Spring

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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linguineEvery Friday night I like to do pasta night. I love pasta dishes because they're quick to make and so satisfying to eat. And they don't at all need to be complicated. Sometimes all you need are a few pantry staples like canned tomatoes, capers, or olives to make a delicious sauce that doesn't take hours to cook. That's the true appeal of pasta.

Oftentimes when I don't feel like eating meat I'll whip together a vegetarian-style pasta or I'll make a quick Carbonara. Other times I'll make pasta with fish, adding seared cubes of fish to finish cooking in the sauce—you'd be surprised how wonderful fish is with tomato sauce. This recipe for pasta with swordfish is one of my favorites.

The best part about this recipe is that you use one pan (not including the pasta pot). Start by making the lemon and parsley crumb topping. Then wipe out the pan and sear the fish. And finally make the sauce and cook the pasta. Once it's all done, add the fish back to the pan along with the pasta to let the flavors mingle. Serve the pasta sprinkled with the crumbs instead of grated Parmesan, since cheese on fish is frowned upon by Italians (and I happen to agree with that assessment). Enjoy this dish for dinner any night—it's also great for Lent.

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strawberries.jpgWhen my in-laws from Rhode Island were visiting recently, I mentioned that our strawberry season was coming to a close.

My mother-in-law said, "You mean it's starting, right?

"Nope," I said. "California's strawberry season usually starts in January and ends in June."

"But I don't understand. That's when our strawberry season is just starting," she said. 

Exactly.

California is the advanced-gifted child in the classroom of strawberry production. The United States produces about 2 billion pounds of strawberries every year, 90% of which are grown here. Thanks to our temperate climate, we're able to produce strawberries in the wintertime and ship them across the country. That's why people in Massachusetts can buy fresh strawberries at the Stop & Shop in frigid February.

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lemonfennelchickenMediterranean flavors are the ones I turn to when I'm in a cooking rut and can't figure out what to make. That's when I cook with ingredients like lemons, olives, capers, canned tomatoes, fennel, garlic, herbs and olive oil. I always have them on hand in my pantry and refrigerator for back up. It's easy to apply these flavors to give any recipe for chicken, fish and even meat a Mediterranean feel.

In this recipe I'm using lemon, fennel, and olives for an easy oven tray bake. But for some extra interest I'm not just using any lemons, instead I'm using Meyer lemons, which are more flavorful and sweeter than regular lemons. Thinly sliced and roasted along with the fennel, they become soft and entirely edible. Plus I use the lemon juice for a marinade. All the flavors harmonize so well together

Using chicken cutlets for this recipe makes it come together very quickly. You can also make this recipe with fish, such as halibut or cod fillets. Simply continue to roast until the fish flakes easily. If you don't have access to Meyer lemons, use regular lemons or even oranges. And don't discard the fennel fronds, use it for garnish.

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babyartichokes.jpgAccording to In Style, shades of gray, scarlet, and yellow are hot this spring. I, however, prefer green and purple, as in fresh English pea green and baby artichoke purple. Apparently, so do San Diego's farmers; our farmers' markets have some of the most stylish looking artichokes around – ranging from petite purple baby artichokes to hefty, celery green Big Heart artichokes.

Despite their diminutive size, baby artichokes are fully mature artichokes with a full-bodied, earthy flavor. They simply don't grow as large as Globe or Big Heart artichokes because they're picked from the lower part of the artichoke plant. As a result, the characteristic fuzzy choke isn't all that fuzzy and can be eaten. Indeed, other than a few tough outer leaves, the entire artichoke is edible.

Baby artichokes are delicious in many dishes ranging from risotto and pasta to salads and soups. Paired with Italian Farro or emmer, as in this Farro with Baby Artichokes, Mushrooms, and Peas, baby artichokes are exceptionally stylish.

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