Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth. It’s also a time when winter menus give way to lighter fare that highlight the flavors of the season, including the resurgency of fresh, local vegetables. We asked five chefs from the Two River area to give us recipes that feature the foods that favor spring fare.
Ama Ristorante at Driftwood
Chef Pat Trama
Chef Pat Trama is known for not compromising when it comes to using ingredients in the dishes he prepares at Ama Ristorante at Driftwood in Sea Bright. So for him, spring – when so many locally grown vegetables begin to arrive at markets – is one of the most exciting seasons.
“Spring is the time of year for awakening and growth of creativity,” he said, and guests at Ama Ristorante can expect to savor those spring tastes in his creations.
Chef Pat first gained an appreciation for the freshest and highest-quality ingredients while working as a young chef under the tutelage of star chef Charlie Palmer at the legendary River Café in Brooklyn. That legendary restaurant was dubbed the “Harvard Business School of the Culinary Arts” by The New York Times because so many of its chefs went on to stellar culinary careers. This incomparable experience, combined with his many trips to the Tuscan region of Italy, inspired Trama to explore Tuscan cuisine and eventually open his own restaurant in Atlantic Highlands. In 2012, Trama closed the Atlantic Highlands location and reopened Ama Ristorante at Driftwood, under the ownership of the Stavola family. In addition, the new location offers diners an expanded main dining room, a full-service bar, and an intimate private dining room, all with spectacular ocean views.
Ama Ristorante Chef Pat Trama’s Oven Roasted European Turbot
Golden Chanterelles – Fava Beans
Pea Tendrils – Rhubarb Marmalata
2lbs/four 8 ounce portions, bone in – turbot (halibut can replace turbot if not available)
4 ounces extra virgin olive oil (e.v.o.o.)
Preheat oven at 450 degrees. Season fish with salt and pepper.
Divide e.v.o.o. into two medium size sauté pans and heat. Place seasoned fish into pans (two per pan). Sear for 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Turn fish over, then place in oven for 6-8 minutes.
Remove from oven and let rest at room temperature for 3 minutes.
For Spring Vegetables:
4 ounces golden chanterelles
3 ounces fava beans, blanched and skinned
3 ounces red peppers, bruniose
3 ounces yellow peppers, bruniose
3 ounces-red pearl onions, peeled and blanched
3 ounces purple potatoes, blanched and sliced
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
1 sprig fresh sage, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped
2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Heat e.v.o.o. in medium size sauté pan. Add herbs to pan and toast lightly. Incorporate all other ingredients.
Stir with wooden spoon and let cook for 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
For pea tendrils:
4 ounces pea tendrils
1 ounces extra virgin olive oil
Heat e.v.o.o. in medium size sauté pan. Add pea tendrils and lightly wilt (less than 1 minute).
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
For rhubarb marmalata:
6 ounces rhubarb, peeled and diced
2 ounces Campari
1 each cinnamon stick
1 each star anise
1 each vanilla bean (split down center)
6 ounces pomegranate juice
3 ounces sugar
1 ounce honey
In small size sauce pot add all ingredients over low to medium heat. Reduce to jelly consistency/take off heat/let cool.
Chef David Burke
For nearly 35 years, Fromagerie has been a landmark in Rumson. Originally owned by Markus and Hubert Peter, mentors to the chef David Burke, the Peter brothers retired in 2006 and Burke took over. Lovers of the original Fromagerie will welcome mainstay dishes complemented by Burke’s signature dishes from start to finish. In homage to the abundant produce and seafood of his native Garden State, Burke’s dishes feature seasonal and local offerings for lunch, brunch and dinner. Unique special touches, such as a rolling cheese cart accompanied by fresh fruits and crackers to the homemade charcuterie, jarred pates and caviar, allow guests to enjoy the chef’s inventive American cuisine in bite-size portions. Larger appetites are accommodated by dry-aged steaks, vegetarian lasagna, day boat scallops, organic chicken, branzino, peach-braised shortrib, filet mignon surf and turf, even a 44-ounce porterhouse for two. Fromagerie’s Sunday brunch is an award-winning affair offering traditional and “Burke-style” creative fare.
