Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Greens of Spring

Here's my April column from the Petaluma Post:

The brightest season of the year is upon us, when you think of green what do you think of?   Trees in bud?   The rolling hills?  Spring flowers?  A chef thinks of all of the fresh young produce that is beginning to hit the markets.  Peas, asparagus, spring onions, green garlic, artichokes, tender frilled mustard, the first peek of what is to come.

I love peas! I have been known after a long day to sit down with just a bowl of peas with a bit of butter; sometimes the simple things are the best.  But which peas to choose and did you know you can eat the plant too?   Pea tendrils are often used in Asian cuisine.  Snow peas, snap peas, English peas.  Snow peas are thin and flat with the interior seed undeveloped, you will often find them in Asian cuisine and they are a great addition to salads.  Snap peas are the midway point, well developed seeds but the pod is tender enough for cooking.  This pea is great sautéed or raw, very popular on veggies trays.  English peas are the classic pea that you would get frozen in your local grocery.  The shell is not edible and only the seeds are edible, thus the term shelling.

Sautéed Pea Tendrils with Shitakes and Garlic
Serves 2
8 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced
2 bunches pea tendrils – the youngest you can find- chop bunches into thirds
3 cloves garlic chopped
4 Tbl vegetable oil
2 Tbl light soy

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Make sure the skillet is about twice as big as you think you need.  Sauté the garlic, being careful not to burn it.  Then add the mushrooms and continue to sauté, adding additional oil if necessary.  When tender, then add the pea sprouts.  Turn once or twice with tongs.  Add the soy sauce and cover to steam 2 to 3 minutes.  This is a great side dish with miso glazed salmon.  See my 1/12/2012 blog for the salmon recipe.

Peas pair great with fresh mint, the sweetness of the peas is a classic combination.  A simple salad of snap peas with mint and carrot is a great dish to add to the Easter menu.

Snap Pea Salad with Mint
2 lbs snap peas - look for the string less variety or you will need to string each pea
1 lbs julienned carrots- you can also find these prepared in your grocers case
2 stems fresh mint
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbl champagne vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Lightly blanch the carrots and snap peas for 3 to 5 minutes, then ice to chill to stop the carry over cooking.  Combine oil, vinegar, salt and pepper into a light dressing.  Just before serving shred the mint, and combine all the ingredients.  Serve immediately.

Green garlic is another spring joy.  The young tender sprouts from garlic often pulled when thinning plant for greater productions.  It has the same flavor but not as spicy and pungent, it looks much like green onions.  When cutting and preparing use the same techniques as leeks, cutting from the white up into the green as long as it is tender, wash very well for sand.  It is a great flavor for soups.

Potato Bacon Green Garlic Soup
3 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup green garlic, thinly sliced
2 strips bacon, diced
2 Tbl olive oil
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Place oil, garlic and bacon in to a heavy bottom pot, and sauté till the bacon is crisp and the garlic is translucent, browning is ok but be careful not to burn.  Add potatoes, cover with stock and bring to a simmer.  Cook uncovered till the potatoes begin to fall apart.  Then puree with a hand blender.  Return to stove, add heavy cream and season to taste.

There is nothing that ushers in Spring like the thin crisp spears of asparagus, the queen of spring.  A favorite on the Easter table in my family.  With its delicate flavor and taste it is a great pairing with eggs.  A simple breakfast frittata is one of my favorites

Asparagus Frittata
Serves 2
½ cup chopped asparagus tips (also a great use for left overs)
4 eggs
½ cup crumbled Chèvre
2 Tbl olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper

Place the eggs, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well, being careful not to incorporate too much air.  Stir in the Chèvre.  Heat an 8” sautéed pan on the stove till hot, add oil, swirl to coat, then add the egg mixture.  Using a rubber spatula stir gently just around the edges.  As it be gins to set, turn off the heat, top with asparagus, and place in a 350 degree oven for 4 to 7 minutes, till set.  A great quick breakfast or serve with a salad for lunch.

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