Serious Entertaining: Early Spring Dinner
Spring is one of the easiest times of the year for entertaining. Its flavors are so bright and fresh after the root vegetable-based fare of winter that really, all you need to do is find a good source of vegetables (like a farmer's market) and treat the vegetables as simply as possible. Roast chicken is the centerpiece of this dinner, and it gets roasted with asparagus and spring leeks. Asparagus is at its smallest and tenderest in the spring (it arrives mid-April and gets fatter and fatter over the summer), while early spring leeks are far sweeter than their wintered counterparts. Peas are just beginning to make an appearance in April as well. A simple salad and a five-minute-start-to-finish dessert seal the deal.
Easy Roast Chicken with Asparagus and Leeks
A good roast chicken is great any time of the year, but it's especially nice in the spring when you've got all those nice spring vegetables to work with. Asparagus roasted in the drippings from a chicken are one of spring's greatest pleasures. In this easy recipe, I make a quick jus out of the back and necks of the chicken which then gets used to braise the leeks in. It's meat and two veg, all in one simple shot.
Want to know more about your asparagus? Check out this guide for storage, cleaning, and cooking tips.
Get the recipe: Easy Roast Chicken with Asparagus and Leeks »
Buttery Peas with Ham
Peas are one of the few vegetables that are almost always better frozen than fresh. See, as soon as a pea is picked, its natural sugars start converting to starches. Even a few hours out of the pod makes for a noticeable difference in texture and flavor. Frozen peas are picked ripe, then immediately flash frozen, putting them in a state of suspended animation. Because of this, frozen peas are pretty much always tender and sweet. That they're so small makes it easy to rapidly freeze (and for you to rapidly defrost) them, helping them retain good texture.
On the other hand, if you have access to a good local farmer's market, fresh peas (and they have to be fresh) can be a real treat. I like to keep mine simple—blanched in boiling water, then tossed in a pan with a bit of butter and a splash of cream. They take to flavorings well, and a bit of ham never hurts.
Get the recipe: Buttery Peas with Ham »
A Simple Salad
Nine out of ten times when it looks like my dinner table is missing something, the answer turns out to be a salad. Now, there are all sorts of main-course and fancy side-dish salads, but when you've already spent a good chunk of time in the kitchen, throwing together a complex composed salad is not always the top thing on your to-do list. That's fine. Even a salad of mixed tender spring greens tossed in a simple vinaigrette serves the purpose of a bright, fresh, acidic counterpoint to the rest of your meal. (Check out this article for some of the science behind a vinaigrette).
The best part? If you're like me and always have vinaigrette on hand (I make mine in a squeeze bottle), a side salad comes together in under a minute.
Get the recipe: Simple Vinaigrette »
To Drink: Spring Sangria
Early spring means the tail-end of citrus season, and that means that you're at that happy time of year when you can enjoy fresh peas and asparagus, right next to specialty citrus like Sumo oranges and kumquats. I can't think of a finer way to enjoy them than in a gingery Spring Sangria. Based on rosé wine, it's flavored with Cointreau and Maraschino liqueur making for a light-on-the-alcohol, light-on-the-palate refresher. (Don't worry, the recipe will work fine with your everyday navels and mandarins).
Get the recipe: Spring Sangria »
Dessert: Eton Mess
I like to keep spring desserts nice and simple, and there's not much simpler than an Eton mess. Named after Eton College, the dessert lies somewhere between a trifle and a pavlova. Crushed meringue cookies (you can use store-bought) are folded into whipped cream, which then gets layered with macerated fresh berries. The only real work involved is whipping the cream. Make sure to add the meringue in right before serving so that you can maximize the contrast between light and creamy whipped cream, sweet tender fruit, and crunchy meringue bits.
Get the recipe: Eton Mess »
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.