Sweet, luscious strawberries are spring and summer's easiest dessert. Just put out a plateful and you're done. Add sugar or whipped cream, chocolate sauce or a splash of brandy if you're feeling fancy, but if the berries are ripe it's certainly not necessary.
Their sweetness, though, has a place in savory dishes too, particularly in salads. With hazelnuts and goat cheese, they make a fabulous start to a meal, as in this Strawberry Butter Lettuce Salad. Or create more contrast by matching their sweetness with bright citrus and peppery leaves as in this Arugula Orange Strawberry Salad.
Lately my favorite way to use them is in a Strawberry Poblano Salsa (pictured above). It works as a salad (just put some on top a bed of lettuce if you want to dress it up a bit) or as a topping for broiled or grilled fish or chicken.
I've become obsessed with sheep milk yogurt. I'm a particular fan of the one from Bellwether Farms in Petaluma, California (Sonoma County), but that could well be because it's the one that's easiest for me to find. Without fillers, thickeners, or gums, this yogurt is thick enough to cling to a spoon as you wave it around while you talk (which, as you know, you shouldn't do). It has a divine smooth texture and, as a bonus prize, 30% of your daily calcium.
There's another reason you might be interested in sheep milk in general. Sheep milk is often well tolerated by people who have trouble with cow milk - its protein structure is different from cow milk, which also accounts for the superior texture of the resulting yogurt.
A three-day weekend with possibly warm weather? I'm guessing a lot of people will take advantage of the three day weekend to spend part of it grilling. If you haven't grilled yet this year, be sure to scrape the cooking grate clean (a half an onion is remarkably effective at this job) and season it (by rubbing the cooking grate with vegetable or canola oil after cleaning it) before you start cooking!
Here are a few of my favorite things to throw on the grill this time of year:
- Santa Maria Barbecue (a.k.a. Santa Maria BBQ), pictured above, is a local foods treasure from the Santa Maria Valley in California that traces it origins to cattle runs and 19th-century settlers. Santa Maria Barbecue isn't a technique or a dish: It's a meal. Grilled beef tri-tip or sirloin is paired with beans, salad, garlic bread, and salsa fresca to make a crave-inducing meal. Grill the traditional tri-tip or this delicious peppered tri-tip to mix things up.
- Wild Salmon Fillet is perfect for the grill and in season. Buy a skin-on fillet and see how easy grilling salmon can be - no flipping, no turning, perfect every time.
- Grilled Vegetables couldn't be easier - just coat them with a bit of olive oil (or other oil), throw them on a fairly hot grill, turn them once or twice, cook until as tender as you like, sprinkle with salt or pepper or herbs or lemon juice, and voila! Find great ideas for veggies to grill and serve them alongside your burgers or on their own as a grilled vegetable platter.
- Making burgers? Here are 10 Tips for Perfect Burgers as well as my Favorite Burger Recipes.
Still not hitting you quite right? Check out everything about Backyard BBQ Parties here.
Can we talk baby carrots? Baby carrots - the real kind, the kind pulled from the field to make more room for their bigger brethren to grow, the ones with their greens still attached so you know they can't be very old - are amazing.
You know what's not amazing? Full-grown carrots peeled and pared down to weird bright orange digit-like nubs, rinsed in a light bleach solution, bagged in 1- to 5-pound bags, and labeled "baby carrots" at the supermarket. I know they are popular with the kids and the healthy snack eaters, but I can't get on-board. Taste one next to an actual baby carrot - or even just a real, fresh carrot - and tell me they are a good idea. I'll take a good, old-fashioned carrot stick (a freshly peeled carrot, cut into easily edible widths and lengths) any day. And yes, I'm willing to do the peeling and the cutting. I timed it. It takes less than a minute to turn a carrot into carrot sticks.
Enough of my rant. If you do see true baby carrots at the market, grab a bunch and cook them up with a few pea pods, a bit of orange juice, some chile, and some mint, as in this Glazed Pea Pods and Baby Carrots. The whole thing takes about 20 minutes. You can thank me later.
When things get busy, "put an egg on it" becomes a bit of a mantra around my. It solves many dinner problems. Have a dish that doesn't quite add up to a full dinner? Put an egg on it. Examples? I have a few. Like the poached egg and plenty of grating Parmesan cheese that turn spears of asparagus into a light spring lunch pictured above (see Asparagus With Poached Egg for details).
This Escarole Salad With Poached Egg - it's a French bistro classic that's easy to make at home. Feel free to use this Hot Bacon Dressing on it, I often do. It's good make with fresh wild spring arugula.
I also find a poached, soft boiled, or fried egg can add just that bit of protein and rich texture needed to turn various vegetable stews and soups into a fuller-feeling meal. In particular, this Moroccan Vegetable Stew made with carrots, chickpeas, potatoes, and zucchini benefits from have a bit of yolk mix in with the spicy broth. The effect is similar in this Spring-to-Summer Vegetable Stew, which I like to serve over polenta. A soft boiled egg doesn't overpower the delicate flavors of Vignarola.
Part of the reason I'm a bit egg-crazy right now is that it's that time of year when pastured chickens are eating so many fresh greens that their eggs have yolks that are so intensely and deeply colored I want to call them day-glo orange.
