Winter is almost over. Are you ready for spring? Let Giada De Laurentiis be your end-of-winter culinary sherpa. In episode eight, season 10 of Everyday Italian, Giada creates the dream early spring menu. Every dish is light but rich, bright but satisfying, bursting with a combination of fresh produce and pantry staples. It's my favorite episode of the entire show.
Giada calls it "Cooking from the Heart," but it's more like late-winter comfort foods poking at impending spring.
Instead of spaghetti carbonara, there's hot linguine and asparagus tossed with a basil aioli, topped with fried eggs and shaved pecorino. Instead of mealy winter tomatoes, there are crostini that wake up your tastebuds for the slow emergence from hibernation into bruschetta city. Sidecars are bright and light, but full of winter citrus. Desserts are chocolate-drenched and caramel-stuffed. Giada takes your hand and guides you through a menu that says "Don't worry — winter is almost over."
Asparagus Carbonara with Basil Aioli
Asparagus is nearly back and the second you can get your hands on it, stock up. It's a sign of spring's arrival.
Giada throws a bundle into hot water, rubber band and all, as if she's so excited to transform that asparagus into pasta that she can't be bothered to remove the trimmings. She turns very fresh eggs, oils, Dijon mustard, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and garlic into an aioli. The addition of fresh basil makes it fresh, bright, and green. (If basil isn't nearly back yet, sub in another soft green herb like parsley.)
Cooked linguine sits on top of the blanched and iced asparagus, blanketed with basil aioli. There are big, rough shavings of pecorino and a fried egg, dotted with black pepper and salt. "Creamy, smooth — it's easy going down," Giada says, spearing a tangle of noodles and closing her eyes with the first bite. The whole scene is a pale green that's full of impending spring.
This is a great recipe for beginners. You'll learn how to make an aioli from scratch, how to blanch asparagus, and how to cook pasta, all in one dish. It's all pasta steam and bright colors, egg yolks cooking in hot pasta. It's totally lovely.
Get the recipe: Giada's Carbonara from The Food Network
Crostini with Thyme Goat Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
This crostini feels like a pantry bruschetta. Sweet, savory, cooked-down sun-dried tomatoes are transformed into tomato jam with thyme-flecked goat cheese. I love that she makes use of the oil from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes to soak up every bit of flavor. All year we should use these oils, but especially when nothing has blossomed yet, when we can sense the end of the season but snow still hovers over the forecast. Sliced baguette drizzled with olive oil hints at summer parties. It's toasted and topped with savory sweet tomato jam.
Take something dry and simple and mix it with the fresh, like sundried tomatoes paired with fresh thyme and onions. Take simple goat cheese and make magic with earthy, lemony herbs. Assemble tomato jam and goat cheese on crostini.
This is another great set of lessons for new cooks because you'll learn how to soften onions and garlic, how to thicken jams, and how to toast baguettes in the oven under a golden drizzle of olive oil and salt.
The scene ends with lingering shots of the glistening tomato jam, the thick smear of goat cheese, a pinch of extra thyme. There's an intense crackle as she bites down. You can hear every riotous mouthful.
Get the recipe: Crostini with Sun-Dried Tomato Jam from The Food Network
Chocolate Caramel Almond Clusters
"Today I'm cooking from the heart, and this dessert always makes my heart beat a little faster," says Giada.
It's the dream late-winter dessert. It's rich, but not yet another baked good; decadent and dense, but small and simple. Slivered toasted almonds are baked with caramels, set in the fridge, and coated in bittersweet chocolate. It's a recipe so easy it could end any meal with style and ease as you share a platter of your homemade candies with slinky chocolate coating and rough edges.
What can the new chef learn here? How to set candy in the fridge, how to melt chocolate in a double boiler, and how to turn handfuls of pantry staples into glorious slapdash desserts.
Get the recipe: Almond and Chocolate Clusters from The Food Network
Sidecar martinis look like summer and are full of winter citrus. Cognac, orange-flavored liqueur, sweet and sour mix, limoncello, and fresh lime juices join forces to create an ice-cold shaker of citrus-studded martinis. Lime zest-flecked sugar sits on the rim, fragrant.
"It even smells good as you get close to it" she says, raising her drink in a cheers, like she's toasting the end of snow, of short days and long nights, and the beginning of stretching out of the cold and into the warm embrace of the spring kitchen.
Get the recipe: Side Car Martini from The Food Network
What's your favorite episode of Everyday Italian?