My recent trip to the farmer’s market confirmed my suspicions: Spring has really arrived, at least in my neck of the woods (Southern California). I was delighted to see a collection of seasonal harbingers: Asparagus! Green garlic! Rhubarb! It wasn’t long before I imagined a menu they would show off.
Asparagus is always a sensation for me. The sight of the first few bunches makes for a big smile. Those early spears are sweet enough to eat raw, so that’s exactly how I chose to cook them. A shaved asparagus salad was ok.
I cut the spears lengthwise into thin ribbons, something I recently discovered that is quite easy to do with a long, sharp knife. (I used to always use a mandolin, it makes beautiful ribbons but also creates danger. A knife is safer.)
The simplest version of this salad only requires extra virgin olive oil and salt, with maybe a squeeze of lemon. However, I decided to make a real lemony vinaigrette with a few chopped anchovy fillets. Omit the anchovies in the dressing, if you’d like, but it’s there to enhance the flavor — not to taste fishy.
For color and texture, but also for a bit of spiciness, I added thinly sliced radishes. Any type of radish will work, but for a really vibrant salad, look for the many brilliant varieties of daikon radish now available at many farmers’ markets. These beauties come in a range of colors – crimson, scarlet, purple and even bright green. Or look for “watermelon” radishes, round and the size of golf balls. When sliced, these radishes reveal a multicolored cross section. An easy salad to put together, this is a festive dish. You could even top it off with shavings of Parmesan or ricotta salata.
Green garlic is another reason to celebrate, with its distinct, fresh character that is pungent but not overpowering. When it first hits the market, the stems may resemble slender green onions. Some specimens have already formed the beginning of a bulb at the root end. But once the outer layer is peeled, both green and white parts of the stem can be used, chopped or pounded in a mortar. (If you can’t find green garlic, a combination of scallions and garlic chives is a reasonable alternative.)
To give the green garlic a spot to shine, I picked up a few pounds of yellow-fleshed Yukon Gold spuds from my favorite potato seller. (That stall also has the colorful radishes.) Then I bought a free-range chicken and hatched a plan. I stuffed the bird with a good amount of green garlic and a good handful of sprigs of rosemary, sage and thyme. I roasted the chicken over potato wedges so all the fragrant, garlicky chicken drippings gave the potatoes incredible flavor. Crispy and golden, they rival the best rotisserie-style potatoes, those glistening potatoes that sit beneath spit-roasted chickens in some butcher shops. The chicken is of course also nicely perfumed. (As a bonus, the carcass can be tossed into a saucepan, covered with water, and simmered to make a small amount of garlic stock for future use.)
As for the ruby-red rhubarb popping up this time of year, I knew right away it was going to be a glorious fruit crumble — a relative of other homely desserts like chips and buckles. The rhubarb is diced and sprinkled with sugar and a little flour to thicken the clear juices. The rhubarb is given a nubby topping made from brown sugar, flour and butter, enhanced with a handful of optional chopped pistachio.
Baked until bubbly and brown, this irresistible dessert can be served with cold whipped cream, whipped cream or ice cream. I always hope for leftovers to enjoy for breakfast with a dollop of yogurt. That way I can carry the spring celebration far beyond a single meal.