Grilled Asparagus Pizza

(4 servings)

For chef Carole Greenwood of Greenwood in Northwest Washington, this is the ideal springtime pizza: a thin crust topped with creamy mozzarella and tender asparagus. Though substantial enough as an entree, it could also be cut into slivers and served as an appetizer.

About 1/2 pound pizza dough, homemade or store bought

Cornmeal for baking sheet

Extra-virgin olive oil to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 pound pencil-thin asparagus, washed and trimmed

1/2 to 3/4 pound whole-milk (not fresh) mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced

Freshly grated or shaved Parmesan cheese to taste

Finely chopped fresh parsley to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Have ready a pizza stone or an unrimmed baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle the stone or baking sheet with cornmeal to prevent crust from sticking.

Place the pizza dough on a work surface. Using your palms, gently flatten the dough slightly into a thick circle. Using your fingers, work from the center of the circle and gently coax the dough outward in all directions until the dough looks more like a flat disk than a ball. If the dough resists, set aside to rest for about 3 minutes. Continue to shape the dough by stretching it outward in all directions. If you prefer, you can flip the dough over and work the other side. Carefully transfer the dough to the pizza stone or baking sheet. Lightly brush the top with oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake the crust until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven; set aside.

Increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees.

Meanwhile, preheat the grill, broiler or a grill pan. Place the asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, season with salt and pepper to taste and toss to coat. Remove asparagus from baking sheet and spread in an even layer on the grill, broiler pan or grill pan and cook, turning once, until barely tender and lightly browned, 30 to 60 seconds per side, depending on the thickness. Arrange the whole asparagus stalks evenly over the pizza crust. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese and garlic evenly over the asparagus.

Bake the pizza just until the cheese is melted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven, drizzle with additional oil, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley to taste. Cut into slices and serve hot.

Per serving: 569 calories, 31 gm protein, 32 gm carbohydrates, 35 gm fat, 94 mg cholesterol, 17 gm saturated fat, 689 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

Watercress and Frisee Salad With Pear-Honey Dressing

(4 servings)

The first watercress of the season is the most tender and mild. Like ramps, wild watercress may be available, but taste first -- it may pack a punch of pepperiness. If too peppery, use a little less watercress and a tad more frisee.

This tangle of spring greens and thick, rich dressing is dubbed the "Country Salad" on Jay Comfort's new spring menu at Poste.

For the dressing:

1 soft, overripe Anjou pear, peeled, cored and diced

Juice from 1/2 lemon

1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon-style mustard, or to taste

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

21/2 tablespoons honey, or to taste

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil

For the salad:

1 bunch young watercress, washed and dried, tough stems trimmed

2 small heads frisee, washed

Walnuts, toasted* and chopped

Stilton cheese (preferably a Colston-Basset Stilton), shaved with a cheese plane

For the dressing: In a food processor or blender, puree the pear with the lemon juice, mustard, vinegar and honey until very smooth. With the machine still running, slowly add the olive and canola oils in a steady stream until completely emulsified. Taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly.

For the salad: Arrange the watercress and frisee on individual plates. Drizzle some of the dressing over each salad, sprinkle with the walnuts and top with slices of cheese. Serve immediately.

*Note: To toast nuts, spread them on a baking sheet and place them in a 350-degree oven. Bake, shaking the pan occasionally for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully because nuts will burn quickly.

Per serving (using 1 tablespoon dressing): 268 calories, 6 gm protein, 7 gm carbohydrates, 25 gm fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 5 gm saturated fat, 215 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Spring Soup

(4 to 6 servings)

Chef Carole Greenwood of Greenwood in Northwest Washington loves using early spring favas because they don't have to be peeled. The young fava beans have a thin green skin covering the actual bean that can be consumed when tender. If the skin on the shelled beans is at all yellowed, however, it must be peeled before cooking (a tedious, time-consuming task).

In her soups, Greenwood never uses stock, which she feels cuts the rich flavor of the vegetables; instead, she uses water. Neither does she shock blanched vegetables with ice water as she feels it drains the flavor from them.

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 cup fava beans, shelled (from about 1 pound beans)

2 cups shelled green peas (from about 2 pounds peas in the pod)

2 cups spinach leaves, washed and stemmed

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 large sweet onion, diced

1 large leek (white part only), thinly sliced

1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves

1/2 cup cold water, plus additional as necessary

1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Extra-virgin olive oil (optional garnish)

Snipped fresh chives or other herbs (optional garnish)

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the sugar and fava beans and cook until the beans are bright green and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to a large bowl.

