Feast of Green: Spring Recipes by Martha Ryan

Spring arrives in baskets and boxes at the kitchen door of Martha’s Leelanau Table in Suttons Bay. We love where she takes it from there. (Spring recipes!)


Chef Martha Ryan swings into full vernal verve as she deftly plates asparagus frittatas and morel omelets for hungry patrons at Martha’s Leelanau Table on this bright April morning in Suttons Bay. Fifty pounds of verdant asparagus from the Norconk farm effuses its earthy vegetable perfume into the delicious vapor of warm rhubarb tarts being pulled from the oven. Each day’s circadian rhythm in Martha’s kitchen is tied to the transformation of seasonal ingredients as they enter through the back door: rhubarb dusted with rich spring soil or Carlson’s whitefish dappled with drops of Lake Michigan. A forager still wild-eyed from scouring the leaf litter proffers a basket of black morels and pungent ramps. Martha’s hands are the conduit from earth to plate as she pares asparagus stems, slices morels and froths farm eggs.

After months of concocting hearty braises and root vegetables, the crew at Martha’s Leelanau Table is giddy with the first green of the season. “When the first local produce shows up we just go crazy with joy,” Martha tells us, adding a splash of stock to her coveted cream of asparagus soup.

A passionate home cook and world traveler, Martha Ryan spent 20 years as food service director for Leland Public Schools, channeling seasonal Leelanau produce into her lunchroom and working as an early advocate for the local food movement. With a group of partners, Martha launched Martha’s Leelanau Table in 2008 in downtown Suttons Bay, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner informed by the seasonal flow of local fruits, vegetables and proteins and influenced by Martha’s culinary excursions in Tuscany, the Loire Valley or the Eastern Adriatic. “I see the world and eat its food and then come back here to the place that I love, my restaurant and Leelanau County,” Martha muses between test bites of pastry chef Carrie Ballou’s latest incarnation of kremna rezina, a Slovenian cream cake discovered on last fall’s alpine eating excursion.

Spring’s ecstatic infusion of fresh ingredients, both wild and cultivated, prompt a culinary catharsis for Martha and fellow chefs around the region. Throwing off the quilt of cold weather comfort food, menus are rewritten almost daily to accommodate the edible abundance. “Spring forces us to cook spontaneously,” Martha concedes. She pauses to inspect a bag of microgreens picked this morning. “We know these ingredients are coming, but we don’t know exactly when, so we’re constantly adapting. We spend all winter researching recipes and techniques and now it’s go time. Farmers and foragers come to my back door almost every day. I look at what they have, and if it’s beautiful I buy it, and it goes right on the menu.”

Nature’s immediacy and the delicate ephemeral flavors of these early season ingredients call for fresh, simple preparations for which Martha is a devoted practitioner. When faced with the question of morels just picked from some secret poplar grove, Martha’s answer is shallots, butter, stock and perhaps a splash of cream. “I prefer to cook the mushrooms in a way that really emphasizes their flavor,” she says. She likes to spoon this earthy spring rendering over slices of crostini or fresh fettuccini.

As spring asserts itself in the fields and forests of Leelanau County, Martha is furiously cooking to keep up, reviving beloved seasonal recipes and creating new ones in the wake of each rainstorm and its residual abundance. As she dunks pearly ramp bulbs in pickling brine, slices red rhubarb for cobbler or reinvents the ubiquitous green spears of baby asparagus in soups, fresh salads and airy frittatas, Martha Ryan represents the farm-to-fork religion that continually establishes Traverse City and its environs as an epicenter of the American food renaissance.


Asparagus Cooking Methods: The Trinity

Delicious green tendrils of spring, asparagus spears added to soups, salads and frittatas or served as a side with proteins are a staple on Martha’s menu. Try these three favorite cooking methods; each yields a different expression of flavor and texture.

Blanched: Thirty to 60 seconds in boiling salted water followed by a quick plunge in an ice bath will enhance the color and par cook the asparagus so it’s tender but slightly crunchy. Use this method for cold salads and crêpes, or wrap with prosciutto and serve as an appetizer.

Grilled: Toss lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper, and lightly char the spears on a hot grill. Grilling caramelizes the asparagus’s sugars and adds a deep smoky flavor. Drizzle with balsamic syrup and serve with steaks.

Roasted: Arguably the best pay-off for flavor and texture. Toss asparagus lightly with olive oil, maybe lemon zest, season liberally with salt and pepper and roast for 25 minutes at 400 degrees.


Martha’s Spring Recipes:

Prosciutto Asparagus Roll Ups

What you’ll need:

  • ¼   pound prosciutto or speck (smoked prosciutto)
  • ½   pound of asparagus trimmed
  • 1    cup of arugula
  • 2    tablespoon shallot vinaigrette (my house dressing) or your favorite vinaigrette
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Chives for garnish

Directions:

Thinly slice prosciutto (8–10 slices). Blanch asparagus and chill. Toss arugula with vinaigrette. Lay out 1 slice of prosciutto. Put 2–3 asparagus spears horizontally along with the arugula.

Finish the rest of the asparagus roll ups and chill for ½ hour. When ready to serve, slice on the diagonal and arrange on platter. Sprinkle with olive oil and fresh pepper. Garnish with chives.

