Shnghainese Lion’s Head Meatballs

For the bok choy:
1 1/2 pounds bok choy (Shanghai baby bok choy is my favorite, but larger varieties will work too)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the meatballs:
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup finely sliced scallions (about 3-4 scallions)
1 teaspoon finely grated ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic (2 to 3 cloves)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine or sake
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup vegetable or other neutral oil, or as much as needed to fry

Prep the bok choy: Thoroughly wash and clean the bok choy, aiming to leave the heads more or less intact, save for trimming the very ends of the stems. (This method is best for small, Shanghai baby bok choy—if you are using larger and tougher bok choy, feel free to separate the leaves.)

Place the bok choy in a large 4-quart heavy-bottomed pot. It should more or less fill the pot all the way to the top, which looks like a lot, but will be just right once the bok choy steams and wilts. It will amaze you how much they shrink. Drizzle the bok choy with soy sauce and sesame oil, and sprinkle with salt. Set the pot aside.

For the meatballs: In a large bowl, combine the ground pork, scallions, ginger, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, cooking wine, sesame oil, and salt and stir with chopsticks or a wooden spoon until well-blended.

Next, add the eggs and mix vigorously until well-combined. The mixture will seem extremely liquid—this is okay.

Add the cornstarch and mix again until the mixture forms a thick, porridge-like consistency, like a thick muffin batter.

Pour the oil into a large wok or nonstick skillet, or enough to coat the bottom with about a half-inch of oil. Turn the heat to medium-high and give the oil a few minutes to warm up.

When the oil reaches about 375 to 400 degrees, or a chopstick bubbles energetically when inserted into the oil, use a 1/4-cup measuring cup or a large ice cream scoop to drop balls of the pork mixture into the wok in a single layer. I usually fit about 4 or 5, and end up frying in two or three batches. Let sizzle in the pan until nicely browned, about 2 to 3 minutes, then flip and brown the other side, another 3 minutes or so. It does not need to cook through, since we’ll be steaming the meatballs to finish.

Once the meatball is browned on both sides, remove with a slotted spoon and place on top of the prepared bok choy. Repeat with the remaining pork mixture.

Once all the meatballs are browned and nestled on top of the bok choy, cover the pot and turn the heat to medium-low. Let the bok choy and meatballs steam for 20 to 30 minutes, or until bok choy leaves have wilted and the stems are tender. When meatballs are cooked through and bok choy is done to your liking, enjoy warm, with plenty of rice.

Alternative: sub ground turkey instead of pork and add one more egg. Use just a tablespoon or so of oil in a large skillet and fry into thin patties, rather than large meatballs, flipping once and cooking until brown on both sides. Serve with steamed veggies and rice.

Spring Pea Pasta with Lemon and Shiso

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon minced garlic
12 ounces dried orecchiette or shell pasta (or two batches of this fresh orecchiette)
Salt and black pepper
2 cups frozen peas
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest plus 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons Vermont Creamery mascarpone (Greek yogurt or Vermont Creamery crème fraîche work well, too)
2-3 tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
1/4 cup finely sliced shiso leaves (or mint, if unavailable), plus more for garnish

Combine oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic in a small skillet or saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is pale golden brown, 9 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Add the orecchiette and 2 teaspoons salt and cook, stirring frequently, until al dente. (The pasta should still have quite a bit of bite; it will continue to cook in the sauce.)Reserve 1 cup of the starchy cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

Add the peas, lemon zest and juice, reserved garlic-oil mixture, and 3/4 cup of the pasta water to the pasta. Stir until pasta is well-coated with oil and no water remains in the bottom of the pot.

Add the mascarpone, Parmesan, and shiso leaves. Toss until the cheeses melt and evenly coat the pasta. If needed, loosen the pasta with the remaining 1/4 cup pasta water.

Season with more salt and plenty of black pepper to taste, then serve, with extra Parmesan on the side and more shiso, if desired. Enjoy!