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Video: Spring dinners

updated 5/6/2005 3:57:44 PM ET 2005-05-06T19:57:44

If you were in New York City this past weekend, you know that spring has sprung. And what better way to welcome the warmer weather than some fresh-tasting recipes from chef Tyler Florence, host of "Food 9-1-1" and "How to Boil Water" on the Food Network? Florence was invited on the “Today” show to cook up some favorites from his new book, “Eat This Book: Cooking With Global Fresh Flavors.”

Grilled Rack of Lamb With Garden Purée and Mint
(Serves 6; preparation time: 1-1/2 hours, including marinating the lamb.)

2 lamb racks (about 2 pounds each, 7 or 8 ribs apiece), trimmed and Frenched
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, sliced paper-thin
Leaves from 1/2 bunch of fresh mint, shredded
Leaves from 1/2 bunch of fresh oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients for Garden Purée:
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed
1 pound English peas, shelled, or 1 cup frozen petite peas
1/2 pound asparagus, tips only (about 2 1/2 inches)
1/2 pound haricots verts or tender green beans, trimmed
2/3 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
3 green onions, green parts only, roughly chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil

For presentation/garnish:
1 bunch of green onions, trimmed
Fresh mint leaves

This garden purée wraps its flavors around the lamb. Asparagus, green beans, and sweet peas at the peak of freshness are puréed together with rich whole-milk ricotta cheese. It’s lush. It’s incredibly delicious by itself; you’re going to have a hard time keeping your spoon out of it. But with the grilled rack of lamb and a warm summer breeze, you’ll know absolutely what time of year it is.

Put the lamb in a baking dish and drizzle with 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the lemon slices, mint, oregano, and salt and pepper and turn the lamb in the mixture to coat. (Frenching is a butchering technique that removes much of the fat from the lamb chops.) Stick it in the refrigerator to marinate for 1 hour.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the peas, asparagus tips, and haricots verts, and cook until bright green and crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. (If you’re using frozen peas, you can throw them in during the last couple of minutes, to thaw.) Drain, transfer to a bowl of salted ice water to stop the cooking, and drain again. Purée in a food processor with the ricotta, green onion greens, a drizzle of oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Scrape that out into a medium saucepan and set it aside while you cook the lamb.

Preheat an outdoor gas or charcoal grill or a ridged grill pan over a medium-high flame. Take a few paper towels and fold them several times to make a thick square. Blot a small amount of oil on the paper towels. Then carefully and quickly wipe the hot grates of the grill to make a nonstick grilling surface. Put the lamb on the hottest part of the grill and cook, turning once, until medium-rare, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. Toss the whole green onions in oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill, turning once, until marked and barely softened, about 2 minutes.

To serve, warm the purée over low heat. Cut the racks into double chops and serve with the garden purée and the green onions, garnished with mint leaves.

Carpaccio of Raw Zucchini
(Serves 4 to 6; preparation time: 30 minutes.)

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2 zucchini (about 1-1/2 pounds total), sliced into paper-thin rounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as chervil, dill, chives, and chive blossoms
1 young leek, white part only, sliced paper-thin
1 cup ricotta cheese
Fresh mint leaves, for garnish

I put this dish together when we were on location for Tyler’s Ultimate (a show on the Food Network). We were breaking for lunch and I raided the refrigerator of the lady we were working with. I just pulled a couple of ingredients out and started to try to figure out how to turn it all into a salad. It was a bit “loaves and fishes,” meaning that I didn’t have a lot to work with. I sliced zucchini very thin, spread it out around the plate, and seasoned it with a little salt and olive oil, and the zucchini melted and got juicy. Then I tried to figure out how to make it better: A little leek, a little fresh herb, a little ricotta cheese, and a squeeze of lemon juice on top. It tasted so amazing that I thought, this is one for the book.

The secret to this dish is that the zucchini be sliced as thin as possible (a plastic Japanese mandoline does a nice job) so that the squash takes up the flavor of the lemon and herbs.

Shingle the zucchini slices in a single overlapping layer on a platter. Dust with salt and pepper, then drizzle with a 3-count of olive oil and the lemon juice. Sprinkle with the herbs. Now scatter the leek over. Put that in the fridge for about 10 minutes to give the flavors a chance to get into the zucchini. Then garnish with the ricotta cheese and mint leaves.

