Friday, April 30, 2010

Fresh From the Farmer's Market

With movements such as Locavore Nation and Eating Organic, a cook cannot help but to be inspired by the produce of the season. Spring is such an exciting time because we can put away the bitter winter greens and take advantage of the spring trio: fresh asparagus, beautiful global artichokes, and sweet peas. These veggies are so tasty on their own that they hardly need any additional flavors. Here are some ideas for these spring vegetables:

Peas: Make a classic risotto and add fresh peas and Parmesan cheese at the end, use peas as the base for a pesto and substitute some of the basil for mint (you can use this as a sandwich spread or for crostini), or make a fresh pea sauce that can be served with fish such as halibut or branzino.

Fresh Pea Sauce (Recipe courtesy of Tiffany O'Reilly)

3 cups blanched shelled peas
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons mint chopped
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan, add the shelled peas, chicken stock, shallots, and garlic. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer sauce for 5 to 6 minutes or until peas are tender. Remove from heat. Using a blender*, add the mint and puree the sauce until smooth. Place into a bowl and whisk in the butter. Strain the sauce through a chinois or other fine mesh sieve. Serve while hot.

* Remember when adding a hot liquid to a blender, do not fill it up all the way or the sauce will explode all over you and the kitchen.

**The dish shown in the picture was served at my culinary school graduation. The pea sauce was paired with a sage beurre blanc and fresh peas and asparagus. It was a huge hit with our guests.

Asparagus: Cook a batch of wide pasta such as pappardelle and add blanched asparagus cut into 1 inch pieces, crispy pancetta, cream that has been reduced (simmered in a pot for a few minutes until thick) and Parmesan cheese, dip whole asparagus stalks into a tempura batter, fry, and serve with a lemon aioli, or wrap asparagus in proscuitto* and grill.

*You may need a toothpick to keep it together

Artichoke: Steam the whole artichoke and eat the leaves with garlic butter, trim the artichokes and make a cream of artichoke soup, cutthe center heart of a steamed artichoke into a small dice and add it to a savory tart with herbs, cheese, and dijon mustard.

Don't be afraid to try different varietals of these veggies such as purple and white asparagus or Jerusalem artichokes. I encourage all of you to visit your local farmers market and create a meal based on the seasonal produce you find. You might be surprised of what delicious creations you come up with. Happy Eating!

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