Passover ends, spring begins &mdash along with the season of outdoor eating

The end of Passover is the beginning of spring and lots of outdoor entertaining. A fun way to spend Saturday mornings after synagogue is to invite a bunch of friends over to your house to relax and enjoy a casual extended lunch in the garden.

And, luckily, spring happens to bring some wonderful things to serve — the freshest northern halibut, asparagus and baby spinach. Complete the menu with sweet strawberries or your favorite fruit.

Poached Halibut with Tomato Saffron Cream | Serves 8

1 cup fish stock
1/2 cup dry white table wine
3 bay leaves
2 cup strained tomatoes
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 1/2 lbs. halibut fillets
1 1/2 cup crème fraîche
1/2 gram (about 1 tsp.) saffron threads, ground to a powder
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

In a large sauté pan, combine the stock, wine, bay leaves, strained tomatoes and butter. Bring to a boil, add the halibut, bring back to a boil, lower the heat, cover and poach for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let stand 10 minutes.

Remove the fish from the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon, and set aside. Add the crème and saffron to the poaching liquid and reduce until the sauce is thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. Discard bay leaf, and add salt and pepper. Reheat the fillets gently in the sauce, place a portion of fish in the center of each warmed plate and spoon some sauce around the fish. Serve with buttered noodles.

Fresh Spinach Soup | Serves 8

2 lbs. baby spinach, well washed
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
3 cup milk
1/8 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
2 oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cook spinach in the water that clings to the leaves. Squeeze dry and chop coarsely.

Heat the butter in a soup pot, add the chopped spinach and sauté for 1 minute. Add the milk and nutmeg. Add Parmesan and cook for 1 more minute. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve hot.

Asparagus Tips with Hazelnuts | Serves 8

50 stalks of asparagus, trimmed and peeled
4 Tbs. hazelnut oil
fine sea salt
freshly ground pepper
2 Tbs. chopped roasted hazelnuts

Boil or steam the asparagus to the desired degree of doneness. Drain and toss with hazelnut oil, season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Arrange on a serving platter and sprinkle with hazelnuts.

Rebecca Ets-Hokin is a Bay Area cooking teacher and food professional. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to J. or to [email protected].