Blazing across distinctions between chef, artist, entrepreneur, and inventor, David Burke is one of the leading pioneers in American cooking today. His fascination with ingredients and the art of the meal has fueled a career marked by creativity, critical acclaim and the introduction of revolutionary products and cooking techniques. Burke’s restaurants include David Burke Townhouse and Fishtail by David Burke, both located on the Upper East Side, David Burke Kitchen in the James Hotel in SoHo, all in New York City, David Burke Fromagerie in Rumson, David Burke Prime located at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Ledyard, Conn. and David Burke Primehouse located at the James Hotel in Chicago, Ill.
Fromagerie Chef David Burke’s Grilled Whole Salmon with grilled vegetables and tomato vinaigrette
Serves 4 to 6
1 whole salmon, cleaned, about 6 pounds, scaled, gutted and cut into two filets
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 large lemon, about 3 tablespoons
Wash salmon and pat dry all over with paper towels. Split the salmon and rub both sides with salt and olive oil. Grease grill well. Place fish on grill flesh side down; close grill lid. Cook over moderate coals for 4-6 minutes, or until just browned.
Meanwhile, mix parsley, 1/2 cup olive oil, and lemon juice. Turn fish carefully. With skin side down, rub top side with butter mixture. Close lid and cook for 7-9 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve warm with lemon wedges.
Grilled Vegetables & Corn on the Cob:
(yields 4 servings)
4 cobs of fresh corn
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 cippolini onions
8 pieces asparagus
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt/pepper to taste
Grilled corn on the cob:
Peel the husk off the corn. Rub the corn with whole butter and seasoned with salt and pepper. Place the corn on the grill for about 10 minutes, rotating the corn every 2 minutes.
Grilled cippollini onions:
Peel the onion, cut in half horizontally and place face down on the grill making sure it’s seasoned for about 2 minutes.
Peel asparagus and blanche in salty water for 2 minutes. Season the asparagus with blended oil, salt, pepper and place on the grill for about 2 minutes on each side.
12 plum tomatoes
Salt/Pepper to taste
2 ½ cups olive oil
12 garlic slivers
12 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup red wine vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Cut each tomato in half lengthwise, and place the halves on the prepared baking sheet, cut side up. Season the cut sides with salt and pepper to taste. Using a pastry brush and ½ cup of the olive oil, lightly coat the tomatoes. Place a sliver of garlic and a sprig of thyme on each tomato. Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven and roast the tomatoes for 20 minutes, or until very tender. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.
When cool, remove and discard the garlic slivers and thyme. Place the tomatoes in a blender. Add the vinegar and process to a smooth puree. With the motor running on low, slowly add the remaining 2 cups of olive oil. When the mixture is fully emulsified, season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette into a non-reactive container and cover it. Store at room temperature until ready to serve.
Salt Creek Grille
Chef Bob Belt
Bob Belt, executive chef for Salt Creek Grille, Rumson, has developed a deep appreciation for the arrival of spring. A native of Pittsburgh and a graduate of the Pittsburgh School of Culinary Arts, he loves the steady stream of New Jersey produce and the warmer weather the state provides at this time of year.
“I like spring because of all the beautiful produce that New Jersey grows, and just the feeling of new life that spring brings after a long winter,” Belt said.
With its stunning views of the Navesink River, its classic Craftsman-style architecture and award-winning menu, Salt Creek Grille serves business colleagues, friends and families its classic American grill menu that features local products, many prepared on an authentic mesquite-wood grill. A private dining room for guests up to 150 is the site for many events that are as closely aligned with spring as the arrival of the first asparagus spears, such as christenings and graduation parties. Executive chef Bob is known for his “limitless” Sunday Champagne brunches, a crowd pleaser loved by all members of a family as well as a gathering of friends. Always a favorite is his weekly featured quiche, which Belt tailors according to what is available seasonally.
Salt Creek Grille Chef Bob Belt’s Poblano Chili Quiche
Pastry dough for a 9-inch tart
6 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1/2 lb grated Monterey Jack cheese or Gruyere
1 1/2 cup chopped bunch spinach thoroughly washed and dried
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out dough to a 13-inch round without stretching. Place dough into deep tart pan while letting the excess crust hang over the sides. Prick the bottom with a fork several times and chill for 30 minutes.
Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (can substitute beans for weights) and bake 20 to 25 minutes. Remove parchment paper and weights and bake for 15 minutes more. Spread spinach over the bottom of the crust.
Whisk together eggs, milk, cream, onion and pepper in a large bowl. Pour into baked shell over spinach. Sprinkle cheese over custard and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until custard is set.
Serve warm or room temperature.
(Many substitutions can be made for the spinach and cheese depending on preferences, including asparagus and multiple cheeses, such as Swiss or cheddar. Pie dough can also be purchased premade.)
Chef Carol Maxwell
For chef Carol Maxwell, who manages the bakery department at Sickles Market in Little Silver, one of the best things about spring is ready access to the freshest produce, procured by Sickles’ talented, knowledgeable produce manager John Gormley.
“Fresh! Fresh! Fresh!” exclaimed Maxwell after being asked what she likes about spring. “After the winter, I crave the freshness and colors of the first rhubarb, asparagus and ramps as they show up in the market. It’s the food version of seeing the first daffodils in my garden – spring is finally here and the wonderful cycle of local vegetables and fruits begins yet again.”
The Sickles family has been farming in the area ever since an ancestral family member acquired the property through a king’s land grant in 1665. They know what constitutes the highest quality produce from the ground to the table and demand that their suppliers provide the very best to their market.
With such commitment to excellence, the market naturally attracts talented professionals like Maxwell, who has a highly successful career that includes many fields, but none as rewarding as cooking and teaching. She also teaches Cooking Through the Seasons at nearby Taste & Technique, offering cooking classes that focus on using seasonal ingredients.
Maxwell graduated first in her class at the Institute of Culinary Education, and has received numerous accolades, including a rave review from The New York Time while working as a pastry chef at the former Baker Boys, Ocean Grove.
Sickles Market’s Chef Carol Maxwell’s Spring Rhubarb Crumble
2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
To make filling: put rhubarb, granulated sugar, 1/4 cup of the flour and vanilla into a 9 x 13 baking dish and toss well to combine; set aside.
To make crumble topping: put remaining 1 cup flour, light brown sugar, butter and salt into a large bowl and toss well
Using your fingertips, rub butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. Working with one small handful at a time, squeeze dough together to make a ball, then gently break it into chunks and scatter them on rhubarb filling in baking dish.
Bake until rhubarb is very tender and bubbly and crumble topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Serve warm with vanilla ice cream if desired.
Optional, if desired add ¼ tsp. Almond extract to filling; ½ tsp cinnamon; and/or ½ cup chopped walnuts to topping
Woody’s Ocean Grille
Chef Onofrio Moscato
Just a few steps from the Atlantic Ocean in Sea Bright, one of the Jersey Shore’s iconic beaches, Woody’s offers a special casual dining destination. The unique atmosphere at Woody’s is somewhat upscale, yet very laid back. The menu is California coastal with a southwestern flare that includes its famous fish tacos, fresh seafood and southwestern creations.
The 18-month-old restaurant was hit hard by Super Storm Sandy and was closed from Oct. 29 until reopening in late January.
For Woody’s chef, Onofrio Moscato, spring is a favorite food time.
“I love spring for the freshness. The flavors of young vegetables are amazing. From a chef’s point of view the menu changes from heavy savory dishes to fresh crisp and clean flavors of spring,” he said.
Woody’s Ocean Grill Chef Onofrio Moscato’s Spring Pea and Florida Grouper
8 ounces of grouper
4 jalapeno, charred and seeded
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 cups of spring peas, blanched
2 sprigs of fresh mint
1 bunch watercress, cleaned
1 grapefruit, segmented
¼ small red onion, julienned
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Pan sear grouper in extra virgin olive oil until golden brown. (Cook fish on one side for 3 minutes and finish in oven until opaque.)
In food processor, add blanched peas, mix with olive oil until a smooth consistency, add garlic, mint and jalapeno. Salt and pepper to taste.
In a mixing bowl, add watercress, onion, segmented grapefruit and toss with a fresh squeeze of grapefruit juice, a dash of olive oil and salt and pepper.
Place spring pea sauce on bottom, place fish on top and add watercress salad.