Spring is when Mother Nature throws a coming out party for her animals, minerals and vegetables. The supermarket produce aisles are brimming with a bounty of delicate shoots, beans, peas and fresh herbs, while the meat department is filled with young, tender cuts of carnivorous offerings. Inquisitive column folk want to know spring’s best contributions. Here are your answers.
Lamb Bam, Thank You Ma’am
Roasted spring lamb is a celebratory delicacy for the Easter Sunday meal, a tradition that harks back to the inaugural Jewish Passover Seder when unleavened bread or matzo and bitter herbs were served with the Paschal Lamb. When many Hebrews converted to Christianity, the custom of eating lamb during the Easter season continued.
Spring lamb comes from an animal less than three months old. The most tender, pink-fleshed spring lamb is imported from Down Under this time of year, as young, domestic lamb is in short supply. Australian lamb is grass-fed and free of growth hormones, lean and flavorful, not gamey like mutton from older sheep. Domestic milk-fed or hothouse lambs are also an Easter treat, raised indoors and fed exclusively on their mother’s milk.
The Mauve Clove
Tender spring garlic, or green garlic, has arrived for a short season—so grab it. Simply the immature version of common garlic, botanically known as Allium sativum, spring garlic has not yet divided into recognizable cloves. It resembles scallions with a delicate purple-hued bulb and flimsy green stalks. The young garlic trumps its older sibling in many respects: it doesn’t have to be peeled, has a more delicate flavor with nutty notes, and a subtler, less overpowering personality than the stinky rose, lacking collateral damage of causing 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.
Use Your Spring Stalk Options
Rhubarb-philes welcome this spring treat, also called a “pie plant,” with open arms. Actually a vegetable and member of the buckwheat family, this lip-puckering, low cal, high fiber powerhouse with nerve calming B’s, beta carotene and A’s for boosting ocular health, Vitamin K for healthy blood clotting, and a slew of minerals, balances well with sweet strawberries, raspberries and ginger. Sold in bunches like asparagus choose short dark pink stalks rather than longer greener ones for sweeter flavor and less stringy texture. Whip up a refreshing pureed compote as a scrumptious topping for gelatos, bubbly cobblers, tangy chutneys and salsas. Just beware of the leaves containing oxalates, an irritant to the mouth and throat.
A Superb French Herb
Chervil to the French gastronome is like salt and pepper to the American cook. This indispensable spring herb that resembles parsley with a more delicate feathery leaf has distinct notes of anise. Like a poem on the palate, chervil dials up fish, egg dishes and potatoes, makes a divine substitute for basil in pesto, and enlivens green salads, vinaigrette dressings and sauces. This super herb with a mother lode of minerals including, potassium, calcium, iron, selenium and magnesium, along with Vitamins A, C and D has been linked to alleviating everything from gum disease and hiccups to allergy symptoms and achy, inflamed joints. As a detoxifying agent, chervil also acts as nature’s chemical peel erasing fine lines, wrinkles and dark age spots resulting in a glowing, youthful complexion.
Riders of the Purple Sage
The fragrant lavender flower is as much a part of the culinary world as the aromatherapy one. A member of the mint family and close relation to sage, rosemary and thyme, the purple buds with citrus undertones can be used fresh or dried in cocktails and iced teas, scones, fruity crumb cakes, cookies and other baked goods, along with savory dishes from risottos to vinaigrette dressings.
Cook’s tip: As dried lavender is more intense than fresh, use one-third the amount.
My final spring culinary fling contribution is this blissful lavender and chervil roasted potato dish to beautifully accent your holiday lamb. Happy Easter cooking.
Spring Lavender Fingerlings
2 pounds of assorted fingerling potatoes
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh lavender or 1/2 tablespoon dried
1/4 teaspoon each of dried rosemary, thyme, oregano
1/2 teaspoon of fresh chervil, chopped
Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl whisk together oil with herbs and spices. Toss potatoes until well coated. Transfer to baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown, turning while roasting.
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