Happy first day of spring!!! While I cannot say that spring has sprung quite yet with the long winter we have been having, I sure am anticipating some of the first bounty of the spring. Some of my favorite vegetables come with this season. Here are a few of them and a few suggestions on how I like to eat them.
Radishes and Baby Turnips
Most people know what radishes are but few actually know what baby turnips are. They are a root vegetable that has a texture similar to a potato when they are full grown. The baby ones, however, have a much more tender texture, similar to a radish, and are fantastic raw in salads or for dipping in hummus for example. They are mild in flavor, unlike radishes, which can be quite hot. I enjoy eating them both together for a great contrast in flavor. Try sauteing them lightly in some nutty Argan oil and seasoning them with some fresh mint, garlic, sea salt, freshly ground pepper and lemon juice. Prepared as such they make for a great side dish served with fish or chicken.
Asparagus is arguably one of my favorite vegetables on the planet. I could eat it every day, and in fact, this time of year, I often do. I get asparagus from one of our local farms, Coneflower Farm, and they have a lovely purple varietal that is beautiful. Unfortunately when cooked it turns green, but shaved into a salad raw it has a super contrast in color that really brightens up your plate!!! White asparagus are asparagus that are grown without being exposed to sunlight. They are delicate and very tender. I tend to find them a little bland which is why they are typically served with rich sauces like Hollandaise. My favorite way to eat asparagus is roasted. I drizzle with some high quality olive oil and season with some smoked sea salt, freshly ground pepper and a hint of freshly grated nutmeg. For stalks that are about the size of your pinky finger you should roast them for approximately 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Roasting gives the asparagus an amazing nutty flavor and a nice texture that isn’t stringy.
Just a disclaimer. I am not a mushroom hunter and do not recommend hunting morels without knowing exactly what you are looking for. If you happen to get the wrong mushroom, it can be fatal. That being said, it’s pretty easy to tell which morels are the real thing when you cut them in half. A true morel will be hollow throughout the stem from top to bottom. The impostors will not. Morels tend to trap a lot of dirt in them so soaking them in water for an hour and changing the water periodically will help loosen some of that dirt. Once clean, be sure to dry them off well prior to using them so that they don’t become spongy when cooked. As far as the best method for preparing morels goes, this is a subject of great debate around here. Most of the time when people bring me morels they tell me to batter them in cracker meal and fry them. No disrespect but as far as I’m concerned that is the LAST thing I’d do to prepare a morel. The batter completely covers the natural earthy flavor of the morel and all you taste is cracker meal. In addition to sauteing the morels, I also love using them in a mushroom bisque. Perhaps the best mushroom bisque I ever made was a combination of about 8 different kinds of mushrooms, one of which was fresh morels. It was fungal heaven and the ultimate umami fest. Here is the recipe:
Yields: Approx. 6-8 servings
2 lbs assorted mushrooms (Use a combo of any mushrooms you can find)
2 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbl Unsalted Butter
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, diced
1 large sweet onion, Vidalia or Walla Walla, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup dry sherry or dry vermouth
4 cups Kitchen Basics or Pacifica chicken stock
Pinch Kosher Salt and freshly ground Pepper
Pinch freshly grated Nutmeg
2 tsps smoked hot Hungarian paprika
2 Tbl Herbes de Provence
2 bay leaves
½ cup Daisy sour cream
In a large stock pot over medium high heat, heat olive oil and butter until the butter has melted. Add the onions and cook until they become translucent, approx. 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute until fragrant. Add celery and carrots and cook for a couple minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften. Add mushrooms. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, paprika, Herbes de Provence and bay leaf. Deglaze the pan with sherry or vermouth and turn heat to high. Cook uncovered on high heat until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to caramelize. Add stock. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for approximately 30 minutes or until all the vegetables are cooked through. Remove the bay leaves. Puree soup with an immersion blender until practically smooth. Add sour cream and puree again to incorporate the sour cream. Serve hot garnished with homemade Crème Fraiche.
Greens and Arugula
I’m a sucker for fresh spring greens. Especially arugula. I can’t get enough of the peppery, slightly bitter flavor of arugula. Not only do I love it in salads and as a garnish, but I LOVE making pesto with it. The complex flavor works great as a topping for meat or fish and of course is a super alternative to basil pesto with pasta.
Spinach and Arugula Pesto
1 cup arugula
1 cup spinach
½ cup pistachios
1 Tbl minced garlic
Pinch Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 Tbl fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
¼-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine ingredients in a food processor, except the olive oil. Puree. Begin adding the olive oil slowly so the mix begins to emulsify or becomes thick and creamy. Adjust seasoning to taste.