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updated 5/17/2005 10:27:55 AM ET 2005-05-17T14:27:55

The arrival of spring means that fresh flavors are used in the kitchen.  Tom Colicchio, owner and chef of the Gramercy Tavern in New York City, was invited on the “Today” show to share this versatile menu of some of his favorite spring vegetables. Here are the recipes.

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A note about cleaning
To clean thin asparagus, simply trim the dried bottoms and peel off any small leaves. For thicker stalks, hold one stalk on each end and bend, noting where it breaks naturally, then trim the rest in approximately the same place. Peel the woody stems, the way you peel a carrot.

Before washing morels, taste one first, and only wash if it tastes gritty, since washing saps them of some of their flavor. If they need it, drop the morels into a bowl of water and lift out with your hands, then blot dry on paper towels.

Cleaning a ramp is similar to cleaning a scallion. Start by peeling off the translucent outer layer. Trim the root and then cut down the leaves, leaving about 1/4 inch of green. Wash the ramps under cool, running water.

Asparagus Soup With Morel Custard
Serves 8

For the custard
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/4 pounds morels cleaned, trimmed (see note about cleaning) and coarsely chopped
1 or 2 ramps, white parts only, cleaned
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg yolk
1 egg

For the soup
2-1/2 pounds asparagus
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2-1/4 cups chicken stock (see chicken stock recipe)
2 shallots, peeled and minced
1 small leek, white part only, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound ramps, white parts only cleaned, trimmed (see note about cleaning), and chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs (such as chervil, chives, tarragon, and basil)

Making the custard
Heat the oven to 325 degrees and butter eight 2-ounce ramekins.  Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the morels, minced ramps, and salt and pepper, and cook until the morels begin to soften and release their juices, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the cream, bring it to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and steep for about 10 minutes.

Strain the cream into a medium bowl; reserve the morels and ramps.  Allow the cream to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.  Beat the egg yolks and egg together, then add to the cream.  Mix the custard well, then add a pinch of salt and the reserved morels and ramps.

Divide the custard between the ramekins.  Place the ramekins in a large baking dish.  Put the baking dish on the middle rack of the oven and add enough boiling water to come about halfway up the ramekins.  Cover the baking dish with tin foil and cook until the custard is set, 20 to 25 minutes.

Making the soup
While the custard bakes, cut the asparagus spears in half.  Chop the tips and reserve, then chop the stems.  Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it moves easily across the pan.  Add the stems and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften, 5 to 10 minutes.  Add the stock and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat and gently simmer until the stock tastes like asparagus, about 15 minutes.  Strain the infused stock and discard the cooked stems.

Heat the remaining tablespoonful of oil in the saucepan over medium heat.  Add the shallots,  leeks, salt, and pepper and cook (without browning), stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes.  Add the asparagus tips and the ramps to the saucepan.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus tips begin to soften, about 10 minutes.  Add the infused stock and simmer until the asparagus is soft but still bright green, about 5 minutes more. 

Puree the soup, then press it through a fine strainer.  Return the strained soup to the blender and blend until frothy (a handheld blender will also work).

Assembling the dish
Remove the custards from the oven and the ramekins from the baking dish.  Set them aside just until they are cool enough to handle.  Carefully run a knife around the outer rim of each ramekin.  Unmold the custards into 8 shallow bowls.  Ladle soup into the bowls and serve immediately garnished with fresh herbs.

Morel, Ramp and Potato Gratin
Serves 4 to 6

5 Idaho or other russet potatoes (about 4 pounds), peeled and thinly sliced
3 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 pound ramps (about 2 bunches) trimmed and white parts only sliced
12 to 15 small morels, trimmed, washed (see note about cleaning) and halved or quartered

Heat the oven to 300 degrees.  Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with the cream.  Add salt and pepper and simmer over medium heat until the potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain the potatoes, reserving the cream.  Return the cream to the saucepan and simmer until the cream has reduced by half.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until it slides easily across the pan.  Add the ramps, salt, and pepper.  Cook, stirring frequently until the ramps are fragrant, about 1 minute, then add the morels.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the morels soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the morel mixture to the cream. Spoon half the potatoes into a medium baking dish, cover with half the cream and morel mixture. Repeat, spooning in the remaining potatoes then covering with the remaining morel mixture. Bake the gratin until it is well-browned, about 35 minutes, then serve.

