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SPRING FRESHNESS
MAKE THE MOST OF IN-SEASON RHUBARB AND ASPARAGUS IN A MEAL THAT GOES TOGETHER IN FIVE EASY STEPS

Think spring. Think speedy. Think special.

Here's an elegant dinner that makes the most of the fresh ingredients that will soon be coming to market. And it goes together in just about half an hour. What could be better than that?

The center of the meal? It's salmon served with an unusual sauce based on rhubarb, one of the first Western New York products to come to market when the snow finally disappears. (It is really gone, isn't it? Let us pray.)

Yes, that's what we said -- fish with rhubarb sauce. Usually we think of this stalky vegetable as dessert -- in fact some folks actually call it "pie plant." But our sauce makes an inspired combination with salmon, the slightly tart sauce cutting the oiliness of the fish.

Next comes asparagus. You can't find a better symbol of spring, after all, than asparagus. And our recipe is super-easy. Plunk it in the microwave with a hint of soy sauce to add tang.

A big salad is next -- locally raised greens also come to market early. We should see them within two weeks. To make the salad memorable, we call for a do-it-yourself dressing with a hint of mustard. Use as many different types of greens as you can find.

Accompany the salad with a good bread from your favorite bakery and, while you're in there, buy a few cookies, too.

Finally, dessert. And we chose berries. I'll admit we cheated here. The strawberries we found at market this week left a lot to be desired. (They're still being shipped in, of course, but they will be locally raised by the beginning of June.)

So we added a few shipped-in raspberries and blueberries as well and sprinkled everything with granulated New York State maple sugar. You can buy this sugar at many maple producers in New York State.

And if you can't find the maple sugar -- well that's a tragedy. But there is a substitute. Use light brown sugar instead.

The Menu:

Pan Roasted Salmon with Rhubarb Sauce

Zapped Asparagus

Tossed Green Salad, Provencal Dressing

Crusty bread (if desired)

Mixed Berries (with bought cookies if desired)

The Timetable:

Step 1: Prep. 10 minutes. Wash greens, drain and dry well. Mince rhubarb, shallot, pistachios. Wash and trim asparagus. Wash, slice and toss berries. Sprinkle with sugar as per recipe. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Step 2. 8 minutes. Prepare sauce. Set aside for use on the fish.

Step 3: 10 minutes. Brown salmon and place in oven, cooking for no more than 8 minutes per inch thickness. While salmon is in oven, sprinkle asparagus with oil and soy sauce. Place in microwave for about 5 minutes.

Step 4: 2 minutes. While salmon and asparagus are cooking. Prepare dressing directly in salad bowl. Add well-drained greens and toss.

Step 5: Serve.

The Recipes

Pan Roasted Salmon with Rhubarb Sauce

The sauce:

2 stalks rhubarb

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons minced shallots

1/4 cup currant jelly

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

The salmon:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound salmon fillets

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon green pistachio nuts, minced
Prepare sauce: Pull any strings from the rhubarb and dice finely to measure about three quarters of a cup.

Heat olive oil over medium heat and add shallot; saute for about 2 minutes. Add rhubarb, jelly, water and lemon juice, stirring to melt the jelly. Let simmer for three minutes or so. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper. (This is a chunky sauce.)

Prepare the fish. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat; add olive oil and heat. Place salmon in the pan and brown for no more than 2 minutes, just until the fish can be turned easily.

Turn the fish and place the pan in the center of the oven. Bake no more than 10 minutes per inch thickness of the fish.

Briefly return sauce to heat to warm through. Spoon sauce over the fish and sprinkle with pistachios. Serve. Makes 4 servings.

Zapped Asparagus

1 bunch asparagus.

About 2 tablespoon olive oil

About 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Salt and pepper to taste
Wash asparagus and break off the fibrous stems. Place the tips and the remaining stalks in one layer in a microwave-proof casserole.

Sprinkle with oil, soy sauce and salt and pepper.

Cover casserole with a paper towel. Cook on high for about 4 minutes, until the asparagus is just tender. Don't overcook. Makes 4 servings.

Provencal Salad Dressing

1 to 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spices (thyme, marjoram, oregano, minced garlic)

1 tablespoon wine or balsamic vinegar

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Whisk ingredients right in the bottom of the salad bowl. Add greens and toss. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Springtime Berries

2 cups sliced, hulled strawberries

1 cup blueberries

1 cup red raspberries

Granulated maple sugar or brown sugar

1 Cointreau or any orange liqueur (optional)
Wash berries; combine in a bowl, sprinkling the sugar lightly between the layers. Sprinkle liqueur lightly over the top. Let stand at room temperature until ready to serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com