Whether you're hosting a casual garden luncheon or a formal sit down dinner, spring brings a fabulous range of garden–fresh, succulent flavors to incorporate into your menu. We asked three caterers to create a three–course menu spotlighting springtime ingredients; each course is paired with a wine chosen by Anu Karwa of Swirl Events. —Abigail Reid
Two Chefs are Better Than One, Boston
First course: Grilled long stem artichoke hearts and fennel served with shaved parmesan and lemon vinaigrette
"Spring is artichoke season in California, so they're readily available in grocery stores across the country," says Chef and co–owner Steve Beauvais. "In this dish, the artichokes are complemented by the fennel, which has a sweet, aromatic anise flavor after it's been grilled."
Pair with: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Fattoria il Palagio, 2007 "A lemony white wine like this will bring out the bright citrus flavor of the vinaigrette," says Anu.
Second Course: Smoked duck ravioli accompanied by sautéed pea tendrils, served with raspberry and white balsamic aioli
"Pea tendrils are the young, tender climbing vines found on the pea plant," says Steve. "They can be used raw in salads, steamed, or sautéed, as in this dish. They have a very crisp, garden–fresh taste that's perfect for a spring menu," says Steve.
Pair with: Nicolas Joly "Les Clos Sacres" Savennières, 2007 "This dry chenin blanc is gentle enough for the pea tendrils, since they have a unique taste that should not be overshadowed by a heavy wine," says Anu. "Yet it also has an underlying earthiness that will be able to hold its own against the strong flavor of the smoked duck."
Third course: Lavender– and honey butter–stuffed Statler chicken breast, served with lemon– and spring onion–infused basmati rice and sautéed patty pan squash, on a bed of wilted baby spinach
"Patty pan squash starts becoming available in the early spring months," says Steve. "Its delicate flavor combines nicely with the honey and lavender in the chicken, as well as the fragrant basmati rice."
Wine Pairing: Viognier, Zaca Mesa Winery, 2008 "The aromas in this dish are very aromatic," says Anu. "You'll need an equally fragrant wine, like a full–bodied, perfume–y viognier. The Zaca Mesa Winery in Santa Barbara makes an excellent one."
Cobblestone Catering, New York City
First course: Butter lettuce served with heirloom radishes, fava beans, and ramps
"I think radishes are very under–appreciated in the catering world," says Executive Chef and Owner Jeremy Wachalter. "I love their spicy, earthy flavor, and the varieties of shapes and colors they come in. Butter lettuce has a mild to sweet flavor and a firm crisp texture that pairs great with the peppery taste of radishes, the sweetness of fava beans, and the earthiness of ramps."
Wine Pairing: 2007 Francis Coppola Sofia Blanc De Blanc Sparkling Wine "I love the idea of kicking off a meal with sparkling wine," says Anu. "It adds a touch of elegance and works well with practically any dish."
Second course: Pan–roasted black cod, served with spring onions, chanterelles, English peas, and asparagus sauce
"Cod has a rich, buttery flesh that lends itself to a variety of accompaniments," says Jeremy. "This particular combination of seasonal vegetables makes a spring–appropriate 'nest' for the crisp fish. I'm of the 'less is more' school: when showcasing super–fresh ingredients, it's always better to keep the dish simple."
Wine Pairing: Louis Latour Montagny Premier Cru La Grande Roche, 2007 "A subtle–nosed white Burgundy with a velvety texture has enough heft to pair well with the rich flavor of cod, yet is also delicate—it won't overshadow the flavors of the fresh, seasonal produce," says Anu.
Third course: Strawberry–rhubarb semifreddo, salted pistachio brittle, and thyme shortbread
"I am not a huge fan of overly sweet desserts," says Jeremy. "By using fresh herbs and a little sea salt in dessert recipes, you can develop more complexity, plus it makes the dish much easier to pair with wine."
Wine Pairing: Seven Sisters, Twena Rosé, 2007 "This off–dry rosé has a juicy, slightly strawberry taste that will bring out the bright flavors in this dessert," says Anu.
__A Joy Wallace Catering Production & Design Team, Miami __
First course: Spring lettuce and arugula bundle, wrapped with prosciutto and drizzled with herb vinaigrette, served with a shot of chilled pea and mint soup (pictured) garnished with fresh mint micro greens
"This salad immediately greets guests with the flavors of spring," says Director of Sales Adelee Cabrera. "The greens are wrapped at the base with salty prosciutto and presented on the plate like a floral bouquet. Our chef pairs this salad with a minty pea soup that also leaves the palate feeling fresh and alive."
Wine Pairing: Montes Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley Leyda Vineyard, 2008 "Crisp, zesty wine will make these fresh flavors sing," says Anu. "This Chilean sauvignon blanc is bursting with citrus flavors and earthy, mineral–like qualities."
Second course: Blue crab with shaved fennel and minced chives, presented on a slice of Florida heirloom tomato and garnished with steamed sugar snap peas
"In Miami, spring is technically our summer, so the star of this course is the Florida heirloom tomato. It reaches peak flavor during the spring months, while the rest of the country doesn't get flavorful tomatoes until August," says Adelee.
Wine Pairing: A to Z Wineworks Rosé, 2006 "The fruity taste of a dry and elegant rosé like this one tends to complement shellfish like blue crab," says Anu.
Third course: Sticky braised short ribs in an apricot saffron sauce, served with carrots, golden beets and asparagus ragout topped with watercress
"Instead of featuring just one seasonal vegetable, this dish celebrates spring's bounty by including an array of colorful, fresh produce—guests will love the variety," says Adelee.
Wine Pairing: Domaine Charbonniere Vacqueyras Rouge, 2006 "This medium–bodied Vacqueyras from the Rhone Valley in France strikes a balance—it's aromatic and pulls in fruity elements," says Anu.