Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April's slipping away...

That's it, April is coming to an end, and now it's time for the growing season to really begin over here in the North-East....

While April brought in the first of the wild edibles and the first lettuces (the baby mesclun at the market was most likely local), May will be ever slightly more abundant.

Things to look forward to in May:

-Asparagus
They're finally here! Well, perhaps not quite. Local spears will be trickling in slowly in the beginning, though I suspect that some areas will be seeing them earlier than I will. If you love asparagus, jump on them as soon as you see them in the market. And I would shun the supermarket, at least at the beginning. I cannot say it enough: ASPARAGUS ARE VERY PERISHABLE!!!! Even if the seller at the market isn't the actual producer, chances are he bought his stash that very morning at a bulk produce market (Marché Central in Montreal, Chelsea Market in New York, Rungis in Paris, Marché Gare in Lyon, Tsukiji in Tokyo... ). Those asparagus have 24hours of transport time at the very most. It is not ideal, but it is better than close to a week in cold storage, which is what most supermarkets will have on their shelves.

-Field rhubarb
Not fluorescent pink like the forced stuff, but just as tasty, and less expensive. Rhubarb is a bright note in the menu at this time of the year. Usually eaten sweet, this vegetable can be eaten raw with a sprinkling salt (but that's just crazy, unless you're mad for sourpuss candies.) Cooked rhubarb is usually considered a dessert (on ice cream, with yogurt, or simply with a spoon), but it can be eaten throughout the whole meal wherever you would use a chutney.

-Radishes
If you shy away from radishes because you find them too spicy, now is the perfect time to try them again. Radishes heat up when they age (long storage-transportation-shelf time, or even just hanging out in the soil because growers are busy with another crop) or because they grow under hot conditions, so early spring is ideal for eating mild, crisp nuggets.

-Crabs
Live crabs can be got all year-round these days, but if you live near the sea and want to encourage your local fishermen, brown crabs are coming in (at least in the Atlantic). Why is it a good time for crabs? Well, they finished spawning a little while back, and they haven't quite starting moulting yet, so they should be very meaty. Make sure you pick one that looks a little worse for the wear. Also, if you are not too squeamish about cooking them yourself, buy them live: fishmongers tend to overcook their wares. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, plunge the crabs head first. Calculate about 10 minutes of cooking time for each pound (±500g) of crab.

Vegetables to be on the lookout for
Next time you go tho the market, if you spot some jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes, topinambours) buy a pound or two as they are the last of the season. Sunchokes are planted in autumn or early spring, but they have yet to sprout over here, so they still make for some good eating. If your area is still chilly, sunchokes make a great mash or soup (make mash for tonight and have the leftovers as soup the next day.) The easiest way to peel the chokes is to parboil them for about 3 minutes, plunge them in cold water, and scrape the skin off with a spoon. If you want to make a mash, cut the peeled roots into small chunks, and finish cooking in some milk or cream. Mash with a fork or food mill, thinning out with the cooking liquid. Jerusalem artichokes are also good raw in a salad, but need to be kept in lemon water once peeled and sliced otherwise they turn brown.

If you love coleslaw, you should stock up on the last of the stored cabbages. Cabbages are keepers (in the fridge's crisper drawer, check it every now and then for rot, will remain fresh for a couple of weeks), and it will be a while before you see some large, locally produced heads again. If you are only making a small quantity of slaw, remove each leaf individually to preserve the rest of the head. Otherwise shred the whole head, and you'll be able to feed an army at a barbecue. Of course, you can always make coleslaw with the small summer cabbages -and it will be delicious- it's just a little more work.

You might still be able to get your hands on some kale. Kale is a beautiful vegetable that is still rather misunderstood: it is very hardy and hearty. If the leaves look a little tough, give them a quick blanch (or steam) before sautéing in some butter or olive oil with a clove or two or garlic. We still have a couple of weeks of chilly weather left before the real warmth will settles in, and I could really do with a kale and rice soup with Parmesan shavings, mmmmm... yum!

It is very likely that the garlic you will find at the market is not your local crop (unless you live in California where they seem to produce enough to be self-sufficient), but you needn't buy the imported stuff! There should still be some wild garlic left in many areas, and the first local spring onions (green onions, bunching onions, cébettes...) should be coming in as well as chives and garlic chives.

Bon app'!

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