If you're a gardener you know that radishes grow quickly and they grow early. They are often right behind lettuces as some of the first spring vegetables out of the ground. Since they come to harvest at such a rapid pace, avid gardeners and farmers tend to plant more than one "crop" of them during the season, meaning that they're often available for a long stretch of spring and summer.
This is good news to me. Fresh, just-picked radishes are bright and crunchy and one of my favorite snacks. Simply cut them from their greens, rinse them off (sometimes they'll have a fair amount of dirt clinging to them and they'll require what could be dubbed more of s scrubbing), pat them dry, and serve them. If you're not going to serve them right away, put them in a bowl, cover them with cold water, and chill until ready to serve (this is nice on hots days, too, since it makes the radishes chilly and refreshing).
Delicious as they are plain, I've also been known to serve them as the French do - with butter and salt. No joke. Check out Radishes With Butter & Salt to see what I'm talking about.
Once you've crunched your way through a bunch or two, you might want to mix it up a bit. Radishes are also great simply sliced or grated into tossed salads. Or used as a colorful, zesty garnish alongside grilled meats. They can also stand up and serve as a salad on their own, as in this Gingery Radish Salad.
For even greater variety, have you ever tried Braised Radishes? It's true, you can cook radishes and they are delicious.
I'm always thrilled when I find fresh spring beets at the farmers market. Not giant bulbs thrown in a bin together. No, small, tender beets with their vibrant greens still attached and bundled together like the golden ones pictured here.
It's a two-fer: root vegetable and greens in one purchase. If I'm not going to use them that same day, I remove the greens from the beets when I get home - they will each last longer when stored apart (so sad). I immediately get the greens washed, dried, and stored just like lettuce so they last longer than a day or two (I find truly fresh beet greens, properly stored like this, will last a week without a single mar). Then I tuck the beets themselves loosely wrapped in plastic in the lower drawer in the fridge.
Then I use the beets to roast or shred or make into hot soup or chilled borscht. And the greens? I treat them like any other cooking green. I'll braise them, add them to pasta, chop them up and stir them into soup, or make a zesty raita.
What's a raita? It's an Indian-style yogurt-based salad. Yep. Cooked greens in yogurt. Sounds totally weird to many people, I know, but I'm telling you, it is delicious. We're having a weird little heat wave where I am, so it's just the thing.
The cool part is, you can do the same thing with the beets. This beets-in-yogurt concoction with some crackers or bread makes a lovely lunch:
Or, just as frequently, I use use them together in this Warm Beet Salad:
With farmers markets opening up around the country this month and next, I'd love to hear about your favorites. For some people their favorite is the one closest to their house. Other people want lots of people-watching and entertainments. Some of us focus solely on the produce and other edibles for sale. I tend to plan my visits to the farmers market as early as possible in order to get in and out as quickly as possible. The markets in San Francisco tend to be crowded and, quite frankly, a bit of a hassle (that is a serious understatement!). Rather than make weekly visits to the famous Ferry Plaza or even the more resident-friendly Alemany markets, I've been searching out the smaller neighborhood markets that are popping up all the time. There is less selection, to be sure, but the overall experience is, for the crowd-sensitive like yours truly, more pleasant.
What do you look for in a farmers market? What's your favorite market and why? Let us know at Readers Favorite Farmers Markets!
Asparagus usually tops the list of people's favorite spring vegetable, but mine is definitely fava beans. They have a unique texture - a soft, almost chalky bite that melts as you chew - and a lightly bitter taste that I adore. They are famously labor-intensive, and even I don't make them everyday. But they're only around for two or three months in the spring, and when the weather turns warm I start to crave them. When I'm in the right mood the shelling, blanching, and then shelling again - which can seem punitive if you're not up for it - is mellow and meditative. The resulting Fava Bean Pecorino Salad, Marinated Fava Beans, Sautéed Fava Beans, or Fresh Fava Ful lets us all know spring is here.
If you just can't deal with all that shelling, it is possible to cook fava beans so as to render the entire pod edible. You just need to trim the pods first - snapping off the ends and pulling off the strings that run along the sides of the pods before making Grilled Fava Beans or taking a little more time to make Braised Fava Beans With Yogurt or Fava Beans Braised In Tomato.
Last weekend I missed a morel hunt. See that basket above? That's the haul I got from one clearing last spring. Weird fires and late rain in my neck of the woods meant we had every reason to think out luck would be even better this year. I was all set to go with a friend up into the Sierras and spend the day staring at the forest floor, hoping to find the pine cone-like mushrooms pushing up through pine needles -
Do you see the morel in that picture? It's in the bottom third of the photo, in the middle, pushing up next to the strip of wood. Sometimes they'll even create little rows along felled trees. Alas and alack, life and work and family got in the way and I had to beg off the trip. My friend then spent the day torturing me with pictures of the scads and piles of morels he was finding. It was a bit heart-breaking, but I comforted myself with some homemade pasta, made with the last of the morels I dried from last year.
Morel mushrooms are one of my favorite things about spring eating and the pasta dish above is one of my favorite ways to eat them. The earthy, just a bit nutty, flavor of fresh morels is a perfect foil for the bright, sweet taste of sweet green peas. Here a bit of each adds its part to the eggy bite and flavor of fresh pasta. Make the noodles yourself or buy them, either way, you end up with a bowlful of spring with this Peas and Morels Pasta.