So, we're having some soggy days and cooler temps, but look what this season is heralding — spring training and March Madness, a stream of festivals, an inspiration for decluttering, planting a garden, taking a leisurely evening walk as daylight lengthens, and shopping for the new crop of organic rock stars to inspire us to cook up a storm.
We scour the fragrant produce aisles, and aroma-filled cheese cases. Too many choices, I thought as I stumbled on some shoppers hovering over a trio of flimsy-stemmed greens, debating the identities of these spring beauts. Budding my nose in I enlightened them on the gorgeous stinky green garlic, purple-tinged spring onions, and milder mannered scallions.
Here are some of my best picks for spring, so grab them while they're good and plenty as this glorious season is short-lived.
Ahh, the seductive asparagus spear, considered the caviar of the vegetable world comes in green, purple and white varieties, the latter version grown beneath mounds of sandy soil to stave off photosynthesis, and the formation of green-pigmented chlorophyll. While purple stalks owe their jeweled tones to naturally occurring pigments. For a milder flavor choose white ones; a zipper punch pick the purple variety, and for a fresh, grassy taste go for the green.
Asparagus is just as delightful chilled as grilled, and pairs well with creamy hollandaise, balsamic glazes, sweet cream butter, or Parmesan shavings. Blend in quiches, pilafs, pasta dishes, stir-fries, or serve the delicacy solo either raw as crudités, or steamed, barbecued, sautéed, or wrapped in pancetta or bacon as an impressive appetizer.
Take my (bad) breath away
Tender spring or green garlic is simply the immature version of the common garlic that has not yet divided into recognizable cloves. It resembles scallions with a delicate mauve-hued bulb and limp green stalks. The young "stinky rose" upstages its older sibling in many respects — it needn't be peeled, has a subtler flavor, and doesn't cause halitosis. Slice thinly in potato and green salads, stir-fries, brothy soups and sauces, or as a topping to jazz up pizzas or bruschettas.
Put the squeeze on
Meyer lemon is the divine hybrid cross between a Eureka or Lisbon and a Mandarin orange. Frank Meyer, intrepid explorer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture found his immortality through the lemon he discovered in Beijing in 1908. The Meyer — juicier, sweeter, rounder, more floral and aromatic than its acidic, lip-puckering cousin, with a smoother, softer rind tinged with a delicate coral hue dials up both savory dishes and sweet treats with a tangy sophistication.
Add segments to green salads or southwest seafood cocktails (recipe below), whip up a Meyer vinaigrette marinade, marmalade or curd. Toss a whole Meyer in the cavity of a duck or chicken. Whip up lemony pastas, risottos or Avgolemon (Greek lemon chicken soup). Zest into pancakes, biscotti, cheesecakes, and lemon bars. Preserve whole lemons, or make candied slices to garnish refreshing spring sips, including minty Meyer lemon iced tea, or lavender lemonade.
Mind your peas and queues
A trio of tender peas (snow, sugar snap and English) each legume with its own distinct trait to capture the freshness of spring in a variety of dishes. Pancake flat snow peas or Chinese pea pods containing a row of diminutive peas inside are completely edible. English peas have a tough waxy pod that zips open to expose candy sweet, round peas. While crunchy sugar snap peas are actually a cross between the two.
The big cheese
Spring nuances like fresh and fragrant grasses, flowers and foliage that milk-producing mammals graze on translate to lively mouth-watering cheeses. 'Tis the season to indulge in goat and sheep dairy during the animals' lactating months. A creamy log of chevre (French for "goat's cheese") with tart and savory notes makes a scrumptious snack, while semi-firm Garrotxa goat from the Catalonia region of Spain has a Mediterranean zing. Or check out rich, protein-packed cheeses from sheep's milk like Pecorino Romano, a hard and salty Italian variety best used for grating over pastas, risottos, pizzas, frittatas, and peppery greens. While Brebisrousse d'Argental from France has briny flavors like the ocean.
Recipe: Southwest Meyer Lemon Shrimp Cocktail
• Ingredients: 1 pound jumbo, wild-caught shrimp, peeled; juice and segments from 2 Meyer lemons; 2 Persian cucumbers, diced; 3 Roma tomatoes, diced; 2 spring onions, minced; 1 handful cilantro, chopped; splash of Tabasco; salt and pepper to taste
• Method: Steam shrimp until pink and tender. Strain. In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Toss with shrimp. Chill. Fill cocktail glasses with mixture. Garnish with Meyer slices.