These curlicue-shaped fiddlehead greens are a specialty of the forest. They are actually fern fronds. Fiddleheads have such a short season since they're picked before the ferns have a chance to unfurl their fronds. They're definitely a specialty that you'll only see sold in farmers' markets and served in restaurants as a special dish of the evening. Rather expensive, fiddleheads are still worth buying, because a little does go a long way. Just a handful can add interest to salads or side dishes.
Fiddleheads are just plain fun to look at. Their flavor is like that of asparagus or green beans, very fresh and crisp if cooked just right. It is recommended that fiddleheads be cooked for about 10 to 15 minutes to kill any toxins, but I've never had a problem with them cooked for a shorter amount of time. Before cooking, I like to trim any brown area from the stem and soak the fiddleheads in a few changes of water. Then just boil or steam them until tender. Shock in ice water to preserve the bright green color. The fronds can then be used in salads or sauteed with onions or garlic for simple side dish.
Burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, cole slaw and fresh fruit salads are Memorial Day classics. I look forward to those favorites but to keep them interesting, it's good to add something new and a little unexpected.
When I was growing up, asparagus was one of the fancy vegetables. Carrots, corn and broccoli were the everyday vegetables. Asparagus was saved for special occasions. These days asparagus is affordable, easy-to-prepare and versatile.
Right now asparagus is plentiful in farmers markets. Nutritious, delicious and loaded with healthy minerals, asparagus can be enjoyed raw or cooked, as a salad or a side dish to add zest to a backyard barbecue or afternoon lunch.
What do Jerusalem artichokes, horseradish and dandelion greens have in common? You'll never guess. Each has a name that is an English version of a foreign name. The Jerusalem artichoke is a variety of sunflower, and the name is derived from "girasole" which means sunflower in Italian. Horseradish is "meerrettich" in German and because "meer" sounds like "mare" the English called it horseradish. Dandelion comes from the French "dent de lion" or lion's tooth, in reference to the jagged leaves of this bitter yet tasty weed.
Like horseradish, dandelion has quite a bite to it. It can be eaten raw or cooked and like other leafy greens, it is a good source of vitamin A, calcium and iron. But frankly, I'd never cooked with it until this weekend. I found a Jamie Oliver recipe for a potato salad using chopped dandelion greens and I also heard raves about a potato salad with chopped fresh mint, so I decided to combine the two.
It's May 12th, and asparagus season is nearly over here in Southern California. While the majority of the country enjoys asparagus from April to June, our season usually stretches from late February to early May.
I'm not sad though -- this season's asparagus has been superb. The smooth, svelte green stalks with delicate purple tinged tips have had a mildly earthy flavor and deliciously tender texture. Since I've been buying two bunches of asparagus nearly every week for the last two months, I've learned a few things, So here are some tips on how to select, store, and cook with asparagus.
How to select asparagus: What's better, thin or thick stalks of asparagus?
Both. No, that's not a typo. Every spring there is an endless debate over which is better, thin or thick stalks. Most people swear thick asparagus stalks are tough. I disagree. I have eaten many tender and flavorful thick stalks of asparagus. What' really important is the quality of the stalk: look for straight, firm green stalks with light purple tinged tips. Look at the bottoms of the stalks. If they're white, dry, and woody, then they're probably old. Also avoid shriveled, overly dry, or pitted stalks.
Pesto isn't just for basil, though traditionally that's what pesto is made of. The word pesto itself means "pounded" in Italian. Famous in Genoa, the pesto of basil, pine nuts, Parmesan and olive oil is a delicious sauce on pasta. But many herbs and/or greens can take the place of basil to create a flavorful pesto. In the past I've made it with parsley, cilantro and even ramp greens. This time I've made a pesto from radish greens.
It may sound crazy but I love using up every last remnant of vegetables. It's not unlike saving vegetables scraps for stock. I mean why throw anything away when it's good for flavor? Radish leaves are not only on the radish for show, they're very much edible as a pesto or even sautéed and tossed with pasta. They offer up a unique fresh and peppery flavor that enlivens the palate.
The next time you buy a bunch of radishes, save the greens and use them—you'll be pleasantly surprised. Try the pesto spread on sandwiches, mixed into pasta, or used as a sauce on pizza in place of tomato sauce.
