Weeknight Cooking

Comfort Food That's Disguised as Spring Salad

April 30, 2015

If you're like us, you look to the seasons for what to cook—and what to drink. Get to the market, and we'll show you what to do with your haul.

Today: What to make when it seems like everyone is talking about spring vegetables but you really just want comfort food and a hug. 

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On Saturday night I watch a documentary about how we humans have devastated wild salmon populations and are continuing on our quest to destroy all living things. I add salmon to my inching list of foods that might taste more guilty than good. 

On Sunday morning I wake up to the new estimates of the damage from the earthquake in Nepal. At least five thousand are dead—maybe double that. Tens of thousands are living in tents. Drinking water is running low. Families are reduced to individuals. Thousand-year-old temples are reduced to rubble. 

On Monday afternoon I learn of riots in my hometown. Fires blaze in the eastern neighborhoods of the city after the funeral of twenty-five-year-old Freddie Gray. There is talk of protestors slashing fire hoses. The National Guard is called in. Residents are under order to stay in their houses from 10 PM to 5 AM for the next week.

On Tuesday during my commute to work I complain about the crowded subway. I complain about being chilly. I complain about going to a doctor appointment, about emptying the litter box, about doing the dishes. I complain about things I can’t remember. I forget to read the news. I try to write something about this spring panzanella

It came into being when the only fresh produce in my fridge was one leek and “What to Cook Now” couldn’t be “One Yellowing Leek Sautéed in Some Butter from Trader Joe’s” because how would that alert our readers that IT’S SPRING (have you heard?) and that means time to pay attention to peas and ramps and asparagus and whatever the heck fiddleheads are?

The news in my world isn't really news at all: Seasons still change; the earth still rotates around the sun; seeds still sprout (for now). And still that leek—and my job, and my hunger, and the dinner I promised my roommates. I can't deny those, either.

So I think about garlic-Parmesan croutons; about peas charred in a cast iron and slashed into a chunky dressing with yogurt and dill; about poached eggs that get slipped into brown butter to baste and bubble. Isn’t it a beautiful, teeth-clenching thing, poaching an egg by holding my breath and closing my eyes and clapping when the whites hug the yolk tightly and don't let go? Because otherwise everything disintegrates into curdles and chaos. 

A smart editor encourages me to simplify, to set aside the fragile poached-fried eggs and the blackened peas and the infused bread for a meal less self-absorbed: toasted baguette, quickly sautéed vegetables, and pebbles of Parmesan, all awash in a simple pesto

To make it, you don't have to plug your ears and beeline to the market for the last ramps and the first garlic scapes. You don't have to ask your friends to be quiet so you can concentrate on the preparation. When you sit down to eat, you might be hushed for a few minutes, enjoying greenness you never thought would come again, but you will resume conversation. You will have time to ask your dinner companions what they think, to make a list of things you're grateful for, to think and read about things other than peas.

But if you don't want to—if you want to take a break, just for a minute—add a poached egg, slice it open, and let the lemon-yellow yolk remind you that there is comfort food even when comfort food is out of season. 

Spring Vegetable Panzanella with Poached Eggs

Serves 4 to 6

For the panzanella:

tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

baguette or 1 small loaf of ciabatta (225 grams), cut into 1-inch cubes (between 3 and 4 cups)

teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

leek, white and light green parts only, cut crosswise into very thin circles, cleaned, and dried

bunch asparagus (340 grams), woody ends snapped off and cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces

2 1/2 
cups (380 grams) English peas, fresh or frozen and thawed 
large handfuls (220 grams) snow peas, ends trimmed

splash (1 to 2 teaspoons) balsamic vinegar

Juice of half a lemon

Pepper, to taste

cup small, uneven cubes Parmesan

Eggs, 1 or 2 per person, for poaching

For the pesto:

1 1/2
 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

3 to 4 
sprigs fresh thyme, stripped

tablespoons walnuts

1 or 2 
cloves garlic (depending on the size of the cloves and your taste), peeled and smashed

cup extra-virgin olive oil

cup finely grated Parmesan

Salt, to taste

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Hannah W. April 27, 2016
This is such a beautiful article, SJ!! Thank you for sharing and I can't wait to make this salad this weekend :)
denise June 2, 2015
Delicious - didn't (and wouldn't) change a thing!
Paula M. May 17, 2015
Made this recipe this morning. It was beautiful and delicious and swoon-worthy
Julia May 3, 2015
This looks positively swoon-worthy--and your writing continues to be a beautiful, teeth-clenching thing!
Harper May 3, 2015
Doublev May 3, 2015
Your article just made my day. I spend most of my Sunday's cooking. Prepping for the week and experimenting. Your writing help me remember to chill the f*ck out, haha. I am just cooking. It makes me happy and can relax me if i let it. I have re-read it 2x and have a feeling I will turn to it again, hopefully at some point not just for your words but also for the recipe.
Zilpha R. May 2, 2015
I loved your writing, plus the recipe looks delicious! There's a lot going on in the world, but it's nice to remind ones self of the simple pleasantries.. Like peas. Cheers!
Cinnamon May 1, 2015
Janet A. May 1, 2015
Jane K. April 30, 2015
The best panzanella I ever had. So garlicky and green and springy just made me want to sing n' dance and praise the lawd it's almost May!