Red Pepper and Asparagus Frittata

What you’ll need:

  •      Ice cubes
  •      Kosher salt
  • 8    thin stalks of asparagus, blanched
  • 3    eggs
  •       Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1    tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½   red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • ¼   cup Parmigiano
  •      Reggiano, grated

Directions:

Asparagus: Fill a stainless steel mixing bowl with ice cubes and water. Fill a medium sauce pan with water and bring to a boil over high heat, seasoning liberally with kosher salt. Drop asparagus spears into boiling water for 30 seconds and, using kitchen tongs, remove and place in bowl of ice water to cool for 2 minutes. Remove cooled asparagus from ice bath, drain and set aside.

Frittata: Preheat the broiler. In a stainless steel mixing bowl, whisk eggs, salt and pepper (to taste) and set aside. Melt butter in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat and add egg mixture. Cook for three to five minutes until bottom and edges of eggs are set but top is still runny. Remove pan from heat and arrange asparagus stems like spokes with tips facing the edge of pan. Sprinkle with chopped red bell pepper and grated Parmesan, and place frittata under broiler, and broil until top is set and golden brown, three to five minutes. Remove frittata and allow to stand for 2 minutes. Using a rubber spatula slide the frittata onto a plate and serve.

Asparagus with Egg Crumb Topping

What you’ll need:

  • 1    tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½   cup Stone House Fishtown Crumbs
  • 1    tablespoon parsely, chopped
  • 1    hardboiled egg, peeled and finely chopped
  •       Salt and pepper
  • 1    pound fresh asparagus
  •       Extra virgin
  •       olive oil
  •       Paprika

Directions:

Egg Crumb Topping: Melt butter in 9-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs and cook until crisp and lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and transfer breadcrumbs to a stainless steel mixing bowl. Add parsley and egg, toss to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Asparagus: Cook the asparagus in heavily salted boiling water until tender but firm, two to three minutes. Drain. Arrange asparagus on a serving platter, sprinkle with crumb mixture, drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika.

Spring Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart

What you’ll need:

Pâte Brisée:

  • 2½   cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½   teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½     pound cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3      ounces ice cold water

Filling:

  • 1    pound fresh asparagus trimmed
  • 6    green onions trimmed and sliced
  • 2    tablespoons olive oil
  • 1    tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3    eggs
  • 6    ounces fresh goat cheese
  • 1    tablespoon fresh chopped tarragon
  • 1    tablespoon chopped parsley
  • ½   teaspoon salt
  • ½   teaspoon pepper
  • ¼   cup cream
  • ¼   cup Parmesan cheese shredded

Directions:

Pâte Brisée: Place all the above ingredients except water into a food processor. This may also be done by hand. Pulse until butter and flour mixture is pebble-like. Incorporate water into the flour mixture. Allow to rest in refrigerator for at least one hour. This will yield enough for two crusts. Roll out crust and par bake for 15 minutes in tart pan lined with foil and weighted with beans.

Filling: Trim asparagus tips and set aside. Slice asparagus stalks in ½ inch slices. Slice green onions using pale green and white bulbs only. Mix asparagus and green onions in bowl with olive oil. Lay mixture on roasting pan and roast in oven at 375 for 12 minutes. Let cool.

Heat butter in pan and add asparagus tips. Sauté lightly.

Beat eggs with goat cheese, tarragon, parsley, salt and pepper and cream. Sprinkle asparagus and green onions over crust and fill with custard. Sprinkle with parmesan and asparagus tips and bake for 30 minutes at 375 or till set. Slice and serve on mixed greens.

Mint Mousse Cake

What you’ll need:

Gluten Free Chocolate Cake:

  • 4    ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1¾ cups Classic rice flour blend (Authentic Foods)
  • ¼   cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 2    teaspoons baking powder
  • 1    teaspoon baking soda
  • ½   teaspoon sea salt
  • ¾   teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 4    ounces unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 2    cups granulated sugar
  • 2    eggs
  • 10  ounces whole milk, room temp.
  • 1    teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ½   teaspoon pure mint extract

Fresh Mint Mousse:

  • 2½  cups heavy cream, divided
  • Large bunch of fresh mint, washed and dried
  • 12   ounces white chocolate (Ghiradelli makes a white chocolate bar, but their chips are not real white chocolate), chopped
  • Envelope powdered gelatin
  • Mint extract, crème de menthe, optional and to taste

Directions:

Gluten Free Chocolate Cake: Set oven temperature to 350. Prepare 9” pans by lining with parchment paper and then buttering and flouring (or use cocoa powder). Melt chocolate over a double boiler, stirring until completely melted. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and xanthum gum. Set aside.

Combine butter and sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat until again light and fluffy. Slowly add the melted chocolate. Combine milk, vanilla and mint extracts. Alternately add the dry and the wet ingredients (three dry to two wet). Pour into pans and bake for approximately 30–35 minutes or until your tester comes out clean.

Cool for 15 minutes before removing cakes from their pans.

Fresh Mint Mousse: Place ½ cup of heavy cream in a saucepan, bring to a simmer. Add fresh mint, cover pan and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, run your white chocolate through a food processor and pulse until it is finely chopped. Set aside. Prepare ice water bath. Set aside. Place ¼ cup of heavy cream in a small bowl and allow to dissolve. Bring the heavy cream back to a simmer, remove mint. Add gelatin and stir to combine. Add to the white chocolate as the food processor is running and process until smooth. Add the mint extract or crème de menthe to taste. Transfer to a medium bowl and place over ice water bath. Chill until mixture is cool and thick enough to fall from the spoon in ribbons. Whip the remaining 1¾ cups of heavy cream to soft peaks. Fold into white chocolate mixture. Refrigerate until use in a sealed container.

Building the cake: Slice cooled cakes in half and layer in the mousse. Cover cake with your favorite icing, frosting or glaze.

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