19 May 2007

Spring has sprung!

Posted in food at 8:26 am by Tricia

March and April are hard months for those in northern climes who try to eat local and seasonal. There are only so many root crops and cold-storage apples you can eat. (Even the local apples start disappearing from the stores by that point!) The grocery stores are filling up with strawberries from California, mangoes from tropical regions, and so on, tempting one to fall off the local bandwagon in favor of variety and tasty goodness. (And yes, I fell off the wagon for both strawberries and mangoes.)

May is the turning point. Our Wednesday Farmer’s Market opens up in May (the Saturday one is more year-long), so I consider May to be the real start of spring. The early weeks are a profusion of color: bedding plants, vegetable and herb seedlings, hanging plants. You can also find lots of greens, and the dregs of cold storage apples (red delicious mostly, yawn). But the real star is asparagus. Asparagus, asparagus, and more asparagus – finished up with rhubarb for dessert if you find the right vendors!

I’ve decided my favorite treatment of asparagus is a variation on one in Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian (page 136) that I posted last year. I haven’t dug around in my freezer to see if I have any frozen green chiles from last season, so I’ve been using roasted sweet peppers from a jar [so much for local!], and increasing the pine nut ratio [ditto!], and really lovin’ it.

Asparagus with Pine Nuts

1 lb (fresh! local!) asparagus, trimmed, peeled (if you wish), cut into thirds
1 to 1.5 Tab olive oil
3 Tab pine nuts
some finely chopped roasted sweet red peppers
1/2 tsp salt (I’ve used green chile salt) in 3 Tab water
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp soy sauce
1 Tab oriental sesame oil

(Jaffrey has you soak the asparagus in water for 15 to 30 minutes before cooking to keep it crisp, but I haven’t found this to be a problem. Be sure to drain well if you soak.)

Combine sugar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

Put the olive oil in a large sauté or frying pan and set over medium heat. When very hot, put in the pine nuts. Stir once or twice until the pine nuts are golden and then remove them with a slotted spoon and spread on paper towels. (I suppose it would be easier to just toast them to golden brown in a 350F toaster oven, but you might be missing some flavor elements from the oil.)

Quickly put the peppers into the oil. Stir once and put in the asparagus and salted water. Stir gently to mix and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes, or until the asparagus is just done. Uncover and add the sugar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Stir to mix, boiling away most of the liquid as you do this. Add the pine nuts, toss, and serve immediately.

I’ve served this over rice as a very filling one bowl dinner, and as a side dish for 3 or more adults . Now if I could just convince our two somewhat-veggie-adventurous boys that eating “spears” make you better prepared for sword and light saber battles… (Hopefully the non-adventurous one will see the light as an adult!)

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