Chef Kathy Gunst Thinks Green For Spring

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Asparagus grows in Kathy Gunst's yard and is one of her culinary inspirations in springtime. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Asparagus grows in Kathy Gunst's yard and is one of her culinary inspirations in springtime. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Spring is now well underway and that has Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst thinking spring green.

That's green as in asparagus, artichokes, peas and even green rhubarb!

"There's just a whole new body awareness in the spring," Kathy told Here & Now's Robin Young. "I'm not talking about diet, I'm talking about craving green."

Kathy brings us these five recipes and shares some advice on cooking asparagus:

You can also check out Kathy Gunst's recipe for Summer Pea and Lettuce Soup.

____To Peel or Not To Peel? The Asparagus Question

Advice from Kathy Gunst: It may seem like a fussy, unnecessary step but peeling the lower half of an asparagus stalk can make the difference between a good asparagus spear and really buttery, tender, unforgettable one.

To trim asparagus, hold the stalk in your hand and snap off the stem end. It will naturally snap off where it starts to get tough. (Generally the lower 1 to 1 ½ inches of the stalk will break off. You can also cut it off with a small, sharp knife.)

Once trimmed, use a vegetable peeler to peel off the lower half of the asparagus; peel until you see a hint of pale whitish color. The contrast of the green asparagus tip and the peeled, whitish lower half is striking. Another advantage of peeling asparagus is that it gives the stalks a uniform thickness so they cook evenly.

Just-picked asparagus from Kathy Gunst's yard. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
Just-picked asparagus from Kathy Gunst's yard. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

____Raw Asian-Style Asparagus and Soy Bean Salad

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Kathy's Note: When asparagus are fresh from the ground, they are so tender you can eat them raw and really take advantage of their full, earthy flavors. Here they are cut into thin pieces, tossed with an Asian-flavored dressing and sprinkled with lightly steamed edamame (soy beans). This light, refreshing salad should be made no more than 2 hours before serving or it loses its crisp texture. If you can’t find edamame, you can substitute fresh peas or fava beans.

1 bunch (about 1 pound) asparagus, green, white, or purple, trimmed and peeled
2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon grated or finely chopped fresh ginger
A few grindings of black pepper
1 cup edamame soy beans (do not defrost if frozen)

Cut the asparagus in half lengthwise and then slice on the diagonal into 1 ½-inch pieces. Place the asparagus in a bowl and add the sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, and pepper and gently toss. Let sit about 15 minutes, but no more than 2 hours.

Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to boil over high heat. Cook the edamame beans (in their shells) for 2 minutes. Drain and place under cold running water to stop cooking. Drain again. Pop the beans out of the pods; you should have about ½ cup.

Place the marinated asparagus on a serving platter. Sprinkle the steamed soy beans on top and serve at room temperature or chilled.

Serves: 4 as a side dish

____Braised Artichokes with Roasted Asparagus and a Mint-Chive Dressing

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Kathy Gunst's "Braised Artichokes with Roasted Asparagus and a Mint-Chive Dressing." (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Kathy Gunst's "Braised Artichokes with Roasted Asparagus and a Mint-Chive Dressing." (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Kathy's Note: You can make this dish ahead of time. Serve with warm crusty bread.

1/2 pound asparagus, ends trimmed
1 teaspoon olive oil, plus ¼ cup
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 large artichokes, peeled away to the heart
Juice of 2 small lemons
Salt and pepper to taste

Vinaigrette Ingredients:
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon plain yogurt
Salt and pepper
1 ½ tablespoons minced chives
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh mint
Juice from 1 large lemon
¼ cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Place the asparagus in a small roasting pan or ovenproof skillet and sprinkle with the teaspoon of oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until just tender.

Place the artichoke hearts in a medium skillet and add 2 cups water and the juice of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let cook, stirring the artichokes from side to side, for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender when tested with a small, sharp knife. Spoon the cooking liquid on top every few minutes. Drain and remove. Cut into thin or thick slices.

Make the vinaigrette: mix the mustard, salt and pepper. Add the chives and mint. Stir in the lemon juice and then the olive oil. Add the yogurt and stir until smooth.

Place the asparagus on a large serving platter. Arrange the cooked artichokes on top. Drizzle the vinaigrette on top. Serve warm or room temperature.

____Braised Chicken with Artichokes, Leeks and Chives

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Leeks and artichokes for Kathy Gunst's "Braised Chicken with Artichokes, Leeks and Chives." (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
Leeks and artichokes for Kathy Gunst's "Braised Chicken with Artichokes, Leeks and Chives." (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

Kathy's Note: This is a great dish for spring. The chicken is browned and then braised in chicken broth with artichokes, chives and leeks. The while dish—thought it sounds so sophisticated and complex—can be made in under an hour. That’s right—less than one hour. Serve with rice, couscous, polenta, or crusty bread.

