Spring is here, and that means sweet tender vegetables, micro greens, and a profusion of young herbs. While at my neighborhood Farmer’s Market this week, I purchased some wonderful carrots. Sweet and juicy, packed with sugary carrot flavor, they were delicious eaten out of hand, but when cooked, their sweet flavor blossomed. I thought that Yukon Gold potatoes, with their sweet yellow flesh would be delicious in the soup. Long known in Europe, but a relative newcomer to the United States, this variety of potato is sweeter than a russet. They are, by the way, perfect for making gnocchi.
White button mushrooms and bushels of tiny brown cremini were everywhere at the Farmer’s Market, and I decided to make a fresh mushroom antipasto. I brought home a mix of them and plenty of first cut herbs – tarragon, Italian parsley, basil, and chives. To complete my spring herb mix, the Nepitella in my garden is ready now, bushy plants with velvety green leaves and a taste like mint and oregano. I knew the young herbs with their delicate flavor and a lemon vinaigrette would make a light, but well flavored welcome to spring.
Just this week I received for review a bottle of Abruzzese Agrumato Lemon and Herbs Extra Virgin olive oil made from Gentile di Chieti, Leccino, and Olivastra cultivars. The olives are pressed with lemons and then infused with garlic and herbs to produce an extraordinarily fruity and clean tasting oil with the classic flavors of the Mezzogiorno’s famous Salmoriglio condimento. Its combination of flavors and clean taste were perfect in the salad. The salad, by the way, can double as a topping for crostini, if you are looking for a unique antipasto.
Vellutata di carote e patate – Carrot & Potato Soup
The vegetables in this soup benefit from gentle cooking. To preserve their fresh sweet taste, cook them just until tender.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ pounds carrots, scrubbed, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes scrubbed, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
5 cups brodo di pollo (chicken broth)
3 sprigs of thyme, plus more for garnish
1 bay leaf
kosher salt and white pepper to taste
¼ cup Mascarpone at room temperature, plus more to finish
Heat butter and olive oil in low 4-quart pan. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt, and saute over medium heat until translucent, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Do not allow the onions to brown. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, just a minute or two, again being careful not to allow the vegetables to brown. Add the carrots and potatoes, brodo, bay leaf and thyme and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil.
Reduce to simmer, and cook partially covered, twenty to thirty minutes until the vegetables are tender.
Remove the pan from the heat. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Puree the soup with a hand blender. You may also puree the soup in a food processor, blender or food mill. If you use a food processor or blender, remember to remove either the pusher or center top of the blender to allow the steam to escape to avoid kitchen accidents.
Remove pan from heat and stir in the Mascarpone. Add ½ teaspoon white pepper. Check seasoning, adding more salt and pepper, if desired. Ladle the soup into bowls. Top with a dollop of Mascarpone and a fresh thyme sprig. Serve at once.
Insalata di Funghi – Mushroom Salad
serves 4 as a salad
½ pound fresh mushrooms, white button or cremini, or a mixture
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoon minced fresh Nepitella
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh minced chives
2 tablespoons minced tarragon
1 tablespoon minced basil
Mixed baby lettuce greens
Herbs for garnish
salt and pepper
Clean mushrooms by brushing off any dirt. If they are quite dirty, use a damp towel to wipe away the dirt and debris. Avoid submerging them in water; mushrooms absorb water, and can easily become waterlogged and heavy. Trim and discard ¼ inch of stem, more if the stem is woody and dry. Slice mushrooms thinly, transferring them to a medium glass bowl as you work.
Combine lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Taste to check for seasoning. Pour dressing over mushrooms, tossing gently to coat, being careful not to break the mushrooms. Add minced herbs and combine well. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate at room temperature for 1 hour or longer. If marinating longer than 1 hour, place in refrigerator. Toss occasionally.
Rinse salad greens and spin dry. Tear into small pieces, if desired. Arrange greens on platter. Place marinated mushrooms atop salad greens. Add extra herb leaves quartered lemon to garnish.
Agrumato Olive Oil with Lemon and Herbs is available from Olio2Go.com
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