Spring

kalemixLet’s talk about spring greens, specifically baby kale. I am very excited that baby kale is finally making it into mainstream supermarkets. I’ve seen more of it just in the last couple months, since I first mentioned it in a blog post back in February. Mostly I am excited because baby kale is a much more versatile veggie than mature kale. It is also tastier, more tender, and a whole lot more palatable. Roy and Farmer both eat the stuff without blinking.

I’ve never been a big fan of the tough leaves of huge, curly-type kales, and in fact, when I wrote Fast, Fresh & Green four years ago, I insisted that everyone par-boil kale before using it in most other dishes, or confine it to soups and braises. I still think it’s a good idea to soften kale first before adding it to pastas or gratins, but now I don’t necessarily freak out when I see chefs and cooks “sautéing” raw kale. With a young or tender variety, a simple sauté is just fine. (But try “sautéing” the older, tougher leaves and you will still have something pretty chewy on your plate.) I’m even embracing kale salads!

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mizunasaladGrowing up "salad" meant a plate with iceberg lettuce, cucumber, carrot, and tomato slices, and bottled Catalina dressing.

Like TV's, salads have come a long way since then.

I remember in the 80's everyone started eating Caesar salad, and romaine bumped iceberg as the lettuce of choice. Then sometime in the '90s peppery salad leaves like arugula and radicchio were clandestinely added to salad plates. Back then people would disparagingly call them "the lettuce that bites you back." Ah, how things have changed.

Then came mesclun, and salad was never the same. Mesculn is a mix of tender, young salad leaves. Its name comes from the French mescla meaning "to mix." Mesclun varies depending on the source but may include arugula, mustard greens, oak leaf, radicchio, red beet greens, and sorrel.

The first time Jeff and I ate fresh mesclun from the farmers' market here in California we were taken aback:

"Wow! This salad has lots of flavor. You can really taste the greens," Jeff said.

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radishesThis really isn't a recipe—it doesn't even involve cooking or assembly. It's just a few simple ingredients brought together in a perfect way: radishes, butter, and salt. Most people don't give radishes a second thought mainly because they don't eat them. As I've shown in recipes before and will show this week, radishes can be made into many different dishes with ones that are even cooked. But the absolute best way to eat them is with just a little salt and butter.



Radishes are a very humble vegetable, so you would never expect to eat them anywhere but home, let alone find them served at a high-end restaurant. But a few years ago at ABC Kitchen I was served radishes with salt, bread, and butter.

I couldn't believe my eyes because it was such a simple presentation but a very effective one that truly represented the restaurant's "green" objective very clearly—it was all about the fresh produce. Besides all the wondeful dishes I enjoyed that evening, the radishes really stood out in my mind and memory—it's why I'm writing about them now.

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affrettoA couple of weekends ago at the Little Italy Mercato, as I was peacefully sorting through ears of sweet corn, I heard a woman scream, "Oh, my God! I can't believe it!"

Curious, I followed the voice, and noticed a woman a few tables ahead with her arms waving wildly in the air. She was talking rapidly and loudly and began jumping as if she were standing on hot coals.

"Oh, my God! I haven't seen that since I lived in Italy," she exclaimed.

What? What hadn't she seen since she lived in Italy? Gargantuan globe artichokes? We have those in San Diego. Mint green Vespas? Got 'em. A hot Italian guy? We have many of them, especially at Sogno di Vino and Bencotto in Little Italy. You're welcome, ladies.

Turns out what thrilled her was finding agretti, a springtime Mediterranean succulent, or water-retaining plant. With its verdant color and feathery texture, agretti looks like a cross between fennel fronds, rosemary, and grass.

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foxglovesElegant…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!

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