Kitchen Shrink: Shifting gears from winter blues to spring hues
Winter fare’s a paradox — both comforting and unsettling at the same time. After all, it’s a land mine of empty calories, rich artery-cloggers, and cloying pancreas wallopers—but it’s delicious too! Many of us are lumbering out of our winter caves (and pandemic hibernation) lugging around bellies full of comfort foods of all manners. With spring around the corner it’s time to shove those creamy soups, beefy stews, heavy braised meats, and carbo-loaded cheesy casseroles under the cast iron brasserie pan. So let’s swap out gnarly winter roots for fresh spring shoots to showcase the season’s bounty with lighter, brighter dishes. Here’s my spring rainbow.
Farmers’ markets and produce aisles pull you in with fresh, fragrant scents, and eye popping shades of green. Spring is busting out with tender pea shoots and pods, artichoke blossoms, asparagus spears, delicate lettuces like lacy frisee and peppery microgreens, along with sassy spring onions and vibrant herbs. Mint leaves rattle and roll, shaking up the senses and perking up memory, along with everything from green salads, pilafs, and lamb dishes to gimlets, juleps, and lemonades. Delicate chives, the tiniest species of the onion, nicely accents baked potatoes, smoked salmon, and chilled soups, while chervil, an indispensable French spring herb perfumed with distinct notes of anise dials up fish, egg, and pasta dishes, enlivens vinaigrette dressings and sauces, and makes a dandy substitute for basil in pesto. This super herb with a rich store of minerals and detoxifying properties also acts as nature’s chemical peel to rejuvenate skin for a glowing, youthful complexion.
Tender spring garlic has arrived, but only for a short season—so grab it now. Simply the immature version of common garlic, botanically known as Allium sativum, spring garlic resembles scallions with flimsy green stalks, and dainty purple-hued bulb that has not yet divided into recognizable cloves. The young garlic clobbers its elder in many respects: a more delicate flavor with soft, nutty notes; low maintenance that doesn’t require peeling; and no collateral damage of bad breath. Slice thinly in potato and green salads, stir-fries and brothy soups, pastas and frittatas, or as a topping to jazz up pizzas and bruschettas.
The fragrant lavender flower, a member of the mint family and close relation to sage, rosemary, and thyme, sports purple buds divine in both sweet and savory dishes. Whether fresh or dried, the herb amps up scones, fruity crumb cakes, shortbread cookies, and other baked delights. Toss blossoms in risottos, green salads, and chilled soups. Crush and sprinkle on roasted fingerlings. Blend in vinaigrette dressings. Concoct a lemon, honey, lavender drizzle for grilled salmon, wild-caught shrimp, or diver scallops. Or whip up a dazzling simple syrup for French toast, iced teas, and seasonal cocktails like blueberry and lavender mojitos for a burst of spring cheer.
In the Pink
Lip-puckering rhubarb, also called “pie plant,” balances well with sweet strawberries, rich raspberries, and smooth, spicy ginger. Actually a vegetable and member of the buckwheat family, rhubarb is sold in bunches like asparagus. Choose short, dark, pink stalks rather than longer, greener ones for a more toothsome flavor, and less stringy texture for bubbly cobblers, zippy salsas and chutneys, and tangy compotes.
’Tis the season to indulge in fresh sheep and goat cheeses, which are good and plenty during spring’s peak breeding and lactating months. Tease the palate with sheep’s Pecorino Romano, a hard and salty cheese from Italy offering tart, tangy, briny, and musky nuances; buttery Brebisrousse d’Argental from France; or Queso Manchego with playful hints of candied butterscotch that’ll do a fandango in your mouth. A creamy log of chevre coated with a blend of chopped fresh herbs spreads nicely on crackers and raw vegetables, while a silky wheel of snow white, mold-ripened Humboldt Fog goat cheese with a lemony earthiness is a real knockout. Pair these seasonal cheeses with an eye-catching chunk of honeycomb, or delicate drizzle of acacia honey, along with candied kumquats, dried cherries, pink salt-crusted pistachios, and assorted flatbreads.
Roasted golden beets make a salad sing without creating a trail of “blood” produced by its ruby-hued siblings. Vibrant edible flowers like sorrels, nasturtiums, calendulas, and lemon verbena blossoms are multitasking marvels — they infuse oils, vinegars, and teas with their fragrant petals, make jaw-dropping garnishes for cocktails, soups, seafood dishes, cakes, and gelatos, and as an added boon have healing properties for the skin, lymphatic system, and sinuses.
And now the sunny lemon, synonymous with the color yellow, is the season’s golden girl. But not all lemons are created equal. The Meyer, a hybrid cross between a Eureka lemon and a mandarin, has supple orange-tinged skin, and a sweeter, less acidic juice than its half siblings. Whether a squirt of juice or a pinch of zest, a Meyer will resuscitate even the most lackluster dishes with its complex fragrance that resembles an aromatic herb or spice. But it truly shines in this risotto with petite peas and spring herbs to ring in the bright, new season.
Springtime Meyer Lemon and Petite Pea Risotto
• 1-cup Arborio rice
• 1/2-cup dry white wine
• 4 1/2-cups vegetable stock
• 2 large shallots, diced
• 1-cup petite peas, room temperature
• 1-tablespoon fresh chervil, or Italian parsley, chopped, or handful of fresh lavender buds
• 1/3-cup Pecorino Romano, grated
• 2 large Meyer lemons, juiced and zested
• 1-tablespoon avocado or grape seed oil
In a heavy skillet, heat oil on medium. Sauté shallots until translucent and tender. Add rice, blending well. Pour in wine, and cook until liquid is absorbed. Repeat adding juice and one cup of broth at a time. During the last few minutes of cooking, fold in peas. Continue cooking until the rice is tender and the broth is absorbed. Fold in cheese. Transfer to a serving bowl, and garnish with zest and herb of choice.
— For additional springtime recipes, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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