People say we don’t have seasons in LA. Oh but we do my friends, we do. For example, now is Artichoke Season, a time when (if you’re lucky) you can find a farmer harvesting huge heavy artichokes with a long stem still attached. The artichoke head that we eat is the bud stage of a giant gorgeous purple flower. As the artichoke ages the “leaves” of the bud open ultimately revealing the choke which turns deep lavender. For eating you want the bud pretty tightly closed. And look for heavy artichokes. Heaviness means freshness. When the artichoke is freshly cut it’s cells are full of water. As time goes by the water transpires and evaporates leaving the vegetable light and dry.
You can use the artichoke heads as you wish: boiled, steamed, stuffed, trimmed and braised, hearts only. But don’t throw away the stems. If I’m feeling selfish I simply peel away the fibrous outer portion and munch the tender, crunchy, sweet and nutty inner stem. If I want to impress then I make this artichoke stem salad. You get one small portion for each stem. So it’s fun to have a two course meal. First, a pretty plated salad, then one big beautiful artichoke each to pluck, dip then scrape with your teeth.
Elegant…purely elegant is the word that comes to mind when I think of foxgloves and delphiniums. Very similar in appearance and growth habit, these two garden goodies are excellent additions the spring tableau and fantastic in arrangements.
Digitalis purpurea is the Latin name for foxgloves. The genus Digitalis gathers its name from the ease of which one’s fingers, or digits, can be capped by the floral bells cascading down their stalks. In literary lore, a fox could slip its paws into the bells and use them as gloves - thus the common name. I bet Beatrix Potter had something to do with that. Pinks, creams, lavenders, lilacs, yellows, peaches, and speckled mixes of them all abound in the foxglove color range.
As for other uses besides gorgeous garden elements, the Digitalis genus is used in cardiology to create several types of heart medicine and even some neurological medicines. Quite amazing considering the whole plant, roots, leaves, seeds, and stems are toxic! The pharmaceutical positives are extracted from the leaves…somewhat akin to using snake venom for medicine or a flu vaccination. Don’t worry about the toxicity…just don’t eat them!
It was one of those days. I had run all over town doing errands when suddenly it was 5 o’clock and I remembered that the fridge was uncharacteristically empty. I got home, ran up the stairs, ran into the kitchen slightly panicked (the Mom must be fed) and saw that the Farmers Market Fairy had come. Really. That’s what Linda calls herself. And in that moment I could have kissed her.
For years I had to be in the studio at KCRW every Wednesday morning for interviews so that meant I missed the Santa Monica market every week. Until Linda came into my life and started shopping for me. Now she’s my biggest luxury. Sitting on my counter were fresh strawberries, kumquats, spigariello, spinach, green garlic, CHERRIES!, Roan Mills bread and peas. Shelled peas, no less.
Over 10 years ago, my friend Karen offered to bring a spinach salad to one of our many Sunday night, 5 family dinners. Being the gracious hostess that I was, I gleefully said of course. Then I thought spinach salad, big whoop. Not so exciting, right? Wrong!
Spinach is spinach. It’s great in a baked pasta, sauteed with garlic, tossed in a big pot of lentil soup or eaten on a sandwich instead of lettuce. But spinach tossed with a dressing so out of the ordinary is addicting. The dressing is the perfect balance of savory and sweet therefore the “accessories” that are thrown in with the spinach is what makes this salad a winner.
A few years back, Karen picked up and moved her family back to Florida. But, she left her recipe and all of our great memories behind.
This is what spring looks like. Truly. So why not make a dish that takes the best of those green, grassy, sweet flavors, adds garlic, great olive oil and a hit of salt and serve it up in one dish? The subtle beauty of all these colors of green tangled together help us understand the idea of renewal inherent in the spring holiday celebrations of Easter or Passover.
In Italy it’s called cianfotta, the all purpose dish that changes with the seasons as new vegetables appear and leave the markets. This saute is one of my master recipes. Serve it as a side dish. Or to make it a bit more substantial for vegetarians add a handful of toasted pine nuts or almonds. For a one course dinner add nuts and a bit of soft or aged goat cheese.
This recipe is a template. You can add sliced and trimmed baby artichokes or fava beans. You may omit the mint or use onions instead of leeks. Some folks leave out the lettuce. It’s up to you.