Enjoy the tastes of springtime while they last
Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 11:23 p.m.
At least once each spring, I pull a favorite book, “Unplugged Kitchen” (Viana LaPlace, Morrow, 1996) from among the hundreds that line shelves in every room of my house.
The book is spare and delicate, like a spring morning early in the season, before the landscape has turned lush. There is something almost ephemeral about it and I think of it now, at this time of year, because there's a bounty of ephemeral pleasures all around us and the book always inspires me to slow down and savor this time. If high temperatures continue, these spring delicacies will be short-lived, some disappearing nearly as soon as they arrive.
Fresh fava beans are just showing up at our farmers markets, but hot weather may speed up their season. To enjoy them at their best, when they are sweet, tender and not starchy, don't wait. Indulge now.
The same can be said for both green garlic and spring onions. Green garlic is simply garlic before its bulb is fully formed. Spring onions, left in the ground, will become the storage onions we buy in summer and fall. In high temperatures, this process speeds up.
Asparagus bolts in hot weather, as does sorrel, especially if it is in a sunny area. Artichokes blossom, cardoons turn bitter, tender herbs like chervil and cilantro go to seed and morel mushrooms vanish.
It's a good time, a delicious time, to pay attention to what our gardens and farms are telling us. You may be longing for summer tomatoes and sweet peppers, but don't get ahead of yourself. We have Bing cherries now and Queen Anne, and other varieties will follow soon and before you know it, apricots' brief moment in the sun will come and go. Once summer crops ripen, we have them for weeks. Now is the time to savor spring.
One of the joys of spring delicacies is that simple preparations showcase their best qualities. Sure, you can make, say, a spring onion flan with fava puree and cherry gastrique, but all of your efforts will not add up to something better than these foods closer to their natural state. Fresh favas need blanching and peeling; spring onions need roasting or grilling; cherries need nothing at all except picking.
A mound of roasted asparagus is a great spring meal; add a fresh fava vinaigrette and you have a feast.
Eggs are delicious right now, too, with a delicacy they won't have in the summer. Top asparagus with poached eggs, spoon warm fava vinaigrette over deviled eggs, make frittatas with asparagus and nettles.
Remember, too, that spring cheeses taste different than summer, fall and winter cheeses. Right now, there's an abundance of green grasses for goats, sheep and cows to enjoy, and this diet is expressed in their milk and thus the cheese that it makes. A few spring vegetables with a fresh local cheese is another of the season's fleeting pleasures that you don't want to miss.
With a wedge of feta cheese alongside, this fragrant salad makes a great meal on a hot night.
Makes 2 to 4 servings
½ cup bulgur
— Juice of 2 limes (about 4 tablespoons)
— Kosher salt
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
— Black pepper in a mill
5 or 6 green onions (or very small green garlics), trimmed and very thinly sliced
1 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 cup thinly sliced fresh sorrel leaves
½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
2 avocados, cut into small dice
12 to 16 young tender grape leaves or butter lettuce leaves
Set a strainer in a bowl, put the bulgur in the strainer, cover with water and set aside for 10 or 15 minutes.
Lift the strainer out of the water, rinse the bulgur under running water and press out as much moisture as possible from the grains.
Put the bulgur into a wide glass or ceramic bowl, add all but about a teaspoon of the lime juice, season generously with salt and add the olive oil and several turns of black pepper. Spread the green onions on top, followed by the parsley, sorrel and mint. Toss the remaining teaspoon of lemon juice with the avocado and spread it over the greens. Season with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours.
To serve, use 2 large forks or spoons to mix the tabbouleh, being certain to pull the bulgur up from the bottom.
Serve with the grape leaves or lettuce leaves alongside, so that guests can scoop tabbouleh into a leaf and roll it up.
Pasta primavera often includes vegetables we never see in the spring, but this version focuses on both spring vegetables and herbs for a light and delicate, yet substantial, dish. It is delicious with wild Pacific king salmon, which has just come into season, alongside.
A True Pasta Primavera
Makes 4 servings
2 pounds fava bean pods, shelled
— Kosher salt
½ pound dried medium-shaped pasta, such as strozzapreti or gemelli
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium or 3 small spring onions, bulbs only, very thinly sliced
3 or 4 green garlics, white part only, very thinly sliced
6 to 8 at asparagus stalks, cut into thin diagonal slices
½ to ¾ cup spring water
1 tablespoons fresh snipped chives
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
— Handful of very fresh mint leaves, cut into very thin strips
— Black pepper in a mill
3 or 4 ounces Vella Dry Jack, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Estero Gold or similar hard cheese, in one piece
— Borage flowers, thyme flowers or chive flowers, for garnish
Fill a medium saucepan two-thirds full with water, season generously with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water boils, add the shelled favas, blanch for 90 seconds and use a slotted spoon or strainer to transfer the favas to a colander. Rinse in cool water, shake and peel off the tough skins.
Return the cooking water to high heat and when it boils, stir in the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saute pan set over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the sliced spring onions and cook until the onions are tender, about 6 or 7 minutes. Add the green garlic and saute another minute or two. Increase the heat to high, add the asparagus and cook until it just loses its raw crunch, about 3 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Add the peeled favas and ½ cup spring water. Simmer gently for about 3 minutes. If things seem a bit dry, add the remaining spring water. Remove from the heat and stir in the chives, thyme and mint. Taste, correct for salt and season with a few turns of black pepper.
Drain the pasta but do not rinse it. Divide it among individual soup plates or pasta bowls and top with the vegetables and their juices. Use a vegetable peeler to make curls of cheese and scatter them on top of the vegetables and pasta.
Garnish with herb flowers and serve immediately.
Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM.
E-mail Jordan at email@example.com.
You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
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