Sunday, April 12, 2009

It smells like spring!

I sauntered by Jean-Talon Market today, and boy oh boy is spring ever in the air!

The outdoor stalls are trickling in, and even though the walls are still up around the "indoor" part, most people were milling about outdoors. Of course, few of the current outdoor stalls are held by actual producers as they are busy getting ready for production, but you know that fair weather is around the corner when the market airs itself out!

The people from Les Jardins Sauvages are back, but they have moved to the other side of the market. They have a lovely selection of nice selection of wild mushrooms, but no locals yet. The morels from B.C. were lovely though, not too big, nor too small. Quebec morels are expected to make an appearance in about three weeks.

Morels are pricey (these ones were 110$ per kilo!), but they are a lovely treat. Unlike most mushroom you may be familiar with, morels are not spongy but more chewy, almost al dente. And they are very flavourful, so a little goes a long way. Thumb sized or smaller is ideal -you get more bang for your buck- as bigger ones tend to be watery and fall apart when you cook them.

Sautéed in a little butter, seasoned with salt and pepper, some sliced green onions and you have delight with each bite. Spoon it on some nice crusty bread and top it with a sharp cheese, slide it under the grill, and now you've got heaven on toast!

Most vendors at the market had neat piles of maple syrup cans, and they all had signs stating "new crop". Time to get the pancake pan greased up! Of course, maple syrup can be eaten anytime other than breakfast. It's great as a glaze on roasted meats (ham -without the pineapple- or any other part of the pig, and duck come to mind). And desserts! The simplest maple pleasure has to be taffy: there are three stalls at Jean-Talon, so even if you can't make it to a sugar shack, you can still have some "tire" and eat it!

If you love shrimps than head on to your nearest fishmonger: North Atlantic shrimps are in. Also known as crevettes de Matane in Quebec, these wild shrimps are sustainably caught from early April until the end of May. In fact, most wild shrimp stocks in North America are said to be sustainable, so ask your fish monger when your local shrimps are in season . Wild Atlantic shrimps are nothing like your run of the mill, hormone and antibiotic pumped farmed shrimps. For one thing, they're small, and like a lot of small, wild things, they are jam-packed with flavour. The shrimp are caught in nets and cooked right away on the fishing vessel. The salt clings to the shell and brings out the sweetness of the flesh.

When in season, they're often sold unpeeled and with the head: just pour yourself a nice pint of lager or a glass of crisp white wine, and munch on them, they practically peel themselves. If you prefer not to see a face on your food, they are also sold peeled, ideal for a salad (peeled, wild shrimps are also available frozen: it's a bit of a cheat, but save some of these to serve with the first summer tomatoes, yum!), they are somewhat less salty than the unpeeled shrimps but are still quite delicious.

I've also noticed that local leeks are making their last appearance at the market: if you like leeks, go out and buy a bunch, as imported leeks tend to be stringy and sharp during the summer. Leeks will keep a couple of weeks in your fridge, but you can freeze them indefinitely in the freezer. Just chop up the leeks and wash them, dry them with a tea towel or in a salad spinner, and freeze them on a baking sheet. You can use them straight from the freezer. Although I rarely miss leeks in high summer, I do like a nice leek and onion quiche every now and then, and having some at hand is always convenient.

Before I go, I'd like to mention rhubarb again: I know I said that forced rhubarbs are in season, but I can't seem to find any in Montreal. However, while watching Martha Stewart this week, she had some beautiful, fluorescent pink rhubarb on the show. So greenhouse rhubarb is in, just not in Montreal. Now that I think about it, I didn't see much local rhubarb at the market last year either. Perhaps Quebec growers aren't big fans of the plant.

Bon app'!

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