Five Ways to Make Quick Dinners Using Spring Produce
Dinner on the fly isn't something that works for everyone, so it's great to have a game plan and maybe a recipe. As spring hits one of the key ways to approach dinner is to focus on produce. Select recipes and techniques that facilitate quick dinners while highlighting the season's bounty—asparagus, English peas, snap peas, carrots, and more. Show off this spring produce with fast cooking techniques like stir-fries and pestos that put the focus on the vegetables, or pair those vegetables with protein in one-pot dishes like skillet braises and baking in parchment packets, a technique called en papillote.
Get a balanced and delicious spring dinner on the table with these helpful tips.
Fast, Flavorful Stir-Fries
For spring dinner in a flash, turn up the heat and opt for a technique that highlights the vibrancy of the season's best vegetables: stir-frying. No wok? No worries! One of the test kitchen's favorite vessels to stir fry in is a large cast-iron skillet. Use any skillet you like, the only requirement here is that you really heat the skillet before adding the ingredients. Vegetables cooked over high heat retain their bright color and crisp-tender texture and pick up slight undertones of smokiness. From start to finish, a properly cooked stir-fry takes under 15 minutes, and it'll be even less time if there is no meat. For a formula to creating your own, check out our comprehensive guide to stir-fry or follow one of these inventive recipes that go beyond the basics: steak and asparagus, chicken and green beans with a lemon sauce, and the Ginger-Peanut Turkey Stir Fry that's pictured here.
Pasta with Spring Pesto
When a pasta craving hits, don't just look to the usual sauces. Instead, think spring, and add a punch of produce to your plate. We love to toss pasta with pesto made from fresh vegetables. That's right: Herbal pestos such as basil aren't the only game in town. Spring vegetables like peas, carrots, and beets can just as quickly pulse up into colorful pestos in food processor. For an easy win, add nuts, a leafy green herb, and parmesan with the vegetables. Another option is to swap basil for mint, which is abundant in the spring and toss it with pasta filled with spring vegetable pieces like this recipe for Campanelle with Pistachio Mint Pesto and Asparagus.
Comforting Vegetable Risotto
A warm bowl of risotto is a versatile backdrop for tender spring produce, like asparagus, mushrooms, English peas, snap peas, and even radishes. To cook a roasted vegetable risotto, start with a base recipe (you can't go wrong with our perfectly creamy risotto). While the rice cooks, there's plenty of time to roast the vegetable of choice in the oven. Combine the two when the risotto is done, then finish everything with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and fresh leafy spring herbs like basil, chives, dill, or parsley. Once you've got the standard risotto down, branch out with different creative flavor profiles. For starters, pair lots of lemon with asparagus or try our Spicy Green Rice & Shrimp risotto with unexpected Southeast Asian ingredients.
It's worth noting that the vegetables don't even have to be roasted. If you don't feel like turning on the oven, blanch, steam, or pan-sear your preferred vegetable mix. We simply prefer roasting for the ease of putting it in the oven and leaving the focus on stirring that risotto.
One-Pot Skillet Braises with Chicken
There is no question that chicken and spring vegetables pair flawlessly, but there is a technique we particularly love at this time of year, and that's the skillet braise. It's easy to pull off a complete dinner in just one pan—we like to make chicken with at least two different types of vegetables and a comforting, brothy sauce. Braise heartier root vegetables like tiny potatoes with the chicken in the broth, then add produce like asparagus, peas, or snap peas—that you want to stay crisp when cooked—in the final moments of cooking. The best way to get a braise down is to start cooking a few recipes; we loves these ones that pair chicken with spinach and artichoke to evoke the beloved dip, creamy asparagus and potato in a delightful white wine sauce, and the briny pairing of Braised Chicken with Potatoes, Olives, and Lemon.
Easy Parchment Packets
A certain magic happens when you cook dinner in parchment packets. The technique is so simple to master at home. Simply place vegetables and lean protein such as chicken or seafood in parchment, fold into neat pouches, then let the oven do the work. The ingredients both bake and steam, retaining the vegetables nutrients and vibrancy and creating a flavorful, juicy sauce. Since everything cooks at the same time, it's important to follow the timing and ensure the protein and vegetables are the right size. Here are some favorite parchment packets combinations to get you started: Shrimp with Kale and White Beans, Lemon-Tarragon Salmon with Asparagus, Chicken and Vegetables, Flounder with Asparagus and Shiitakes.
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