Spring is in the Air
Spring is unequivocally my favorite time of year! The days are getting longer, the temperatures are mild, and the annoying mosquitoes haven’t appeared yet. Everyone in the neighborhood is outdoors getting their yards, patios and decks in shape for the coming months.
The oak, pecan and cypress trees are bursting with new foliage, and the azaleas, wisteria, bridal wreath and irises are popping out, creating a lush landscape. It's an ideal time to entertain on my front porch overlooking Bayou Teche.
Lounge chairs are dusted off, and the old cypress table will do quite nicely for dinner al fresco. Wild irises blooming on the banks of the bayou will make a nice centerpiece. Votive candles tucked here and there will set the mood for the early evening repast.
As for the menu, I decided to make it simple. We'll begin with a goat cheese, prosciutto and fig appetizer followed by a sweet onion tart and an avocado salad accompanied by a crusty loaf of olive bread. Dessert? Something with our Louisiana strawberries!
SWEET ONION TART
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 3 tablespoons cold butter
• 3 tablespoons cold shortening
• 3 to 4 tablespoons cold water
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 cups thinly sliced sweet onions
• 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
• ¾ cup half-and-half
• ¾ cup sour cream
• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs, such as basil and oregano
• ¾ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1⁄8 teaspoon hot sauce
To make the crust, combine the flour and salt in a medium-size bowl.
With a pastry blender, cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Stir in just enough water to form a ball of dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to form a 10-inch circle.
Line a 9-inch pie plate with the pastry and prick the bottom with a fork.
Line the pastry with wax paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights.
Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
Remove the beans or pie weights and the wax paper.
To make the filling, melt the butter in a large skillet and cook the onions, stirring, until soft about 5 minutes.
Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Remove from the heat and stir in the half-and-half, the sour cream, the eggs, herbs, salt, pepper and hot sauce.
Pour this mixture into the pie shell and bake for 10 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 350 degrees until the filling sets and is lightly golden, about 30 minutes.
MAKES 1 PIE TO SERVE 6
GOAT CHEESE WRAPS
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 6 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
• 1 teaspoon minced garlic
•12 slices (not paper-thin) prosciutto, halved crosswise
• ½ cup fig preserves
• ½ bunch arugula
Freshly ground black pepper
Whisk the oil, lemon zest and lemon juice together in a small bowl and set aside.
Mix the goat cheese and garlic together in another small bowl and set aside.
Spread a thin layer of the goat cheese mixture on each piece of prosciutto, spread a thin layer of the fig preserves over the cheese, and top with 1 to 2 arugula leaves.
Drizzle with some of the lemon vinaigrette and season to taste with pepper. Roll the prosciutto up around filling and arrange on serving platter, seam side down.
MAKES 24 ROLLS
AVOCADO & RED ONION SALAD
• 3 medium avocados, peeled and sliced
• 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
• 1 cup thinly sliced red onions
• 2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
• ¼ cup red wine vinegar
• 2 teaspoons Creole or Dijon-style mustard
• ¾ cup olive oil
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onions
• Salt and pepper to taste
In a salad bowl, toss the avocados with the lime juice.
Add the sliced onions and parsley. In a small jar combine the vinegar, mustard, olive oil, chopped red onions, salt and pepper.
Put the cap on the jar and shake well for about 30 seconds.
Add the dressing to the avocado and onion mixture.
Toss to mix. Serve immediately or chill for about 30 minutes.
MAKES 6 SERVINGS
ITALIAN BREAD WITH OLIVES AND CHEESE
• 1 large loaf French bread, cut in half lengthwise
• 1 stick butter, at room temperature
• 1 cup mayonnaise
• 8 ounces freshly grated mozarella cheese
• ¼ cup chopped green onions (green part only)
• ½ cup sliced black olives
• ½ teaspoon garlic salt
• ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spread the butter evenly on both halves of the bread.
Spread the mayonnaise evenly over the butter.
Sprinkle with the cheese and the green onions, and arrange the olives evenly.
Season with the garlic salt and black pepper.
Place the bread halves on a baking sheet and bake until the cheese melts, about 15 minutes.
Remove and cut the bread crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces to serve.
MAKES ABOUT 8 SERVINGS
• 1 (9-inch) pie shell, baked and cooled completely
• 3 ½ cups fresh strawberry halves
• ½ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
• 1⁄8 teaspoon salt
• 6 tablespoons cold water
• 2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
• 2 tablespoons orange juice
• Sweetened whipped cream
Set aside two cups of the strawberries. Crush the remaining strawberries with a fork.
Combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a small saucepan.
Gradually add the water and stir until smooth.
Add the crushed strawberries and cook, stirring, on medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil.
Cook, stirring, for 1 minutes.
Remove from the heat.
Cool by setting the pan in a bowl of ice water.
Beat the cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy.
Gradually add the orange juice and beat until smooth.
Spread the mixture into the bottom of the baked pie crust.
Arrange the strawberry halves over the cheese, then pour the cooked strawberry mixture over them.
Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Serve with the whipped cream.
MAKES 1 PIE TO SERVE 6