Sole with Morels, Ramps, and Asparagus
Serves 4

3/4 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch to 3-inch pieces
1 cup shelled peas
Kosher salt
1/2 pound butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1/2 pound morels, cleaned and trimmed (see note about cleaning)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound ramps, cleaned and trimmed (see note about cleaning)
1-1/2 pounds filet of sole, cut into 8 equal pieces
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil (or fresh tarragon)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Cook the asparagus in a pot of boiling salted water over high heat until tender but still bright green, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon, rinse under cold water and set aside.  Cook the peas, rinse under cold water then set aside with the asparagus.

Bring about 1/2 inch of water (1/4 to 1/2 cup) to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium-low.  Whisk the butter into the water one piece at a time. Add the morels a few at a time (if you add the mushrooms too quickly they will steam rather than sizzle), then reduce the heat to low.  Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the morels begin to soften, 5 to 10 minutes.  Add the ramps and gently simmer until the morels are soft and the ramps tender, about 5 minutes more.

Transfer the morels, ramps, and butter sauce to a medium skillet. Add the asparagus and peas to the skillet. Salt and pepper the fish, and place it in the skillet, nestled among the vegetables. Cook at barely a simmer, basting the fish with the butter sauce, just until the fish flakes easily, about 5 minutes. Divide the ragout  and fish between 4 shallow bowls, garnish with chervil and chives and serve.

Spring Vegetable Ragout
Serves 4

3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1/2 pound morels, cleaned, trimmed (see note about cleaning), halved or quartered if large
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound ramps, cleaned and trimmed (see note about cleaning)
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch to 3-inch pieces
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil (or fresh tarragon)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Bring about 1/2 inch of water (1/4 to 1/2 cup) to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and whisk in the butter one piece at a time. Add the morels a few at a time then reduce the heat to low. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the morels begin to soften, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the ramps and continue to simmer gently until the morels are soft and the ramps tender, about 5 minutes more.

Meanwhile, cook the asparagus in a pot of boiling salted water until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the asparagus, them add them to the ragout. Add the chervil and chives and serve garnished with additional herbs if desired.

Pasta Dough
Makes 12 ounces

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons water
2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Combine the egg, olive oil and water in a small bowl and mix well.  Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the egg mixture.  Gradually work the flour mixture into the egg mixture until the dough holds together.  Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic.  Wrap the dough in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour but not longer than 2 days.  Roll out according to the specific recipe instructions.

Chicken Stock
Makes about 5 cups

4 pounds chicken legs, wings, and backs
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2 leeks, white part trimmed and chopped
3 to 4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme

Place the chicken in a large pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Drain the chicken and rinse out the pot.  Return the chicken to the pot, cover with fresh water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium and gently simmer the stock, skimming as necessary, until the stock tastes like chicken, about 2-1/2 hours. 

Add the onion, carrot, celery, and leeks.  Simmer for 30 minutes, then add the parsley and thyme.  Simmer for 10 minutes more, skim, then drain the stock, cool, and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

Baked Free-Form Ravioli With Asparagus, Ramps and Morels
Serves 4 to 8

1/2 recipe (6 ounces) Basic Pasta Dough
Kosher salt
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil (or fresh basil)
1 recipe ragout of asparagus, ramps, and morels
1/4 cup mixed fresh herbs (such as chervil, chives, basil, flat leaf parsley, and tarragon)

Use a pasta machine to roll out the dough. Work form the largest setting to the smallest, rolling the dough through each setting twice, and stopping short of the final setting. Lay out the rolled sheet of dough on a clean work surface. Cut the dough into 8 large squares. Place the pasta squares on a cookie sheet or cutting board dusted with cornmeal. Allow them to dry for about 5 minutes, then turn them and dry 5 minutes more. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat.Heat the oven to 350º F.

Mix the ricotta, 3/4 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the olive oil together in a medium saucepan. Add salt and pepper and warm the cheese mixture, stirring occasionally, over low heat. Add the pasta squares to the boiling water one by one. Cook the squares just until they float to the surface, then drain, rinse under cold water, and pat dry.

Set the pasta aside in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with plastic wrap.Mix the chervil into the cheese mixture. Place a heaping spoonful of the mixture in the center of a pasta square, then fold the pasta around the cheese, creating a little bundle. (There is no “correct” way to do this, just make sure that you don’t use too much filling.)

Gently place the ravioli, folded-side down, in an oiled baking dish. Repeat filling, folding, and transferring until you have filled all the squares. Sprinkle the tops of the ravioli with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and bake until the pasta is golden and slightly puffed, about 20 minutes.Gently reheat the vegetable ragout over low heat. Place the ragout in shallow bowls, top with ravioli, and serve garnished with mixed fresh herbs. 

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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