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Spring fling. March 30, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Checking out all the “healthy Easter side dishes” and “fresh spring dishes” via MSN.com this morning, I thought about what was available now in the veggie beds here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home and garden our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA.

If I really wanted to make something highlighting our fresh produce, we’d be pretty limited: chives, garlic chives, garlic, “walking” onions, scallions/green onions, sage, peppermint, and lemongrass (from the greenhouse). Arugula, cilantro, mixed lettuces and other greens, radishes, mesclun, and ‘Sugar Snap’ peas are on their way. But they’re not here yet. Our rhubarb and horseradish are coming on, but still in the bud stage; our asparagus hasn’t yet made an appearance, but we know it will any day now.

Our chickens have begun laying again, and adding fresh organic eggs to our meal plan has been as always a huge pleasure. Omelettes, fritattas, heuvos rancheros, hard-boiled eggs to slice into tossed salads, egg salad for sandwiches, pickled beet eggs, essential ingredients for cornbread, banana bread, and the like… yum. Thanks, chickens!!!

I could of course add fresh sprouts, aka microgreens, to the mix: sprouted radish, alfalfa, fenugreek, mustard, mung bean, broccoli, hemp, and so on. They’d unquestionably add texture, flavor, and nutrition to early spring salads, stir-fries, omelettes, soups, spring rolls, and much more. But could I really create a delicious spring dish that highlights our fresh produce now?

Never let it be said that Silence Dogood is not prepared to rise to a challenge. But, given the limitations of the season here, I might have to cheat just a little. How to create a dish, or even a meal, that celebrates Easter, spring, Passover, and the rising of the year, while focusing on the bounty of early spring?

Eggs are obviously a great place to start. Symbolizing birth and the circle of life, eggs promise that life and the cycle of nature will go on. Dyeing hard-boiled eggs in food coloring or in boiled onionskins, then slicing them into salads or turning them into egg salad, is a time-honored way of enjoying both the eggs and the joy of the season. We love both, but we also love eating our eggs in hot, hearty, spicy fare, especially when it’s still cold outside. Huevos rancheros and curried egg salad are great ways to enjoy your eggs and warm up at the same time.

To make an ultimate spring salad, I like to use mesclun, aka “spring mix”—colorful mixed baby lettuces, mustard greens, and other spring greens—and mix them with substantial, crunchy greens like romaine, radicchio, and endive, plus super-flavorful greens like arugula and cress. I’ll add green onions (scallions, walking onions, even tops of newly spouted garlic, garlic chives, and chives), some diced red onion, sliced radishes, baby carrots, diced bell pepper (red, orange, and/or yellow), sliced white salad turnips, and chopped Sugar Snap or snow peas.

I’ll also toss in any fresh herbs I can get my hands on—peppermint leaves are great in salads, and so is cilantro—and those sliced hard-boiled eggs. Throwing in cheese (shredded sharp white Cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss, or Asiago, or crumbled Gorgonzola or feta) is so good. Add some pepitas or sunflower seeds, toasted almond bits, or crumbled pecans or hickory nuts or black walnuts, for flavor, nutrition, and crunch. Top your salad with sprouts for extra crunch and nutrition, add salt, dried oregano, and fresh-ground pepper to taste, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and you have the best salad known to man. (Just ask our friend Ben.)

But what about a yummy, easy-to-make, filling main course? Here’s a favorite of ours that’s easy to adapt to any season’s available produce. For spring, we like to do it this way:

               Silence’s Spring Fling

Per person, grill or roast 6 asparagus spears, 6 pesto-filled mushroom caps, 1 yellow bell pepper, cored and quartered, with quarters then cut in half, 1 small red onion, peeled and quartered, or 1/2 sweet onion, peeled and cut in chunks, 8 baby carrots, 10 Sugar Snap pea pods, ends removed, and 2 frozen* or canned artichoke hearts. I lay all these veggies on my LeCreuset heavy enameled cast-iron grill pan in the oven, drizzle or brush them with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle on herbs such as dried oregano and thyme, add a generous sprinkling of Trocomare, Herbamare, or RealSalt, and cook at 350 degrees F. until the veggies are tender and starting to crisp up.

You have three options for an accompaniment to your grilled/roasted veggie medley. First, you can halve red-skinned new potatoes and baby yellow-fleshed ‘Yukon Gold’ potatoes, slather them with olive oil, salt, and herbs, and roast or grill them with the other veggies. Voila, a vagetable platter. Or you can cook up some penne pasta or fettucine or rice and serve the grilled/roasted veggies on a bed of pasta or rice. In any case, cut the asparagus and baby carrots into manageable forkfuls before serving, and add grated cheese of your choice after assembling the dish and immediately before serving: Asiago, Parmesan, sharp white Cheddar, mixed Italian, Swiss. Or crumbled feta or Gorgonzola or blue cheese. I like to add black olives as well for additional richness (canned black olives) or flavor punch (kalamata olives). And if you like heat, sprinkle on some crushed red pepper just before serving.

Serving up a Spring Fling with a hearty salad and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or your favorite red wine makes such a good spring meal. Prefer a white like Pinot Grigio or a dry Riesling? Go for it!

What about dessert? At this time of year, I’d say a simple flan or rhubarb custard is hard to beat. A trifle or custard cream pie with jams, jellies, fruit preserves, or even fruit butters would be a good way to enjoy the garden’s bounty while anticipating the coming season of fresh fruits and berries. (Our friend Ben has been pathetically hinting for pecan pie, but that’s not seasonal, so let’s ignore him.)

From fiddlehead ferns to cress, ramps, and spring onions, the bounty spring offers us veggie gardeners is nothing short of amazing. Wherever we live, let’s make the most of it!

                      ‘Til next time,

                                   Silence

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Comments»

1. jodi (bloomingwriter) - April 5, 2010

Oh, this all sounds delicious–isn’t it fun how we crave the fresh new vegetables of the season, and how wonderful it is when they come on. We’re seeing some local spinach now (grown in tunnels) but at this rate it won’t be long til there are other produce products coming along. For now, we have to make due with frozen or fresh-from-away, but that’s okay.

You’re right, Jodi, we’re always desperate for garden-fresh by now. I’m combing the asparagus bed every day for signs of spears, and have even started looking pointedly at the strawberry plants. Soon…


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