An Appetite for Spring
Regardless of the weather, I think of Passover and Easter as the de facto start of spring cooking and eating. There are a few disconnects; for example, the apples used to make Passover's haroset certainly aren't at their best in April. But tender in-season asparagus will make up for that.
The best thing about seasonal cooking is that there's always something to crave. With the first snap of a September chill we're thinking about stew, a hot summer day demands tomato sandwiches, and as spring finally arrives we want things that are green, fresh, and maybe raw. As every season starts we remember favorite foods like returning old friends that have been out of town for a while. I saw this when I went back into some City Cook archives (see our link to Spring 2010, with recipes) and there they all were: sorrel, spring garlic, ramps, artichokes, asparagus, lettuce, thin skinned spring potatoes, strawberries, and rhubarb. After a long winter filled with braises, slow roasts, hearty pastas, and musky flavors, I'm so ready to make spring garlic pesto, sorrel soup, and strawberry rhubarb pie.
But I'm also always looking for new ideas, especially as I anticipate the first local crops to come to my local Greenmarket. One I found in the most unlikely place: on the uptown M7 bus. Its route traces much of Manhattan's west side, making a loop between 14th and 110th Streets. From my seat in the front row of the rear raised section I couldn't avoid looking over the shoulder of the man sitting just below.
He was reading through a sheaf of pages filled with kitchen instructions that were a mix of recipes, technique, and kitchen philosophy. There were notes for how to choose, trim and present ingredients; which equipment to use; how to plate and present finished dishes; and what the flavor should achieve. Embedded in all this was a salad made with tiny roasted potatoes, French green beans, feta cheese, piquant caperberries, and olive oil. Doing my best to send brainwave instructions to the back of his head, I silently chanted, "turn the page, turn the page, what else do you have?" But instead he folded the papers, tucked them into the side of a knife case, and got off the bus. We were at West 85th Street and I realized I was reading the instructions for the day's menu at nearby Kefi, one of cookbook author and Chef Michael Psilakis's New York restaurants.
Before I could forget what I had stealthily read, I scribbled notes and made a grocery detour on my way home to see if I could create what diners at Kefi would have that night. While this salad, best served slightly warm, is excellent made with winter fingerling potatoes and haricots verts, it will be even better with the first thin-skinned potatoes out of the ground and tender, local green beans. Use your best olive oil for this dish
With acknowledgment to Chef Psilakis and the M7 bus, see our link to the recipe.
Summer's First Berries
One of my favorite early summer moments is that day when I go to a Greenmarket and get my first whiff of fresh strawberries. The weather will determine when that day will come but it could be soon.
I have two favorite ways to eat early summer strawberries. The first is with a squeeze of lemon and a dusting of sugar. Just enough lemon to help the berries get their own sweet-sour juices going and just enough sugar so not to compete but to add an ever slightly grainy surface.
But I also love fresh berries partnered with a crispy white meringue and a drizzle of coulis, a sauce made by puréeing fresh berries with a little sugar and then put through a fine sieve to remove any little seeds. What makes a coulis different from other sauces is that it's raw which means its flavor is fresh and simple, yet still intense.
See our recipes for simple meringues and fresh strawberry coulis. If local berries aren't yet in your markets, wait for them instead of using ones shipped in from Peru. I promise you it's worth the patience. And if after making the meringues you're looking for a way to use all those egg yolks, fruit curd is a perfect solution.
Passover and Easter Cooking
As we head toward Passover and the week before Easter, see our links to past articles about cooking for Passover in New York (complete with a photo of The Pickle Guys -- protected by a gas mask -- grinding fresh horseradish on Manhattan's Lower East Side), plus some shopping and cooking hints for making Easter dinner.
Happy holidays and happy spring cooking.