The Ideas of March — Lighter, Brighter Dishes


 Here are some dishes that are light and bright to reflect the sunshine of March, while soothing its chill.

I passed by a Gap store recently, and they were showing yellow and hot pink scarves, draped over winter clothing. I figured there must be food equivalents to that — dishes that are lighter and brighter to reflect the sunshine of March, while soothing its chill.
With the days growing longer, we’ve turned a corner from the grays of winter to the promise of spring. Brisket and short ribs are too heavy now. It’s time to adjust menus accordingly, to favor some foods and drop others. In that spirit, I’m flipping through my recipe file seeking fare that is filling and satisfying, yet a step down from cuisine that combats winter’s heaviest blasts.
I’m turning to chicken and fish, pasta and main course sandwiches. They’re as welcome during this transitional season as crocuses in the snow.
Porcini Chicken
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms (about 1 oz.)
2 cups boiling water
5 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed
24 white mushrooms, sliced
2 tsps. dried basil leaves
kosher salt to taste
3 boneless split chicken breasts (six halves)
1⁄3 cup white wine
Accompaniment: rice or noodles
 Place the porcini mushrooms in a medium sized bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Soak until soft, about 30 minutes. Reserve.
In a 4-to-5 quart pot, heat 3 tablespoons of oil on a medium flame. Add the sliced white mushrooms and sprinkle with the basil and a little salt. Sauté for 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, lift the porcini mushrooms from the bowl, reserving the soaking liquid.
Add the porcini to the sliced mushrooms and stir them together for 3 minutes. Remove all mushrooms from the pot, place on a plate and reserve.
Keeping the pan juices in the mushroom pot, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt. Sauté them in the pot, turning until seared on both sides. This may have to be done in two batches.
Keeping all the chicken in the pot, add the wine and 1 cup of the soaking liquid. Add more soaking liquid only if the sauce dries up too quickly. Return the mushrooms to the pot.
Cover the pot and simmer on a medium-low flame for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and plenty of mushroom-wine sauce remains.
Place chicken on a platter with a deep rim. Cover with the mushrooms and some of the sauce. Pour remaining sauce into a gravy boat. Serve immediately with rice or noodles.
Serves 6.
Tilapia Tagine
3 Tbsps. olive oil, or more, if needed
kosher salt to taste
6 tomatoes, cored and cut into 1⁄4-inch slices.
4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into 1⁄4-inch slices
4 (6 oz.) tilapia fillets (from 2 fish)
1⁄2 tsp. ground turmeric
1⁄4 tsp. ground cardamom
10 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups cold water
2 lemons, cut into 1⁄4-inch slices
10 sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
Coat the inside of a large Dutch oven generously with olive oil.
As you add each of the following layers, sprinkle with a little salt. Line the bottom of the Dutch oven with half of the tomato slices. Cover the tomatoes with the potato slices, followed by the tilapia. Top with the remaining tomatoes. Do not add any more salt.
Mix together the turmeric, cardamom, garlic and water in a bowl and pour over the top layer of tomatoes. Cover the Dutch oven and simmer on a medium-low flame for 20 minutes.
Remove the lid of the Dutch oven. Squeeze a couple of the lemon slices over the top layer of tomatoes. Sprinkle with parsley. Cover the Dutch oven and simmer until fish is flaky and the potatoes are soft, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Place the remaining lemon slices over the top and serve immediately, using a long-handled spoon. Tilapia will break apart while simmering or serving.
Serves 4 to 6.
Pasta Primavera
(Pareve or Dairy)
1 large onion
4 garlic cloves
1 celery stalk
4 Tbsps. olive oil, or more if needed
kosher salt to taste
1⁄2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
6 carrots, cut into 1⁄4-inch lengths (If carrots are large, cut the lengths in half.)
1⁄2 lb. string beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cans (28 oz. each)  peeled tomatoes
Serve with 1 lb. of any kind of pasta but primavera sauce complements cheese ravioli
Optional accompaniment: grated parmesan cheese
Finely chop the onion, garlic and celery. On a medium-low flame, heat the oil in a medium-large size pot. Add the onion, garlic and celery and sprinkle with salt. Sauté until wilted and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and stir occasionally until they sweat, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add more oil, if needed. Add the carrots and string beans, stir for 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour in the canned tomatoes, sauce and all. With a wooden spoon, break up the tomatoes. Cover the pot and simmer. Stir occasionally, continuing to break up the tomatoes. Add more salt, if needed.
Simmer for about an hour, until liquid thickens, creating a chunky sauce. Serve over pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, if desired.
Makes about 11⁄2 quarts of sauce.
Open-Faced Grilled Mozzarella Sandwiches
Serve with a tossed salad to round out the meal.
4 slices of bread
1 lb. mozzarella cheese
1 tomato, sliced as thin as possible
oregano for sprinkling
 Lightly toast the bread. Remove and cool briefly.
Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 350˚. Cover a baking sheet or the toaster oven tray with aluminum foil.
Place the slices of toast on the aluminum foil. Cut the mozzarella into thin slices. Cover each piece of toast with mozzarella slices. Place a slice of tomato on top of the mozzarella. Sprinkle with oregano to taste.
Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melting. Turn the oven or toaster oven to broil or toast. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes, while watching constantly to avoid burning. Sandwiches are ready when cheese is browned and the tomato is wilted.
Serve immediately with a salad, if desired.
Serves 2 to 4 as open-faced sandwiches.
Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. Email her at:


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