Seasonal chef

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Dishes inspired by spring green leaves, the new grass of carpeted lawns and perky, intensely flavorful herbs tend to bring out the creativity of chefs everywhere. One caveat, though, right from the start: If capers are not one of your favorite foods, substitute fresh lemon juice.

Recently, while I was waiting for my entrée to be served at a little bistro-style restaurant in Greene County, New York, the waiter brought a ramekin of verdant green dipping sauce. The combination of herbs and extra virgin olive oil was exquisite.

This little miracle is an excellent topping on baked potatoes, grilled or steamed fillets of fish, or as a salad dressing. By all means, offer this replicated recipe at your next dinner party; your guests and family will love it.

Make the Moroccan style sauce as spicy as you wish ahead of time, and reheat it just before cooking the shrimp. If preferred, serve this dish on a bed of long grain white rice or in a soup bowl with bread.

The slightly smoky flavor of paprika seasons the halibut in this week’s recipe, and the sesame seed coating keeps it moist, adding another layer of flavor and texture to the fish.

If you are pressed for time, sear the halibut up to two hours before the guests arrive. Reheat in the microwave about one and a half to two minutes, or until heated through while you cook the spinach. Serve with roasted new potatoes or saffron rice on the side.

Bon appetit!

Greene County Green Dipping Sauce

(about 1½ cups)1/3 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives1 small clove garlic, minced2 tablespoons chopped capers, drained, or more to tastePinch sea salt to tasteFreshly ground black pepper to taste1 cup good quality extra virgin olive oilTo prepare:

Toss chopped parsley, mint, chives, garlic and capers together in a mixing bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Slowly whisk in the olive oil until blended. Set aside until ready to serve.

Transfer the green sauce into small ramekins and set on the table for dipping crusty bread.

Moroccan Style Shrimp

(Serves 6)1/2 cup olive oil1 large onion, chopped6 to 8 large cloves garlic, chopped (divided into two equal portions)1/8 teaspoon saffron1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (crushed) or more to taste6 cups fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped1 cup coarsely chopped blanched almonds2/3 cup toasted pine nuts3/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley2 tablespoons drained capersSea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste2 to 2½ pounds cleaned and de-veined raw shrimp, rinsed and well drainedChopped flat leaf parsley for garnish6 slices crusty bread (1½ inches thick), toasted and rubbed with half a garlic cloveTo prepare:

Add the oil to a large skillet over medium heat.

When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion and half of the garlic. Cook about 5 minutes.

Add saffron and red pepper flakes, stir well, and continue cooking until the onions are soft and translucent, stirring every now and then, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and cook, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the blender or food processor, add remaining garlic, almonds, pine nuts, parsley, and capers. Blend with 4 to 6 tablespoons water until the mixture forms a paste.

Stir the paste into the tomato sauce and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. If the sauce is very thick, add water until it is the consistency of a pasta sauce.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Can be done ahead and reheated just before cooking the shrimp.

To cook and serve:

Add the tomato sauce to a large skillet over high heat, and reheat until simmering.

Add well-drained shrimp; cook just until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through, about 5 minutes. The cooking time will depend on the size and temperature of the shrimp. Remove from the heat,

Serve the shrimp in a shallow soup bowl, garnish with chopped parsley and a thick slice of bread.

Seared Sesame Halibut with Spinach

(Serves 4)Four 6-ounce fillets of halibutFreshly ground black pepper to tasteAbout 1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds, or more if needed1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil for searing1/3 cup dry vermouth10 ounces small spinach leaves, washed and spun dryOlive oil for wilting spinachSea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley1/3 cup drained capers2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oilTo prepare:

Season the halibut with black pepper and paprika on both sides.

Add the toasted sesame seeds to a small shallow bowl, and completely coat the halibut with the seeds.

Cover with parchment paper and then plastic wrap and set aside or refrigerate until ready to cook. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 hours.)

To cook and serve:

Coat with olive oil the bottom of a small heavy skillet over high heat. When the oil is very hot, add halibut, skin side down and sear until browned, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Turn the fillets over and sear, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Using tongs, carefully lift the fish and sear the sides of the halibut to brown, until the fish is opaque and done according to personal preference.

Remove and set aside, keep warm.

Add vermouth to the skillet and reduce until it becomes a glaze, about 2 minutes, and pour over the halibut and keep warm.

In a small bowl combine the chopped parsley and capers with olive oil, stirring until blended.

Meanwhile, coat with olive oil the bottom of a large skillet over high heat. Add the spinach and sauté just until all the leaves are wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the spinach between four warm dinner plates, top with halibut and the accumulated juices. Spoon caper and parsley mixture on top and serve at once.

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