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A taste of spring Bring a little sunshine to the dinner table with the flavors of fresh rhubarb, asparagus and peas in this easy-to-prepare meal

Forget the cold wind; forget the rain -- it's spring on the calendar. And it's spring in the produce department, too. Think rhubarb, think asparagus, think fresh peas.

We're presenting an easy to prepare meal that makes the most of them. And the menu has a bonus -- it's good enough for company but can be put together in about 30 minutes.

First the Pork/Rhubarb dish. It comes to us courtesy of an old friend, Cornelius (Neil) O'Donnell, who writes a food column for the Corning Leader. Neil attributes the recipe to Jamie Oliver, the British chef who is TV's "Naked Chef." O'Donnell writes that he made a few changes in the dish.

Well, I made a few changes too, Neil, adding sugar to the rhubarb because it was too tart without it. And then the rhubarb tasted dull, so I added the lemon rind to spark it up. What do you know? The fruit (which is really a vegetable) began to sing, and it cut the richness of the pork.

Choose the pinkest rhubarb you can find, not because the flavor is that different, but because it makes the dish look great.

Another ingredient that makes the dish better, by the way, is the sage.

The asparagus recipe comes from Patricia Wells' new book "Vegetable Harvest" (Morrow). I admit I approached it with caution, worrying that cooking the spears in a covered pan would make them look dull and unappetizing.

Well, au contraire (as Wells might say) -- they look terrific. And they taste even better. You're getting the essence of asparagus here. (I added the hard cooked egg garnish to make the dish look springy with the green and yellow. Feel free to leave the eggs off if you wish.)

The menu seemed to demand a big, green salad. We dressed the Boston lettuce up with Belgian endive to add a bitter edge and cucumber to add some punch. The fresh peas are wonderful in this combination. Don't cook them; serve them raw.

And, please don't spoil the salad with a commercial dressing. The Mustard Vinaigrette below is so easy to prepare. The easiest way to do this it is to pour the dressing right into the bottom of the bowl, pile on the remaining ingredients and then -- just toss.

One caution: Don't add too much dressing all at once. If a puddle forms in the bottom of the bowl: you've exceeded the limit.

The best dessert for this Thirty Minute Spring Dinner is nothing else but strawberries. Not local yet, of course, but still pretty good. Slice the berries, sprinkle lightly with brown sugar and that's all there is too it.

OK, OK -- you can serve them over vanilla ice cream or sorbet if you must. Yogurt is good, too.



Saged Pork on a Bed of Rhubarb Braised Asparagus with Herbs Spring Salad w/Mustard Dressing Sliced Strawberries

>Saged Pork with Rhubarb

2 cloves garlic, peeled
20 fresh sage leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 pork tenderloins, trimmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds rhubarb
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
Rind of 1 large lemon
10 thin slices prosciutto

Mince garlic in a mini-food processor. Add about 10 sage leaves and olive oil. Process to a paste, adding salt and pepper. Rub this paste over the pork and let stand for a while if possible.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the rhubarb into finger sized pieces and place them in the bottom of a baking dish. Add the sugar and lemon rind and mix well. Drape the prosciutto around the pork loins and place on top of the rhubarb. Sprinkle with sage leaves. Cover the pan and place in the preheated oven; cook for 15 minutes.

Remove cover and cook an additional 15 minutes until 155 degrees. The meat will continue to cook upon standing. Remove from the oven and let stand at least 5 minutes. Slice the meat at an angle, pouring any juice back into the pan. Serve the meat with the rhubarb. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


>Braised Asparagus with Herbs

2 pounds fresh asparagus, bottoms trimmed, peeled if desired
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 bay leaves
2 hard cooked egg yolks, optional

Use a skillet large enough to hold asparagus in a single layer. Place asparagus, oil, salt, rosemary and bay leaves in the skillet and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of cold water. Cover the pan and cook over high heat just until the oil begins to sizzle.

Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking, covered, turning from time to time, until the asparagus begins to brown in spots. (Cooking time will vary from 8 to 10 minutes.) Remove bay leaves and rosemary; serve immediately, sieving hard cooked yolks on top if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.


>Spring Salad

1 head Boston lettuce
1 Belgian endive, cored and cut into matchsticks
1/2 seedless cucumber, cut in thin slices
1 cup fresh peas
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese, if desired
Mustard Dressing, below
Make dressing, place about half a cup in bottom of salad bowl. Add lettuce, endive, cucumber, peas and blue cheese.

When ready to serve, toss salad, adding more dressing as needed (Refrigerate the leftovers.) Makes 4 to 6 servings.


>Mustard Salad Dressing

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic, crushed

Combine ingredients and proceed as above. Makes about 1 cup of dressing.

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