This last Winter was one of the worse we’ve ever seen. It affected us greatly. We did not do as much cooking. We did not make regular trips to the farmers market. We just did not want to go outside into the snow, cold and rain. Now, Spring is finally emerging from the cold and darkness. And with it comes our enthusiasm for gardening, for cooking, for catching those spring vegetables fresh from the fields.
The best place to witness the coming of this season is at the farmers market. You will see growers and vendors emerging from the off-season like spring flowers. Chef Bill Seidel of Denver says there are many great selections showing up with the warming weather.
“Right now you may see hearty greens, parsnips that are over-wintered, spring parsnips and the spinach that grows throughout the winter, which is amazingly sweet, much like candy.”
One of the wonderful things you should look for did not come from the fields, at least not directly. It is ricotta cheese. This homey soft, fresh cheese is a popular item among cheese makers in the spring. Because most dairy farmers allow their cattle to graze through the summer, really freshly made cheese is less available after May. Cows usually are giving birth in the spring, so they are producing lots of fresh milk, making it the best time to make ricotta. If you can find it, there is nothing better than a dollop of fresh ricotta on a piece of bread with a little sea salt and extra virgin olive oil sprinkled over it. It is true that you can find ricotta in the supermarket all year. But now is the time to get the really good stuff.
Artichokes are another popular vegetable. We love the hearts of these thistles marinated and mixed with pasta, spring peas or on a salad. But many just love these funny-looking things steamed and then dipping the leaves in butter and scraping off the tender meat at the base of the leaves, working your way down to the tender, delicious heart. In the spring, look for small ones that are heavy for their size. The leaves should be hugging close to the body of the vegetable and they should squeak when rubbed together.
Now is a good time to start your kitchen garden, if you have not already. Even if you live in a small apartment, you can grow at least some things in containers in your home. Herbs are one of the most popular and most useful. They grow easily and can even give you lots of flavorings all year long.
One of the herbs you should have in that kitchen garden is chives. These oniony shoots can grown all year long. But in the farmers market, now is the best time to get the fresh variety to take home and use in your favorite dishes. Look for crisp strands of this grass-green plant, and avoid any that have discoloration or shriveling at the tips. Like hearty greens and other herbs, leave them unwashed until you are ready to use, and store them in a plastic bag, avoiding the cooler areas of the fridge. As for in the kitchen, you can dice up some chives and add them to soups, top salads, mix with cream cheese and smear on a bagel, whip into biscuits, or pretty much anything that could benefit from a little allium kick.
One of the most popular spring vegetables is asparagus. At this time of year, select the thinner stalks, also called whips, for the most sweetness. Thicker ones are great for grilling and chopped into salads. You can shave these thicker stalks if you find them tough. Look for asparagus with tight tips and very little paleness at the base.
Enjoy the warmer weather outdoors at the market and indoors making some wonderful food in The Bachelor’s Kitchen.