The firsts of springs are such a thrill, especially after last winter's icy, gloomier-than-usual reign. About six weeks ago, Whole Foods started selling the first halibut of the season. Fresh peas made an appearance in delicate, delicious raviolis and agnolottis on menus all over the city. Then the farmer's market opened, with its beautiful, thin stalks of asparagus, zippy greens, ripe strawberries, and peonies that bloomed for weeks. Last weekend I scored the first of the market's squash blossoms—our most rabid spring-produce obsession—and knew just what to do with them. This dish is great for company because it's a luxurious, self-contained meal that can be assembled and chilled for up to 4 hours before popping it into the oven.
Halibut Fillets in Parchment with Asparagus and Stuffed Squash Blossoms*
Adapted from Bon Appetit
16–20 squash blossoms, stamens and calyxes removed
2 tablespoons butter
1 leek (white part only), finely chopped
4 15x15-inch squares parchment paper
4 5-ounce halibut fillets, rinsed and pat dry
1 large bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 navel oranges, one juiced and one sliced
4 large sprigs tarragon
Preheat oven to 400°. Gently open squash blossom petals and inspect for bugs. Swish in a bowl of cold water, pat dry. Stuff each blossom with a spoonful of ricotta and set aside. Melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and sautee until tender, about 7 minutes. Set aside. Place parchment squares on work surface. Butter half of each parchment square; top buttered half of each with 1 fish fillet. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper; top each fillet with a spoonful of sauteed leeks, a sprig of tarragon, and a slice of orange. Arrange asparagus and 4–5 squash blossoms around each fish fillet; pour 2 tablespoons orange juice over each. Fold parchment over fish and asparagus, folding and crimping edges tightly to seal and enclose filling completely. Place on 2 rimmed baking sheets, spacing apart.
Bake fish packets 17 minutes. Slide packets onto plates and serve.
*In the fall, we use pomegranate seeds in lieu of squash blossoms for a seasonal variation.