Spring

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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asparagusOf all the spring vegetables, asparagus is one of the easiest to prepare…simply grilled, oven roasted or shredded raw as a salad, it needs little more than salt and lemon to qualify as a side dish. But if you’re looking to dress up those slender stalks in a more elegant way, try this: Cold Poached Asparagus with Skinny Basil Mayonnaise.

When my children were little and I was housebound, I threw some pretty elaborate dinner parties (it was the only way I could make sure I had decent adult conversation and good wine once a week), and a starter salad of asparagus with basil aioli (which is simply homemade mayonnaise) was always in my spring rotation.

With just 40 calories a cup and loaded with folic acid, antioxidants and tummy filling fiber, asparagus is one of nature’s great gifts to dieters. But homemade mayo, which is made mostly of oil and egg yolks, is not.

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greenbeansWhether making a holiday meal or just a quick weeknight supper, finding a veggie side dish that packs a flavorful punch without a lot of fat or calories (and little effort or clean-up) is sometimes a mystery….so here’s one of my favorites: Oven Roasted Haricot Vert with Pistachio and Parmesan Gremolata.

Always skinny when naked–about 40 fat free calories per cup–Haricot Vert are simply very slender green beans that are loaded with nutrition.

But even in California, truly fresh haricots vert aren’t always easy to find...so, more often than not, I use the frozen ones that are available year ’round and don’t require blanching before roasting. (By the way, if you keep the frozen ones on hand, you’re likely to make them more often!)

And by sprinkling your beans with a rich but healthy Gremolata–a minced seasoning of parsley, garlic, lemon zest and a pinch of Parmesan and nuts–this quick and easy veg will have much more texture and flavor than any simple green bean dish…but with little extra work.

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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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springsauteThis 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.

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