Thursday, June 10, 2010

Celebrating Spring Produce

Here's my column from the Petaluma Post for last month.

We are lucky here in Sonoma County to have Spring in full swing; it is time to brush off the winter blues and bring on the fresh young produce. There are many items that will begin showing up at the markets that I will am eager to see to add to our menus.

To me the king of Spring will always be asparagus. The tender spears, popping out of the ground like sprouts of grass (actually their restaurant nick name is “grass”). With the tender texture and flavor my favorite preparation is simple, either grilled or roasted. Trim about 4 to 6 stalks of asparagus per person. The classic way is to snap it by holding half way up the stalk with one hand, bend the bottom end still it snaps off, this will give you the most tender part of the vegetable. Lay them out flat on a baking dish or cookie sheet and drizzle lightly with a couple teaspoons of olive oil, not very much, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Now roll the spears until evenly coated. Place in a medium heat oven or on a medium heat bbq for 6 to 9 minutes turning the spears once. When they are raw they should be a dull green and stiff like a pencil. They are ready when the color is brilliant green and bend and sway gently (not floppy). They can be served immediately or chilled in the refrigerator. Chop the leftovers to use them in a salad.

Another of my favorites is fresh fennel. With its sweet flavor and crisp texture it is a great addition to salads, soups and sauces. Though summer and tomatoes are a bit away you might have the wants for some fresh tomato sauce. A great way to accent that flavor is with fennel.

1 lbs Cherry Tomatoes (they are not in season, but they work well for this recipe)
1 head Fennel (sliced)
3 Tbsp EV Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic (crushed)
Salt and Pepper

Place all of the items in a heavy baking dish, stir well till all are coated with the olive oil. Roast at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes until the fennel is tender and the tomatoes burst. Finish with a touch of fresh chopped parsley or basil. This is great tossed with Pasta, over Polenta or Chicken. The fennel adds just a touch of sweetness to the tomatoes.

If you are lucky you may find my favorite hard to find item, Fresh Pea Sprouts. This is the recipe for you. These tender sprouts are just the tips of the plants and are very common in Asian Cuisine. Being so young they are very very tender and barely need cooking.

4 oz Shitake Mushrooms (very thinly sliced)
4 cloves Garlic (crushed and chopped)
3 Tbsp Vegetable Oil (you don’t want olive oil it will over whelm the flavors)
1 tsp Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp Water
8 oz Pea Sprouts (this looks like a lot but they cook down)

In a large sauté pan or wok heat the oil to medium high heat (do not let it smoke), add in the shitake mushrooms and then the garlic. The mushrooms will cool down the oil just enough that the garlic will not burn. Sauté till slightly browned and wilted. Mix the water and the soy sauce together. Have a lid ready. Add the snow peas to the pan turning 2 to 3 times to just wilt. Quickly add the water and soy mixture. Cover and allow to steam for a couple of minutes. They are ready to serve. A recent evening at home I could not find the pea sprouts and substituted fresh baby spinach- it worked great.

When I was little as soon as the warm days started I would begin looking for cherries to arrive. The first jewel of the fruit world comes in looking just like a ruby. From Rainiers to Queen Annes I can never wait for that first basket. My grandfather would stop at a roadside stand and buy us each a bag and I would eat till my lips were red. Cherries are a very delicate fruit to cook with. They are a stone fruit (the category of fruits that have a center pit) and must be pitted before use. But they are really worth it.

Cherry Clafouti, sounds so French and a bit fancy, yet it is very similar to a classic batter cobbler, great for a dessert or a nice brunch side dish. Serve with a bit of Crème Fraiche or Whipped Cream.

Preheat the oven to 400
Butter a 9” baking dish

1 lbs Cherries (pitted) I recommend tart and red
½ cup Flour
¼ tsp Salt
2 Eggs
2 T sugar
¾ cup Milk
1 tsp Vanilla
Zest ½ Lemon

Place sugar, salt and flour in a bowl and whisk together slightly. Combine all wet ingredients including the zest by whisking together, then add this to the dry ingredient mix till smooth. If you have lumps you, either place in a blender or pour though a sieve to smooth. Place the cherries in the bottom of the buttered baking dish, pour the batter over the cherries. Bake for 18 minutes before checking, do not open the door early or it will fall. When puffed and golden remove from the oven dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Welcome to Spring!

No comments:

Post a Comment