Depending on where you live, when March rolls around, either spring has sprung or you sorely wish it would start springing.
Getting tired of squash and parsnips? I am, too.
But, if some spring produce items, like the new-crop turnips or strawberries called for in these recipes, aren’t yet available in your region, give yourself permission to jump the season a bit. Buy onions and leeks at the farmers’ market, but get organic berries at the supermarket. (In Southern California, where I recently arrived, you’ll find strawberries at most farmers’ markets at this point in the year.)
Of course, you can find onions any time. But this time of year, when the produce options are more limited, it’s nice to let them show off a little. Along with leeks and a little garlic, slowly softened onions serve as the base for a first-course savory tart. For the best-tasting topping, use a good, fruity extra-virgin olive oil, and season the alliums well with salt, pepper and thyme. Make this oniony base whenever you have 10 or 15 minutes to spare. It can sit at room temperature until you’re ready to put the tart together (or refrigerate it and use it within a couple of days).
Once the filling is ready, the bulk of the work is done. All that’s left to do is to spread the prepared onions on a sheet of rolled-out puff pastry, then top them with anchovy fillets and capers, and bake it to a golden brown. Use any kind of flaky pastry or pie dough you wish, or you can even spread the mixture on a yeasted pizza dough. But using store-bought or homemade puff pastry dough makes the most dazzling impression. Serve it slightly warm from the oven or at room temperature. A bowl of lightly dressed salad greens served alongside would also be welcome.
On to the main course. If you ask a friend to drop by for lamb and turnips, the response may be less than enthusiastic, since it conjures an image of a heavy wintry mutton stew. (That may have been fine a month ago.) But this lamb-and-turnip dinner is quite the opposite. It calls for most succulent cut of lamb, the rack, roasted over rosemary sprigs, then sliced into chops. An eight-bone rack of lamb can be cut into four double chops or eight small ones. Though I think one lamb rack is enough for four servings, you may want to roast two for guests with heartier appetites.
As for the turnips, this menu features small sweet new turnips, no bigger than Ping-Pong balls, and most certainly not the large purple-topped keepers you usually find near the potatoes at the grocery store. New turnips are sent to market with their green tops attached and are well worth seeking out. Use the smallest ones you can find, halved or quartered, or cut medium white turnips into small wedges. (In a pinch, you can also use round red radishes, and, if turnip tops are not available, use spinach, mizuna or other quick-wilting cooking greens.) Tiny turnips cook quickly in a saucepan, barely covered with water, with a lump of butter — or a big glug of olive oil — thrown in. They’re simmered briskly for five minutes, until tender, then the greens are tossed in so they wilt. Finally, the heat is raised, to cook away most of the water. Cooked this way, young turnips are simply exquisite.
Lastly, for dessert, I always find fresh fruit to be the best option. The choice was an easy one, since ripe, sweet organic strawberries now available at my West Coast farmers’ market. To them, I added a pool of crème anglaise, an easy-to-make pouring custard, and a splash of rose water, since strawberries are botanically related to roses. It makes for a nice pairing, and a few rose petals add drama. Though a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar and a splash of Champagne would also not be a bad idea, lending everything a celebratory sweetness that beckons spring to hurry up and arrive.