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Making Lunch Count

By Executive Chef Will Brown, on April 7, 2021
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From National Step in the Puddle and Splash Your Friends Day (January 11) to National Scarf Day (September 27), it might feel like there’s a holiday for everything … but what’s wrong with finding a reason to celebrate every day, especially when there are holidays like National Let’s Laugh Day (March 19), National Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17), and National Kids Take Over the Kitchen Day (September 13)? One such holiday I can truly appreciate—and one that’s right around the corner—is National Make Lunch Count Day (April 13). This fantastic day serves to remind us all to unplug midday and enjoy a true (and delicious) lunch break, no matter where you’re working or what you’re working on. Let’s acknowledge the importance of this day with a few fresh, bright, and fun lunch recipes … they’ll surely make it easy to put down the smartphone, look away from the screen, and take the time needed to truly sit, savor, and enjoy what’s on the plate in front of us.

Spring Minestrone Soup

What’s a better way to taste all the fresh flavors of springtime vegetables than a healthy soup … especially one that can be made in advance and then heated when it’s time for lunch?

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 leek (white and light green part), washed and sliced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
3 ribs of celery, diced
½ cup pancetta or bacon, diced (optional)
1 ½ cups zucchini, diced
1 ½ cups potato, peeled and diced
1 large tomato, diced
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
1 quart vegetable stock
1 can (14 oz) artichokes, drained and chopped
1 can (14 oz) cannellini beans, drained
1/3 cup ditalini pasta or other small shape pasta
1 cup green peas, frozen or fresh
2 cups spinach, chopped lightly
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Fresh grated parmesan or basil pesto for garnish (optional)

Yield: Serves 4

In a large pot on medium heat, add extra virgin olive oil, chopped onion, leek, garlic, carrots, celery, and pancetta. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring a couple times until vegetables have softened and have started to become translucent. 

This is basically spring in a bowl. Freshly chopped onion, leek, garlic, celery, carrots, and pancetta kissed with olive oil serve as a fantastic base for our minestrone soup. Photo by Carol Gross. This is basically spring in a bowl. Freshly chopped onion, leek, garlic, celery, carrots, and pancetta kissed with olive oil serve as a fantastic base for our minestrone soup. Photo by Carol Gross.

Add zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and a couple of pinches of kosher salt. Add vegetable stock and stir well. Bring to a boil and then simmer on low for 30 minutes until vegetables are soft.

Be sure to give the vegetables the time they need to soften, which should take about 30 minutes on simmer. Photo by Carol Gross. Be sure to give the vegetables the time they need to soften, which should take about 30 minutes on simmer. Photo by Carol Gross.

Add artichokes and beans, and a cup of water if needed to cover vegetables. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add ditalini pasta and cook for 5 minutes more.

The ditalini pasta gives the soup a nice starchy component. Photo by Carol Gross.The ditalini pasta gives the soup a nice starchy component. Photo by Carol Gross.

Finally, add in green peas and spinach, stirring well. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Garnish with some fresh grated parmesan or some basil pesto and enjoy!

Basil pesto and parmesan top our ready-to-enjoy soup. Photo by Carol Gross.Basil pesto and parmesan top our ready-to-enjoy soup. Photo by Carol Gross.

Asparagus, Balsamic Roasted Strawberries, and Salted Marcona Almonds

Looking for a great spring dish that can be enjoyed on its own or as a fresh complement to roasted or grilled chicken, or with some nice cheese or really good crusty bread? Well, here you go!

2 pounds strawberries, washed and hulls removed
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons port wine or red wine

Yield: Serves 4

To serve:
2 bunches asparagus, ends trimmed
Ice water as needed
½ cup salted Marcona almonds, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, mix the berries with the honey, olive oil, salt, wine, and balsamic vinegar. Transfer the berries to an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet, standing them up on end and evenly drizzling any remaining liquid onto the tray. 

Our balsamic, honey, olive oil, salt, and wine glaze gives our strawberries a lustrous shimmer. Photo by Carol Gross. Our balsamic, honey, olive oil, salt, and wine glaze gives our strawberries a lustrous shimmer. Photo by Carol Gross.

Roast for about 40 minutes, or long enough for the juices to thicken and strawberries to be cooked through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before transferring to a dish.  

Our strawberries’ balsamic roasting liquid serves as a fantastic vinaigrette. Photo by Carol Gross. Our strawberries’ balsamic roasting liquid serves as a fantastic vinaigrette. Photo by Carol Gross.

Our asparagus await, complemented by almonds, some citrusy red ribbon sorrel, and beautiful edible violas for garnish. Photo by Carol Gross. Our asparagus await, complemented by almonds, some citrusy red ribbon sorrel, and beautiful edible violas for garnish. Photo by Carol Gross.

Bring a quart of water to boil and add salt. Stir well and blanch asparagus for 1 minute until bright green and softened. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Allow to sit for 3 to 4 minutes and then drain. Pat dry with a paper towel. Transfer asparagus to serving dish and garnish with the roasted strawberries, using some of the balsamic roasting liquid as the vinaigrette. Top with the chopped almonds for some texture and serve immediately.

Buttery, sweet Marcona almonds top off our dish. Photo by Carol Gross.Buttery, sweet Marcona almonds top off our dish. Photo by Carol Gross.

Spinach and Artichoke Salad with Chickpeas and Lemon Yogurt Dressing

This refreshing and healthy dish will surely nourish and satisfy you while you are making lunch count!

For the dressing
1 ½ cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1½ tablespoon honey
1½ tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoon black pepper

Combine yogurt, lemon juice, honey, and olive oil in a large bowl and whisk together, mixing well. Add the salt and pepper and mix well.

This bright dressing can be made well in advance and kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the salad. Photo by Carol Gross. This bright dressing can be made well in advance and kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to make the salad. Photo by Carol Gross.

To serve
2 pounds chicken breast, cooked and shredded
3 ribs of celery, washed and sliced
1 small red onion, diced well
3 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped
1 can (14 oz) artichokes, drained and chopped
1 can (14 oz) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
Lemon yogurt dressing to taste

Yield: Serves 4

Combine all in a large bowl, tossing to combine well.

Garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, are a great source of plant-based protein. Photo by Carol Gross.Garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, are a great source of plant-based protein. Photo by Carol Gross.

Check final seasoning with salt and pepper and serve immediately. You could prep the salad ahead and mix in the dressing last-minute.

Take the time to savor each and every bite of this tower of deliciousness. Photo by Carol Gross.Take the time to savor each and every bite of this tower of deliciousness. Photo by Carol Gross.

Speaking of taking the time to enjoy a delicious lunch … our 1906 Restaurant is now open for in-person dining every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Join us for the perfect springtime dining experience in our Gardens, courtesy of our new 1906 spring menu of nostalgic flavors from classic Longwood dishes and guest favorites to seasonal selections highlighting the brightness of the spring season.

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