Spring

Artie-Salad2People 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.

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casemangoesA week without a trip to the farmers' market is like a week without the sun: it makes me grumpy. I can’t remember the last time I bought produce in a regular grocery store. Sure, I go to the supermarket for eggs, milk, and cereal, but fruits and vegetables come from the farmers. So, what I did other day, shocked me. I tell myself it a was just a transgression.

I was at Costco stocking up on bottled water, protein powder, and toilet paper (why two people need 36 rolls of Northern toilet tissue, I’ll never know). On my way to the protein powder, I passed pineapples, tall, fragrant, ripe pineapples each topped with a crown fit for a king. They had no brown spots, no fuzzy fur on the bottoms—they were perfect. Better yet, they were only $2.99 each. I couldn’t believe it! I put two in my carriage and buried them under the toilet paper.

Not 20 feet later on my way to the water, I passed a mountain of mangoes, whose green and yellow skins were taut and unblemished. Having just paid $1.75 each for some (which weren’t even good), I stopped to check the price -- $8 for a whole case! I debated whether or not to buy them. What would we do with a whole case of mangoes? Would they be sweet? What if they all ripened at the same time?

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tomatoes.jpgJudging by the latest rain storms and night time cold, it's still winter, at least the Southern California version.  But a walk through our local farmers' market (the Wednesday Santa Monica and Sunday Pacific Palisades Farmers' Markets) and you'd think it was summertime.  Just about everything you could want is in the market, with the exception of fresh corn and pluots.  Tomatoes are showing up again and they're beautiful, but they're better for roasting than eating raw.

One of my favorite recipes (and one of the easiest) uses those late winter tomatoes to good advantage. Some farmers this time of year mark down their mottled and misshapen tomatoes.  Eaten raw, they aren't desirable, but roasted and used with pasta or in a sauce, they're delicious.

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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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grilledasparagusThis is the perfect time of year to serve fresh asparagus and one great method for cooking is an indoor grill pan.

I generally prefer the thin stalks for steaming and fat stalks for grilling, but use whatever you want – fat, thin, green or white. Choose bunches with tightly closed tips and no flowering.

Delicious asparagus depends on freshness and proper preparation. Pan grilling gives you slightly charred stalks with delicious brown spots that you get from roasting or barbecuing without having to heat up your oven or grill.

The lemon vinaigrette enhances the dish perfectly and adds to the bright fresh flavor of the asparagus.

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