Spring

swisschard.jpgThe second coolest thing about Swiss chard is that it cooks so darn fast. (The first coolest thing being its amazing neon color—especially the Bright Lights and Rainbow varieties.) So I hate to spoil the party, but I’m going to. My recipe takes a bit longer than the standard sauté.

That’s because most recipes tell you to discard the chard stems and “use them for vegetable stock” or something else. (I know how many of you are busying yourselves making vegetable stock.) This is so you can then wilt the leaves like spinach and have a side dish in seconds. But if you have a few extra seconds (okay, minutes), you can simply slice up those stems and cook them until crisp-tender before adding the leaves to the pan. The stems add nice texture and make the side dish feel a little more substantial, too.

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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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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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fiddleheadsalardThese curlicue-shaped fiddlehead greens are a specialty of the forest. They are actually fern fronds. Fiddleheads have such a short season since they're picked before the ferns have a chance to unfurl their fronds. They're definitely a specialty that you'll only see sold in farmers' markets and served in restaurants as a special dish of the evening. Rather expensive, fiddleheads are still worth buying, because a little does go a long way. Just a handful can add interest to salads or side dishes.

Fiddleheads are just plain fun to look at. Their flavor is like that of asparagus or green beans, very fresh and crisp if cooked just right. It is recommended that fiddleheads be cooked for about 10 to 15 minutes to kill any toxins, but I've never had a problem with them cooked for a shorter amount of time. Before cooking, I like to trim any brown area from the stem and soak the fiddleheads in a few changes of water. Then just boil or steam them until tender. Shock in ice water to preserve the bright green color. The fronds can then be used in salads or sauteed with onions or garlic for simple side dish.

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ImageOne day it's pouring rain and the next it's sunny and bright. Trees are already blooming with cherry blossoms, the delicate pink petals sometimes getting washed away in a sudden downpour. The hills all around the Bay Area are green and lush. And in the store you can find fresh strawberries, artichokes and asparagus.

I think one of the reasons I love the Spring so much is the tender delicious fruits and vegetables. After eating hardy root vegetables and cabbage, chard, potatoes and leeks, the vegetables of Spring are a welcome change of pace. They are a wonderful reminder of new life and fresh beginnings.

Asparagus is available much of the year but in the Spring it is at it's best. My favorite way to serve asparagus is in risotto. I make a broth from the stems and add the tips and the tender stems to the rice at the last moment so it stays tender-crisp. While Winter vegetables are wonderful cooked in soup or mashed somehow Spring vegetables seem too delicate to manhandle in that way.

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