Grilled Branzino With Fennel and Tangerines
(Serves 4; preparation time: 45 minutes plus 1 hour to marinate.)

4 whole branzino (about 1 pound each), filleted to yield 8 small fillets; or 4 larger fillets (6 to 8 ounces) of whatever fish you’d like (salmon, striped bass, snapper)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
3 tangerines
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Branzino is a fish that I used to eat only abroad; now I see it in fish markets all over the place. It’s a Mediterranean sea bass. When it’s grilled, it has a soft, delicate oceany flavor, and the skin gets very crisp. It’s also loaded with omega-3 oil. I think it’s my new favorite fish. I paired its flavors with crisp, raw fennel and citrus. When you taste this recipe, it’s undeniably summer.

Put the fillets in a baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer. Put the fennel seeds and peppercorns on a cutting board and whack with the bottom of a heavy pan to crack them; sprinkle the cracked spices over the fish. Remove a strip of zest from one of the tangerines with a zester or microplane and add it to the dish. Pour 1/2 cup of olive oil over the fish and let it all marinate for 1 hour.

Cut off the top and bottom ends of the tangerines so that they stand upright. Then use a knife to cut off the peels in long strips, including as much of the bitter white pith as possible. Cut between the membranes to free the sections; remove the seeds and set the sections aside in a medium bowl. Discard the membranes.

Place a large grill pan on two burners over medium-high heat or preheat an outdoor gas or charcoal grill and get it very hot. Take a few paper towels and fold them several times to make a square. Blot a small amount of oil on the paper towels and then carefully and quickly wipe the hot grates of the grill (or the ridges of the grill pan) to create a nonstick surface.

Sprinkle the fish with salt. Put it on the grill and cook, turning once, until just cooked through but a little translucent in the center, 4 to 5 minutes total for thinner fillets, 8 to 12 minutes for thicker fillets.

To finish, take your bowl with the tangerine sections, add the fennel, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, parsley, fennel fronds, and salt and pepper to taste, and toss. Arrange the salad on a platter, put the fish on top, and serve.

Warm Blueberry Madeleines With Lemon Curd
(Serves 6 to 8; preparation time: 1 hour plus at least 2 hours chilling time.)

Ingredients for Lemon Curd:
6 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
Juice and zest of 4 lemons
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Ingredients for Madeleines:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
4 large eggs
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for greasing the molds
1/2 pint fresh blueberries

Warm blueberry madeleines dipped in creamy lemon curd make a great interactive dessert. I’ll put a big platter of madeleines on the table and it’s a free-for-all until you get to the very last, lonely one. Everyone sits there for a while, staring at it ... staring at each other ... trying to be polite, but it’s just not possible. I always end up making more.

To make the lemon curd, bring about 2 inches of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan or double boiler over medium-low heat. Combine the egg yolks, sugar, and lemon juice and zest in a metal or heat-resistant glass bowl or in the top of a double boiler and whisk until smooth.

Set the bowl over — not in — the simmering water (the bottom should not touch the water) and keep whisking. Keep working out that arm, whisking the curd vigorously for a good 10 minutes, until it has doubled in volume and is very thick and yellow. Don’t let it boil. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the butter, a couple of chunks at a time, until incorporated. Refrigerate until the curd is cold and firm.

You can start right away on the madeleines. Sift the flour with the baking powder into a mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk the sugar and the eggs together until well mixed. Whisk in the orange zest. Then fold in the flour mixture, sifting it over the egg mixture in three batches. When the last batch is almost incorporated, with just a little flour still visible, drizzle the butter over the batter and fold in very gently — you want to lose as little volume as possible. Stick that in the refrigerator until the butter begins to harden, 20 to 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Butter and flour two madeleine molds. When the batter is cold, spoon it into the molds, filling each about two-thirds full. Dot the top of each with 4 or 5 blueberries, pressing them gently into the batter. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let the madeleines cool for a few minutes on a wire rack, then remove. Serve these babies warm, dipping them into the curd.

Excerpted from “Eat This Book: Cooking With Global Fresh Flavors” byTyler Florence. Copyright ©2005 by Tyler Florence. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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