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Spring in Central Pennsylvania means warmers days, steeping rains, and the first, fresh herbs and vegetables of the season — radishes, kale, spinach, snap peas, spring onions and salad bowls filled with field greens and crisp, early lettuce.

To welcome the return of sunny afternoons and hometown bounty, I asked three local chefs to share a favorite recipe in celebration of all things spring. Bon apetite!

Appetizer 

“My favorite food as a child was red beets,” said Kristin Messner-Baker, owner and chef at Harrisburg’s Crave and Co. “Growing up in Central PA there were always plenty of them. It sounds crazy but I remember actually craving red beets as a child. It probably had something to do with how nutrient dense the red beet is.”

In the summer of 2014, Kristin Messner-Baker and her husband John Baker opened Crave and Co. in a building they renovated along Harrisburg’s flourishing Restaurant Row. Messner-Baker said the globally-inspired menu at Crave and Co. originates from her love of travel and a personal mission to incorporate whole ingredient and “super foods” into delicious, health-conscious fare.

“I love the hunt for the best vegetables, fresh herbs, and seasonal fruits in the outdoor markets in the spring and summer,” Messner-Baker said. “I think that when healthy foods are prepared well, they taste better than options that are nutritionally deficient."

Roasted Beet Root Hummus 

Recipe from: Kristin Messner-Baker, Owner and Chef of Crave and Co., 614 N. Second Street, Harrisburg; craveandco.com

“Today, I still love red beets because they are full of nutrients and because their brilliant red makes any dish beautiful. For this dish, the red beets and the fresh dill not only look stunning but, to me, is a reminder of getting out of the cold and into everything wonderful that is spring.”

Ingredients

3 small red beets

15 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

juice of 1 lemon

zest of 1 lemon

2 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoon tahini

¼ teaspoon chili flakes

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoon shelled pistachios, chopped 
¼ cup chopped dill

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wrap beets in aluminum foil and place in oven in baking dish. Roast until very tender when pierced with a fork, 40-60 minutes. Unwrap the foil and let beets cool. While the beets roast, add the chickpeas, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, tahini, chili flakes, sea salt, and olive oil to the bowl of a food processor. Don’t combine yet. Set aside. When beets are cool enough to handle, peel and dice and add to food processor. Puree until smooth. Add additional lemon juice, garlic, salt, olive oil to adjust taste to liking. Serve in a bowl and garnish with dill and pistachios. Serve with crackers or toasted pita bread.

Entree

AnnMare Nelms grew up, almost literally, as a chef-in-training. Her mother is Sophia — the Sophia — of Sophia's on Market and the family's newest restaurant, Sophia's at Walden. "I was always the little girl that stared at the kitchen when we went out to eat," Nelms said.  "I always wanted to know what all of the noise and hustle was back there."

Now at the helm of her own kitchen, Nelms said her menu planning keeps up with the latest trends, but with her own unique twist. "We make everything from scratch, all our breads, soups, dressings and, of course, all of our desserts. In spring, I can't wait to use fresh-shelled peas, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, zucchini blossoms and, of course, all of the fresh-mixed greens, baby arugula and romaine lettuce."

Chicken Alfresco 

Recipe from: AnnMarie Nelms, chef at Sophia's on Market and Sophia's at Walden; Sophia's on Market, The Shoppes of Hampden, 3700 Market St., Camp Hill; sophiasonmarket.com; Sophia's at Walden, 129 Walden Way, Mechanicsburg; sophiasatwalden.com

"Garden Meadow Farm in Annville is our local farmer, and owners Brent and Julie are the most amazing people," Nelms said. "They custom grow vegetables for me, everything listed in the recipe as well as beautiful micro greens, amazing sweet corn, fresh herbs, peppers, spinach and so much more."

Ingredients 

10 pieces chicken cleaned and pounded

Breading 

4 cups fresh bread crumbs (use club rolls, baguettes or flatbread and run through food processor till very fine)

1 cup Parmesan cheese

½ cup fresh chopped parsley

Olive oil mix  

1 ½ cups olive oil

1 ½ tablespoon minced garlic

½ teaspoon salt and ½ tsp pepper

Tomato basil 

4 cups tomatoes med dice

¾ cup chopped fresh basil

1 ½ tablespoon chopped fresh garlic

fresh mozzarella, cubed

salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup of olive oil

Pasta 

Angel hair pasta and favorite pesto

Mix breading ingredients in bowl. Dip chicken into oil mixture then into bread crumb mixture place on sheet tray with parchment paper and freeze. Once frozen, remove chicken. Spray with pan spray and grill. Finish in oven and top with pesto-laced angel hair pasta, Tomato Basil topping and fresh mozzarella mixture.

Dessert

Nicole Austin, owner and pastry chef at The Copper Crust Company, said that moving from Baltimore to Central Pennsylvania just made sense. "I'm originally from New York where, every weekend, people would travel to the Hudson Valley to get fresh food," Austin said. "When my husband Sean and I were living in Baltimore, we felt that York and Central Pennsylvania with all its great agriculture were like the Hudson Valley."

The couple met while studying at the Culinary Institute of America, and their vision for The Copper Crust Company was a European-style restaurant with wholesome, authentic food. Setting their home base in the Central Market in downtown York means the menu at The Copper Crust Company is a natural extension of the farming and ranching community that supplies the Austins with fresh, local foods.

"We honor the ingredients," Austin said. "We're not trying to mask anything. Each ingredient has a purpose."

Coconut Lime Paris Brest 

Recipe from: Nicole Austin, owner and pastry chef at The Copper Crust Company; Central Market, 34 W. Philadelphia St., York; thecoppercrust.com

"Unlike the traditional Paris Brest, this pastry has a bright, silky fresh curd laced with a delicate coconut cream," Austin said. "I place these flavors and beautiful cream in the Paris Brest classic wheel shape because the thought of budding flowers and warm breezes puts me on a  bicycle flying down the road with the wind at my face, the birds chirping and the farmers planting in their fields. This pastry is the fresh spring breeze, with the lime, the anticipation of summer with the coconut, and the spinning wheels with the delicate choux pastry!"

Coconut Lime Curd 

2 1/2 cups butter

2 cups sugar

18 fluid ounces lime juice

1 tablespoon lime zest

6 eggs

1 tablespoon coconut extract

Combine sugar, lime juice, lime zest, 1/2 the butter and eggs in a sauce pan. Over medium heat whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and remove from heat at the first sign of a boil. Add the rest of the butter and the coconut extract. Cool over an ice bath. 
When cool chill in the refrigerator.

Pâte à Choux 

1 cup milk

1 cup water

pinch of salt

1 cup of butter

3 ½ cups bread flour

5 eggs

In large pot combine the milk, water, salt and butter.  Let come to a boil and lower the flame to medium. All at once, add the flour and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon constantly until the flour is cooked and is pulling away from the pan. Transfer to a mixer with a paddle attachment. On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time. The dough is finished when the dough slides slowly down the paddle. The pate a choux is ready to be piped. Pipe a three-inch circle with about a one-inch dough ring. Brush the dough with egg wash and sprinkle with shredded coconut. Bake at 375 F. The Pâte à Choux is done when it has a copper crust color. They will take a good 45 minutes!

Fresh whipped cream 

1 pint heavy cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon coconut extract

In mixer with whip attachment add all ingredients and whip on high until stiff.

Assemble: 

Cut choux in half fill with curd. Pipe or dollop whipped cream and then put the choux top on. Finish with dusting of powdered sugar and enjoy! 

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