Spring

cherriesinwhitebowlI think most people who shop at farmers’ markets are willing to pay a little more for produce because it’s fresher. There are certain items, however, that are notorious for causing people to balk, such as passionfruit, figs, and, currently, cherries.

These fruits all share common traits: they are unique in flavor and appearance, their season is maddeningly short, and they elicit awe in their viewers. Seriously. This past Sunday, I was expecting harp music to start emanating from the cherry table. It’s no surprise; who can resist gushing over fresh cherries? Both kids and adults are smitten by their cheerful color and juicy sweetness. In fact, one farmer was generously offering samples of bing cherries (pictured above) and was practically sainted by grateful market-goers. It doesn’t take much to make us happy.

Despite our love affair with this precious fruit, some people can’t help but haggle over the price, which is about $6-8 per pound. Let me tell you something: No amount of pleading or applauding will get farmers to budge on the price. Why? Because cherries are difficult to grow. They are highly susceptible to insect damage and disease and need to be carefully monitored. They are also highly dependent upon good weather. Even if the cherries make it to fruition, they are prey to birds that are attracted to their bright red color and sweet juice, and typically need to be protected with netting or cheesecloth. Finally, they must picked carefully and are highly perishable, since they do not ripen once harvested. This all adds up to a labor intensive and expensive fruit to produce, which is why the price is high.

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Before they disappear, run out and get those early season asparagus and fresh garlic bulbs and make this dish or the kitchen gods will be angry. This is a very versatile soup – it can be eaten, hot, lukewarm and cold. Unlike 99.99% of asparagus soups served in restaurants especially those in Paris, this soup has no cream. But it does have a secret fatty ingredient.

1.5 pounds asparagus – chopped
Reserve tips of 3 asparagus and mince very finely
4 cloves fresh spring garlic – garlic greens are also good (for a nice switcheroo substitute baby or spring ginger which is just coming into season – about a 1/2 inch piece chopped)
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup sake or dry white wine like a sauvignon blanc
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Couple of pinches of coriander powder

1. Heat stock for 2 minutes; add all the ingredients except the minced asparagus tips and coriander. Heat under medium heat (covered) for 10 minutes.

2. Pour contents in a blender (if you have a Vitamix there is no need to strain it, but you may want to strain it to remove any woody asparagus pulp if you have a regular blender) for 3 minutes until completely smooth.

3. Pour contents back in pot under low heat for 10 minutes, add coriander powder and adjust salt.

4. Serve in bowls and garnish with minced asparagus.

favabeansYou probably know ricotta as the cheese that goes in lasagne or manicotti but ricotta is so much more. If you've ever had ricotta straight out of the container or tried freshly made ricotta, you know exactly what I mean. It's luscious, creamy and sweet all on its own. Ricotta is amazing simply spread on toast or served as a snack or appetizer. It can even be a dessert—I like it drizzled with honey.

I had a dish of ricotta as a starter to a wonderful lunch at Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria. Even after platters of salumi, plates of pasta and panini, I was most enamored with a simple dish of ricotta with fava beans, so much so that I decided to recreate the dish at home. It's so easy to do that it's practically effortless and there's almost no cooking involved except for blanching the fresh favas.

Here it is much like the original. A drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper is the only flavoring the ricotta needs. Creamy spring fava beans add a nice textural contrast. And fresh herbs add bursts of flavor with every spoonful. Serve it over toasted bread, such as crostini, for the best pairing.

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peashootsA couple of weeks ago I experienced a revelation: I tasted my first pea shoot.

I was at the Little Italy Mercato buying Asian produce from The Vangs, also known as Mr. and Mrs. Green. After purchasing Thai basil, fresh ginger and sugar snap peas, I asked, "What do pea shoots taste like?"

She replied, with no sarcasm, "Peas."

She tore a small piece off one of the leaves and handed it to me. I bit into it and suddenly the sun broke through the clouds, harp music began playing, and I floated ever so slightly off of the pavement.

OK, that's not exactly what happened. There was no harp music. It was Spanish music being played by a local band.

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From the L.A. Times

boysenberry.jpgTo the uninitiated, the boysenberry may look like a big, blowzy, underripe blackberry, but it is in fact a noble fruit, as distinct from a common blackberry as a thoroughbred is from a mule.

Large, dark purple, juicy and intense, it derives its unique flavor from its complex ancestry: sweetness and floral aroma from its raspberry grandmother, and a winy, feral tang from three native blackberry species.

It's a California classic, emblematic of the joys of growing up in the Southland before it succumbed completely to sprawl. And it's all the more precious, despite its near extinction in this state, because it evokes why people moved here in the first place.

But Boysens can still be found if you know where to look, although their season is brief — late May to early July — and they are so delicate that as a fresh fruit they can be enjoyed at their best only from farmers markets, farm stands and home gardens.

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