Add the peas to the water and cook until the peas are bright green and tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the peas to the bowl with the fava beans. Add the spinach to the water and cook until bright green, about 30 seconds. Transfer to the bowl; reserve the cooking water.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, leek and garlic and cook until translucent, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat; set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes.

In a food processor or blender, combine the onion mixture with the favas, peas and spinach and 1 cup of the reserved cooking water and pulse until chunky. Add the mint, parsley and cold water and puree until smooth. If necessary, add additional water, a little at a time, if the soup appears to be too thick. (May cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.)

Pour the puree into a saucepan, add the cream and heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, just until warmed through. (Do not simmer or boil the soup longer than necessary; it will lose its vibrant color and flavor.) Season with salt and pepper to taste and transfer to individual bowls. If desired, garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and snipped chives or herb leaves.

Per serving (based on 4): 441 calories, 9 gm protein, 26 gm carbohydrates, 35 gm fat, 103 mg cholesterol, 21 gm saturated fat, 214 mg sodium, 8 gm dietary fiber

White Asparagus and Radish Salad

(4 servings)

This salad from chef Jay Comfort at Poste is pretty, pastel and perfect for spring. He recommends serving it with pan-browned rockfish, "probably one of our most notable regional fishes and very in-season right now."

The lemony dressing for this salad also works well with green asparagus, artichoke hearts and broccoli.

6 to 8 mild red radishes, preferably French Breakfast

1 scallion, end trimmed and tough outer layer and top removed

1 pound white asparagus, peeled

1 egg yolk*

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Salt to taste

Pinch cayenne pepper

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons light extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup canola oil

With a truffle shaver or a mandoline, shave or thinly slice the radishes to preserve the outer layer of color. Slice the scallion in long thin cuts on the bias along the length of the stem. Rinse in cold water to remove some of the harshness. Soak radish and scallion slices in ice water for 15 minutes to curl.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus for 25 seconds in boiling water, remove from water and immediately place in bowl of ice water to stop cooking.

In a food processor or with a stick blender, make a vinaigrette: Thoroughly combine the egg yolk, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt and cayenne and black peppers. With the processor or blender still running, add the olive and canola oils in a slow, steady stream and continue to blend until the mixture is emulsified.

Dress the asparagus with the vinaigrette. Cover and refrigerate the remaining vinaigrette. Drain the radish and scallion slices and scatter them on top of the asparagus before serving.

*Note: Uncooked eggs may be contaminated with salmonella bacteria and therefore should not be consumed by the very young, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.

Per serving: 217 calories, 3 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 22 gm fat, 27 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 86 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Wilted Dandelion Greens and

Baby Spinach

(4 servings)

Sidra Forman of Perry's likes to combine slightly bitter greens with mild baby spinach, heady roasted garlic and sweet vinegar for a nicely balanced side dish. This also works well as a bed of greens for grilled fish.

1 bunch dandelion greens, washed, dried and stemmed (may substitute another hardy green, such as kale or rapini)

About 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

1/4 pound baby spinach, washed, dried and stemmed

2 cloves roasted garlic, chopped

Balsamic vinegar to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the dandelion greens on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Roast until the greens are wilted, about 5 minutes. Watch the greens carefully as they burn easily. Remove from the oven and immediately add the spinach and garlic to the pan and toss to combine. (The heat from the dandelion greens should wilt the spinach.)

Season with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Per serving: 81 calories, 2 gm protein, 4 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 126 mg sodium, 4 gm dietary fiber

Rhubarb and Banana Cobbler

(6 servings)

Tart spring rhubarb finds a sweet partner with bananas and crunchy oatmeal topping in this cobbler from chef Sidra Forman, who likes to serve it with vanilla ice cream or soy ice cream or banana or vanilla sorbet. The oatmeal topping forms a sweet, thick, crunchy layer; use slightly less of it if you prefer a less sweet dessert.

Vegetable oil for pan

4 to 6 stalks fresh rhubarb, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 4 cups)

2 medium bananas, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices

1/4 cup granulated sugar

21/2 cups rolled (not quick-cooking) oatmeal

1/4 cup grapeseed or canola oil, plus additional for the baking dish

1/4 cup soy milk (may substitute low-fat milk)

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8- or 9-inch baking dish or 6 individual baking dishes with 11/2-cup capacity.

In a large bowl, combine the rhubarb and banana slices with the sugar and toss to combine. Spread in the prepared baking dish(es).

In a bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the oatmeal, oil, milk, salt, baking powder, sugar and honey for 1 minute. Spread the oatmeal topping over the fruit and bake until the topping is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Per serving: 422 calories, 6 gm protein, 77 gm carbohydrates, 12 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 214 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber

-- Candy Sagon