 ½ cups of the flour with sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until combined. In a separate bowl mix remainder of flour into chocolate chips and reserve. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the asparagus and reserved chocolate chunks. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
6 oz good semisweet chocolate
1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra large egg yolk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 C sifted confectioners’ sugar
Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl that is set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. On low speed, add the chocolate to the butter mixture and mix until blended.
JERSEY STRAWBERRY SALAD
Favorite Salad Greens 14-16 Fresh Jersey Strawberries, rinsed Stalk Fresh Broccoli, rinsed
½ C Basil Leaves
4 oz Goat Cheese
½ C Walnuts
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Put 2 large handfuls of your favorite salad greens in a large mixing bowl, set aside Trim tops off the strawberries and quarter them, add to salad greens. Trim the stem of the broccoli off to just expose the crown of the broccoli. Slice the crown of the broccoli at full length as thin as you can. Add to salad mix. Tear basil leaves and add to salad greens. Mix salad greens with basil, broccoli and strawberries and separate into two serving bowls. Top with a wedge of goat cheese and add walnuts. When ready to serve, add a pinch of salt, cracked black pepper and sprinkle a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and fresh squeeze lemon. Note: You can prepare this salad in advance and have it chilled in the refrigerator.
SWEET JERSEY CHERRY BBQ SAUCE
2 Tbls vegetable oil
1 small red onion
4 C pitted local cherries
2 Tbls minced ginger
1 medium tomato, cubed
½ C cider vinegar
½ C orange juice
1/3 C brown sugar
1 tsp allspice
salt and pepper
Cook onions until tender. Add ginger, cherries and tomatoes. Cook 5 minutes more to soften. Add rest of ingredients and simmer 20 minutes. Puree in a processor and serve with favorite grilled meats. Makes about 2 cups.