By Catharine Kaufman
Look about you! Tender green sprouts, baby shoots and fresh vines are playing peek-a-boo through the new, warm soil. Spring reaps a bumper crop of green, red and mellow yellow beauties. The fragrant strawberries and pineapples pull you in at the produce aisle, as do the striking Technicolor of the rest of spring’s bounty. Take advantage of these seasonal gems while they are still in their prime.
Out of the Pits with Avocados
Once a luxury fruit exclusively for royals, the avocado is now a gustatory free-for-all. Seven varieties are produced in this state, but Hass is the run-away champ, taking 95 percent of the total crop volume in California. The Bacon, Fuerte, Gwen, Pinkerton, Reed and Zutano share the remaining 5 percent of the market.
Avocados are a sodium- and cholesterol-free food, a powerhouse of 20 vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats. This makes them a great substitute for artery-clogging monster dips and spreads.
They also contain carotenoid lutein, a natural antioxidant linked to maintaining healthy eyesight. So toss some chunks into a zesty southwest shrimp cocktail, gazpacho or green salad for an added oomph of flavor and nutrients.
Split in half and stuff the hollow with curry chicken salad, roasted pepper, black bean and corn salad or drizzle olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and cayenne pepper and eat it straight up.
Mashed, their smooth and creamy texture makes a great baby food with a motherlode of folic acid, potassium, fiber, vitamins C and E, iron and unsaturated fats known to boost brain development.
Tart, pink rhubarb (surprisingly, a vegetable) is sold in bunches like asparagus. Packed with fiber, Vitamin C and K, look for short, dark pink stalks rather than the longer, greener ones for sweeter flavor and less stringy texture.
Rhubarb pairs well with strawberries and raspberries as in pies, cobblers or pureed compotes that make a scrumptious topping for gelatos.
Whip up rhubarb chutneys or sweet and tart salsas. One word of rhubarb warning: Beware of the leaves, which contain oxalates, an irritant to the mouth and throat.
Strawberry Fields Forever
The most popular berry in the world, the strawberry comes in 600 varieties, both wild and cultivated, the large store-bought varieties a hybrid species. Packed with Vitamins C, K and assorted Bs, trace minerals, fiber and antioxidants, strawberries are not only recommended for decreasing systolic flood pressure, combating the flu, rheumatism and the gout, but also for slowing age-related brain and motor loss, along with physical signs of aging.
So a strawberry a day keeps the Botox away!
Strawberries have also been touted for removing tartar from teeth for a mega-watt smile and warding off an ice-pick-on-the-skull migraine. Eat them solo or jazz up a tossed salad or sweet chilled soups.
Do drunken strawberries by soaking in a bath of Grand Marnier, fresh orange juice and a sprinkle of brown sugar, and drizzle over crème brule French toast or an ice cream sundae. Dip in melted bittersweet chocolate or use them to decorate tropical drinks or smoothies.
Tender asparagus spears, the caviar of vegetables, whether bright green or the albino phenotype, are a divine spring addition to everything from frittatas, prima vera pastas and risottos to steamed and smothered in hollandaise or eaten raw with crudités dips.
This delectable veggie is as healthful as it is delicious, packed with folic acid, potassium, fiber, Vitamins A, C and thiamin.
As an added boon, asparagus is considered an aphrodisiac–Mother Nature’s Viagra. Potassium and Vitamin A provide general well-being which jump-start the glands and metabolic functions, putting sex drive into high gear. Histamines are released by the folic acid, also tweaking the sexual wiring in the brain.
Asparagus is one of the few foods Miss Manners allows to be eaten with the fingers, and along with its sensual shape, creates a seductive culinary experience.
Prima Vera Asparagus Risotto
This creamy, dreamy risotto is high in nutrients and flavor, which supposedly makes one amorous, too.
1 cup Arborio rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 cups hot stock or water
1 sweet onion, chopped
4 ounces assorted mushrooms, your choice (crimini, oyster, shitake)
6 ounces chopped asparagus (woody ends removed)
Zest from one lemon
Method: Heat oil in a heavy skillet and sauté onions, asparagus and mushrooms for one minute. Add rice, coating the grains with the oil. Over medium heat, stir in wine until absorbed. Add the remaining liquid one cup at a time, stirring constantly until absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese. Garnish with lemon zest. Bon appetito! (Serves 4)
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