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Lunch menu uses fresh ingredients


If your garden is just a daydream or maybe rows of tiny plants, you can still create a springtime menu with a garden-fresh taste by picking the freshest produce available. In the herb garden, fresh chives, marjoram and thyme are just beginning their season's growth.

Here is a luncheon menu built around a spinach tart, a recipe in "From an Italian Garden" (Macmillan, hardcover, $23) by Judith Barrett. It's rounded out with two recipes from "The Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden" (Fireside Books, paperback, $15) by David Hirsch that take advantage of the first herbs -- a creamy Parmesan dressing to be used on your favorite green salad, and a Cheddar-herb bread.

Spinach tart

Makes one 9-inch tart, or 6 servings.

1 recipe basic tart pastry (see below)

10 ounces of fresh spinach, thoroughly washed and stems removed, or one 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach

3 tablespoons pure olive oil

1 medium-sized onion, chopped

1 cup ricotta

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Cover the pastry with waxed or parchment paper, fill with dried beans or other baking weights, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the weights and waxed paper and allow the pan to stand on a cooling rack until ready to fill.

Cook the spinach in a large saucepan over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until wilted. Drain as much liquid as possible from the spinach and chop. (If you are using frozen spinach, cook according to the directions on the package and drain.) Transfer the spinach to a large mixing bowl.

Place the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 7 to 10 minutes, until translucent. Add the onion to the spinach, along with the remaining ingredients, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to combine. Pour into the pie crust and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set and the crust and top are browned. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Basic tart pastry

Makes one 10-inch crust.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 pound (1 stick) well-chilled unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1/4 cup ice water (preferably carbonated)

Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter, working it into the flour with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture is the texture of cornmeal. Add the water while mixing until the dough holds together. (If you are using a food processor, combine the flour and salt in the work-bowl fitted with the steel blade. Add the butter, then turn the machine on for approximately 15 seconds, until the butter-and-flour mixture resembles the texture of cornmeal. With the machine running, add the water and allow the machine to run until the dough forms a ball on the blade. Turn off the machine. Remove the dough from the machine.) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or waxed paper, press it into a flat, circular shape with your hands, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Unwrap the dough, lightly flour it on both sides, and place it on a well-floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to form a circle, turning it frequently and lightly flouring on both sides. When the dough is approximately 12 inches in diameter and 1/16 inch thick, fold it in half, then in half again so you have a quarter-circle, and place the folded corner of the dough in the center of a 10-inch tart pan. (You can use any straight-sided pan, a metal tart pan with a removable bottom, or a glass or ceramic pan.)

Open the dough so that it fits inside the tart pan. Press the dough lightly into the pan, trim the edges, fold down, and crimp to form a decorative edge around the pan. Prick the pastry all over with the tines of a fork. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until ready to bake. The crust does not need to be defrosted before baking.

Creamy Parmesan dressing

Yields 1 1/4 cups.

1/2 cup freshly grated good-quality Parmesan cheese

2 garlic cloves, blanched (see note) and minced or pressed

1/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or white-wine vinegar or herb vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or oregano or marjoram (1 teaspoon dried)

1/2 cup vegetable oil (all or part olive)

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Puree the Parmesan cheese, garlic, milk, and lemon juice or vinegar until smooth. Add the herbs and continue to blend, slowly drizzling in the oil.

Keeps refrigerated for up to one week. Re-blend if separation occurs.

Note: Blanched garlic has a milder, nuttier flavor than raw. To blanch, drop the garlic cloves in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and use. Raw garlic can be used for a more robust flavor.

Cheddar-herb bread

Yields 1 loaf.

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm

1 tablespoon honey or sugar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 package dry yeast (1 tablespoon)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (one of the following: sage, dill, basil, or tarragon)

2 tablespoons chopped scallion

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 to 2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour

1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)

1 tablespoon dill or poppy or sesame seed

Combine the egg, milk, honey or sugar, 1 tablespoon oil, yeast, herbs, scallion, salt, and pepper. Add the flours, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Use as much of the flour as you need to make a dough stiff enough to knead.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead in the Cheddar cheese. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes; it should be smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, flipping it over to grease the top. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Punch down the dough and put it in a lightly oiled loaf pan, 9 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches. Cover, and let rise again until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Brush the top of the bread with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with the seeds.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the bread makes a hollow sound when tapped. Cool on a rack.

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