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Asparagus and Ricotta Toasts


Asparagus and Ricotta Toasts
Gerard Craft
Yields: 8 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling and brushing
8 slices packaged thin white bread
3/4 pound pencil-thin asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh ricotta (5 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 350° and lightly brush a baking sheet with olive oil. Using a 2-inch round biscuit cutter, stamp 4 rounds out of each slice of bread and transfer to the baking sheet. Lightly brush the rounds with oil and toast for about 15 minutes, until lightly golden and slightly crisp. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the asparagus, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Add the lemon juice and let cool slightly. In a small bowl, stir the lemon zest into the ricotta and season with salt and pepper. Spread the lemon ricotta on the toasts and top with the asparagus. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Serve right away.

Corn, Crab and Shrimp Chowder
Adapted from Andrew Zimmern
Yields: 10-12 servings

6 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
3 ears of corn—shucked, kernels cut off
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/3-inch dice
3 celery ribs, cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 serrano chile, minced
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over
1 quart heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Snipped chives, for garnish

In a small skillet, toast the celery and fennel seeds over moderately high heat until fragrant and starting to pop, about 45 seconds. Let cool completely. In a spice grinder or mortar, grind or crush the seeds to a powder. In the large pot, melt the butter over moderately high heat. Add the yellow pepper, onion, celery and chile and cook until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the ground fennel and celery seeds and cook for 1 minute. Add the potatoes and stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir the shrimp and crabmeat into the chowder. Cover and let stand until the shrimp turn pink on the outside, about 3 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and corn kernels. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat; immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the shrimp are white throughout, about 3 minutes. Ladle the chowder into bowls and garnish with chives.

Blueberry Bread Pudding
Adapted from Charles Leary
Yields: 10 servings

4 cups half and half
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 loaf challah bread (1 pound), cut into 1-inch chunks
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups blueberries
5 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 13x9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk the milk with the vanilla. Add the bread, submerge it in the milk and let stand for 5 minutes. In a bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add to the soaked bread and stir; fold in the blueberries and the white chocolate.   Transfer to the prepared baking dish.  Dot the pudding with the butter and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the pudding is browned and crisp. Let stand for 10 minutes.

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