JOPLIN, Mo. —
The unpredictable nature of spring -- balmy one moment, frigid the next -- makes us hanker for dishes that reflect the season's maybe-maybe not feel.
And that was the inspiration for this dish, which blends one of the heartiest of winter pastas -- potato gnocchi -- with asparagus, a light vegetable that has come to represent one of surest signs of spring. We wanted protein, too, but nothing as heavy as meat, nor as light as beans or tofu. Shrimp, which pair so nicely with asparagus anyway, were the perfect choice.
To tie it all together, we started robust with some crumbled Gorgonzola. And to balance those big bold flavors, a light squeeze of lemon juice.
Rhubarb, which ripens in the spring, is a vegetable, not a fruit, and it's so tart (not sweet) that it's rarely present in a recipe without some kind of sugar added for balance.
An import from England, rhubarb was known in 19th century America as "the pie plant" because that was where it usually ended up -- in pies, often paired with strawberries. But the rhubarb's acidity makes it a splendid ingredient in savory dishes, too.
On the shelf in your grocery store, rhubarb looks a lot like celery, except that it's usually a fetching reddish-purple in color. It comes in long, slender stalks, with strings running from top to bottom. To eliminate the toughness of the strings, some cooks peel their rhubarb before cooking by thinly slicing the stalks across the grain of the strings.
Given its high water content, turning rhubarb into a sauce requires little more than cooking it. It breaks down quickly and becomes nice and thick.
As for the cut of pork on which we ladle this sauce, go with the tenderloin instead of its neighbor, the loin. Both are lean, but they call it the tenderloin, after all, for a reason. However, this isn't to say it won't turn out tough and dry if you overcook it, so be sure to keep your eye on the cooking time and let it rest after you've taken the meat out of the skillet.
Spring gnocchi with asparagus and shrimp
Gnocchi pasta can be found in three sections of the grocer: the freezer section (along with the frozen ravioli), the pasta aisle (where they are packaged in shelf-stable containers) and alongside the fresh pasta in the refrigerated case.
Start to finish: 20 minutes
Two 16- to 18-ounce packages gnocchi
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bunches asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 ounces watercress
1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi and cook according to package directions, then drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the lemon zest and cook until the butter begins to be fragrant and just begins to brown. Immediately, add the salt, black pepper, asparagus and shrimp. Cook until the asparagus and shrimp are tender and cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes.
Add the gnocchi to the pan and toss to coat and mix. Divide the gnocchi between 6 serving plates, then top each portion with watercress, Gorgonzola and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Nutrition information per serving: 510 calories; 120 calories from fat (24 percent of total calories); 13 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 150 mg cholesterol; 70 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 31 g protein; 1190 mg sodium.
Pork tenderloin medallions with rhubarb-orange sauce
Start to finish: 45 minutes
2 pork tenderloins (about 11/2 pounds total), trimmed of fat
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Chopped fresh chives, to garnish
Trim off the thin end piece of each tenderloin, cutting off about a 3-inch section. Slice the remaining portion of each tenderloin crosswise into 3/4-inch rounds. You should end up with about 18 to 20 pieces, including the 2 thin sections cut from the ends. Season the pork on all sides with salt and pepper.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Working in batches, add the pork to the skillet. Cook, turning to brown on all sides, for about 4 to 5 minutes, or until the pork is just pink at the center (about 145 F). Transfer the pork to a plate, cover with foil and let it rest while you prepare the sauce.
Return the skillet to the heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil, the rhubarb and the sugar. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the orange juice and simmer for 2 minutes.
In a small bowl or glass, whisk together the water and cornstarch, then add to the simmering broth in a stream, whisking. Return the sauce to a boil, then whisk in the mustard and any juices that have collected on the plate from the pork.
To serve, divide the pork medallions between 6 plates, then top with some of the sauce. Garnish with chives.
Nutrition information per serving: 200 calories; 60 calories from fat (30 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 75 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 25 g protein; 420 mg sodium.