Thursday, April 29, 2010

Put Some Spring in Your Step!

Green.  For me these days, it's not a political position, environmental effort or trend.  It's spring, kiddies, and it's what I'm cooking.  Asparagus.  English Peas.  Fava beans.  Spring onions, ramps, fiddleheads, cimi di rabe, nettles, radish tops- oh, it's just the beginning!  The sun comes out, the soil loosens and in just a day, you can see the growth of something that could be on your plate three days later.  

The joy of cooking in season is that if you focus on what's fresh and in the market, the ingredients do the rest.  

So, how about from the sea?  The radiant striped bass is in season right now and couldn't be more vibrant or delicious.  Quite simply, the stuff available locally right now is superior quality, unequaled in the best sushi restaurants.  Soft-shell crabs just landed recently, pretty right-on schedule (Mother's day usually), though the market is still a little iffy with temperatures changing dramatically.  They scream for a lardon of smoky bacon or pancetta to set off their sweetness, or just a few stems of nutty arugula to punctuate their briny goodness.  

Brook trout, Nantucket Bay scallops, or tiny sweet Northern Shrimp, known as "pandalus borealis", become center-of-plate items.  Supporting ingredients that come to mind include ginger, tarragon, saffron, almonds or pine nuts, buttery potatoes and yeasty brioche.  Ahhhhhhh.

Traditionally, lamb and veal are "what's next", seasonally speaking.  Their delicate flavors and texture are an appropriate segue into the full-on, anything goes season of summer.  I speak, of course, as someone who isn't traveling!  Sure, I'd love to be in the Caribbean eating lobster right now; but, in this particular parallel, I'll cook and eat what sings the song of Spring, most.

When the weather breaks a little, I also change my taste for libations, as well.  Jeez, we just had a little hot-spell recently, and instinctively, I ran to the wine store for rose!  There were only a couple 2009s available, and they did the trick.  Rose wants to shine young.  Perky notes of strawberry, tart fruits and hints of just-born tomatoes rein, while bracing acidity wins out over lingering sugars.  In other words, close your eyes- it could be a beaujolais were it not for the color or temperature.  

Wheat beers, riesling, and a general proclivity for anything with Campari in it call my name when choosing a beverage to warm-up or settle-down with in Spring.

Strawberries also begin to take center stage, as they hold title to the most popular fruit in Spring, with the Ugly Betty cousin, RHUBARB, taking a close second, out of two.  Bitter, sweet- sweet, bitter- do you begin to see the connection both literally and metaphorically?  Spring is a season of transition, and the foods of the season remind us of both what has passed and what will come.  Today's lentil soup could be out of place when you smell the fresh clippings from the neighbors lawn.  Yet, herbed veal breast braised for hours on a Sunday's afternoon draws us back to the hearth, but doesn't fill our bellies enough to skip the berry shortcake for dessert.

It's funny, sometimes domestic food legends like Martha and Ina get all the props for showcasing seasonal ingredients and traditions that would make Norman Rockwell want to hand in his oils for a can of spray paint. But, if you  pick up the cookbooks of Craig Claiborne, James Beard, Deborah Madison and Sheila Lukins, you'll find that they were singing the praises of American seasonal and regional cuisine long before there was a market for self-promotion.  They showed us how to cook what was available to us.  And that, my friends, is what this is all about.

Put your trust in what looks good, smells good and sounds good.  Trust in your ingredients, your sense of what is enticing and your confidence to create a meal and memory that will last for seasons to come.


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