Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Things that make you go hmmmm...

The price of chemical fertilizers have close to doubled when compared to last year. All because of last year's crazy hike in the cost of petroleum. All the more reason why we have to encourage local producers whenever possible.

Even if your local producer is not organic.

So here are a few ideas on how to prepare your local produce!

Asparagus
Yes, I'm still going on about the asparagus. One of my favourite ways to eat these gems is boiled or steamed with mayonnaise, or hollandaise sauce if I can be bothered to make it (if you can't be bothered or don't know how, do not buy pre-made: it's quite horrendous.) If you want to try your hand at making a hollandaise, Julia Child's recipe and instructions in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1 are foolproof (borrow the book from the library or a friend or steal it if you must!) Hollandaise is basically a warm, butter-instead-of-oil-based mayonnaise, so if you know how to make mayo, hollandaise is easy-peasy. But mayo is great, even if it's not homemade.
Or, if that is too plain for you: grilled asparagus are quite tasty too. I think it's safe to say it's open season for barbecues, so you have no excuses for not throwing a couple of spears on the grill. Wash the asparagus thoroughly. I don't know why, and maybe someone else noticed this too: but I find that supermarket asps tend to be gritty. (so don't buy supermarket asps!) Grittiness obviously will vary according to where you live: the soil around Montreal is clay, so local asps tend not to be gritty, just a little muddy. Roll the cleaned spears in some tasty oil (olive, hazelnut, sesame...), season with salt and pepper, add some crushed garlic if you like. Throw on the grill. Eat. It's that easy.

Peas
It's still a little early for peas here, but I have seen a few local peas, and I'm sure that other regions are coming into them. Fresh, local peas are a rare treat at Jean-Talon Market because few Quebec producers sell them direct: most pea farmers here sell them to the canning or freezing industry. It's such a pity because there is no such delight as a fresh pea! It can be a hassle to shuck peas -I actually find it quite meditative- but it only builds the anticipation of eating sweet pearls of spring!
Fresh peas take about 3-5 minutes of blanching or steaming depending on how young they are. Them all they need is a pat of butter and a sprinkle of salt. Yum. The Brits like to add some mint. That's nice too.
When I was a kid my Mum would make rice and peas: that was the epitome of spring for me.

Rice and Peas (serves 2)

1 cup rice (Japanese/sushi rice or Thai/Basmati, but not any other type of rice)
½ cup fresh, shucked peas, or frozen, small ("fantasy" size) peas
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter

-If you're using Japanese rice, you have to wash it under running water until the rinse water runs clear. With Thai or Basmati, it is less important -though any Thai or Indian person would tell me otherwise- because they seem to come out just fine. But this recipe does not work with any other type of rice -at least not to my satisfaction. Drain rice, and shake out excess water.

-Place rice in the cooking pot. You will need a 2-3 cup pot with a tight fitting lid. Add the peas, salt and butter. And 1 cup water, a little less (±¾c) for Thai rice. Cover the pot, and let sit for ½hour.

-Bring rice to the boil. When the water starts bubbling, turn heat down to low, and let steam gently for 15 minutes. You might have to lift the lid a couple of times at the beginning if the water is boiling too hard.

-Turn off the heat after 15 minutes and let sit while you finish the rest of your meal. (These quantities are good for plain rice too)


Did you know that China is the biggest producer of "fresh" peas, snowpeas (mangetout), and sugarsnaps found on supermarket shelves? And did you know that field to fridge, those Chinese peas have a minimum of 8 weeks travel in them? Not so fresh after all, huh?

Chicory (aka "fake" dandelion)
Chicory is a multifaced veg: depending on who you are, where you're from, or where you live, chicory can be a completely different beast. For all intents and purposes, the chicory I am referring to today is the stuff that looks like dandelion on steroids. It tastes somewhat like dandelion, so you can prepare it the same way. However, it is less bitter, so it can be chopped and mixed raw into a regular salad.

Bon app'!


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