Kathy Gunst's "Braised Chicken with Artichokes, Leeks and Chives." (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
Kathy Gunst's "Braised Chicken with Artichokes, Leeks and Chives." (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

9 baby artichokes
1 lemon, cut in half
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 3/4 pounds boneless chicken thighs, about 6 pieces
1 large leek, dark green part discarded and light green and white sections cut in half, rinsed, dried and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped chives

Prepare the artichokes: Cut off the almost all the leaves with a sharp knife. With about 1/2-inch leaves still on, use a spoon and scoop out the middle fuzz. Peel the artichoke stem slightly and place in bowl of cold water. Squeeze half the lemon into the water. Repeat with the other artichokes.

Heat the oil over high heat in a large skillet. Brown the chicken on one side for 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Flip the chicken over and brown 4 minutes on the other side. Remove from the skillet and set aside. Use a paper towel to remove any excess grease from the chicken.

Use a paper towel to remove all but 1 tablespoon grease from the skillet. Heat the remaining grease over low heat, add the leeks, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes.

Drain the artichokes from the lemon water. Add to the leeks and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the browned chicken and raise the heat to high. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes, basting the chicken and the artichokes every 5 minutes or so. Add the juice from the remaining lemon half and the chives. Taste for salt and pepper.

The chicken and the artichokes should be very tender.

Serves: 4

____Upside Down Rhubarb Cake

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Kathy Gunst's "Upside Down Rhubarb Cake." (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
Kathy Gunst's "Upside Down Rhubarb Cake." (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

Kathy's Note: This is an upside down cake for spring. Using tender spring rhubarb, fresh orange juice and not much fat, this cake is equally delicious served for breakfast or brunch with strong coffee or for dessert. And best of all, the cake is made in a cast iron (or heavy) ovenproof skillet.

Kathy Gunst flips the "Upside Down Rhubarb Cake." (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
Kathy Gunst flips the "Upside Down Rhubarb Cake." (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

Rhubarb Topping Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 packed cup light brown sugar

Cake Ingredients:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup fresh orange juice

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

To make the topping:
In a 10-inch cast iron or heavy skillet, heat the butter over low heat. Increase the heat to medium, add the brown sugar, stir and let cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbling. Remove from the heat.

Carefully lay the rhubarb slices on top of the brown sugar mixture, and pressing them down to create a flat layer.

To make the cake:
In a bowl, whisk together or sift the flour, cardamom, ginger, allspice, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.

Working with an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter until soft and light on medium speed, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions and scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. Add the vanilla and mix well. Add half of the flour mixture and beat on low speed until blended. Add the orange juice and then the remaining flour mixture, mixing just until blended.

Pour the cake batter on top of the rhubarb slices and, using a soft spatula, spread it out evenly. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let the cake cool for about 5 minutes, but no longer or it may stick to the pan. Place a large serving plate on top of the skillet and, very carefully, flip the cake over on to the plate. Let cool slightly and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves: 6 to 8

____Grilled Pork Chops with Grilled Rhubarb

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From Notes from a Maine Kitchen by Kathy Gunst (Down East Books, 2011): We had an abundance of rhubarb and I wondered: why doesn’t anyone grill rhubarb? I decided it was time to try. I cut the stalks into chunks, sprinkled them with sugar to “marinate,” and then grilled them and served them as a kind of topping for grilled pork chops. The result? Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

Let the pork sit in the brine for at least an hour and up to 24 hours. Serve with the grilled rhubarb.

8 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
8 peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick, cut into pieces
4 allspice or cloves
2 bay leaves
4 center cut or rib cut pork chops, about 2 pounds, about 1 1/2 inches thick

Place the water in a large bowl. Add the salt, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, allspice and bay leaves, and stir to mix. Add the pork chops and cover and refrigerate for an hour and up to 24 hours.

Heat the grill to about 350 degrees. Remove the pork from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the meat dry.

Place the chops on direct heat, cover and cook about 10 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature is around 140 degrees for rare or 150 for well done pork. Let sit 5 minutes before serving to let the juice settle.

Grilled Rhubarb

From Notes from a Maine Kitchen by Kathy Gunst (Down East Books, 2011): Serve with grilled pork or other grilled meats or fish. Or serve cut up with yogurt or ice cream for a grilled dessert.

As much rhubarb as you like, perhaps 1 pound
1-2 tablespoons of sugar per pound of rhubarb for marinating, or to taste
1 more tablespoon of sugar before serving

Cut fresh rhubarb into 2-inch sections. Place in a bowl or plastic bag and sprinkle on sugar. Let "marinate" for about an hour and up 12 hours.

Place a grill rack or basket on a hot grill, about 350 degrees. Place the rhubarb on the rack or basket and let grill 5 minutes.

Flip over and grill another 3 to 5 minutes or until the rhubarb is softened but not falling apart. Sprinkle with another tablespoon of sugar and serve.


  • Kathy Gunst, cookbook author and resident chef for Here & Now.

This segment aired on May 14, 2013.


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