Spring peas require patience. You have to take the time to go to the farmer’s market to find them and then you have to remove them from their pods. If you have a lazy afternoon ahead and you want to sit on your front porch rocking in a chair and chatting with neighbors, by all means, shell a bunch of peas. Me? When a recipe calls for fresh peas vs. frozen peas, I always opt for frozen peas. Because they’re always so good and sweet. And because I don’t have a porch. And because I’m lazy. Stop judging me.
Hold your ears, short ribs, and hide your eyes pork butt: lamb shoulder is quickly becoming my favorite cut of meat to cook at home. I’ve sung its praises before here on the blog, but lately I’ve been on a real lamb shoulder kick. I made April Bloomfield’s version for a crowd recently and they all went nuts for it (hers has anchovies in the mix, which show up in today’s version in the olive tapenade; anchovies and lamb make a surprisingly good match) but even the simplest version–today’s comes from my friend Clotilde–can still wow. And now that it’s spring, it’s a perfect thing to serve along with white beans (traditionally flageolets) and a zesty olive tapenade.
You can taste great food in your head long after you first experience it. That’s the case for me and the rhubarb cocktail I drank at Franny’s in 2009. Most rhubarb drinks have a cooked quality to them; the rhubarb is generally poached in a sugar syrup. The Franny’s rhubarb drink (which, apparently, is made with Aperol) is nothing like that. The rhubarb flavor (which comes from juicing rhubarb raw) is intense and sharp and the cocktail, as a whole, is incredibly bracing. It’s the kind of drink that makes you sit up in your seat, alert and ready for dinner.
On May 1st, Zhenya wrote me an e-mail: “I just picked a ton of very young stinging nettles and would be happy to give you at least half a ton…. Let me know if you’re interested.” Stinging nettles? Interested? I would have to seriously think about this.
A good argument to be made about the farmer’s market is: if you really believe in it, and go there to support farmers and local, sustainable agriculture, you should patronize it all year, including those rough months of winter.
That is a good argument but, unfortunately, a rather impractical one. I mean when it’s bitter cold out, I can barely get myself out the front door, let alone 14 blocks north and 3 avenues east to the farmer’s market. In my own defense, though, when the weather turns nice? I’m there in a heartbeat.
I’ll admit, I get lazy when it comes to eating seasonally. It’s easier to pop into the grocery store across the street, where lemons, onions and garlic look the same the whole year round, than it is to march all the way up to the Union Square Greenmarket on a windy or rainy spring day. On a Saturday, however, the rules change: I forcibly remove myself from the world wide web and make a point, especially in spring, summer and fall, to go pay a visit to the Union Square farmers. Sometimes I come home with just honey or maple syrup; other times I buy flowers (the lilacs I bought a few weeks ago made it into my newsletter.) This past Saturday I came home with ramps (despite my ramp-ambivalence) and asparagus and a few hours later I whipped up a dinner (the one you see above) that I declared to be one of the best meals I’ve ever made. And I give 100% of the credit to what I found at the farmer’s market.
I used to be very confused about seasonal food. I understood the basic idea–that you should buy food when it’s in season, at its peak–but what I didn’t understand is that because most supermarkets in America stock these “seasonal” foods all-year round (tomatoes and watermelon in winter), the only real way to experience seasonal food is by going to farmer’s markets.
Broccoli rabe is usually the first thing I buy at the farmer’s market when the weather gets warmer. It’s a transitional vegetable: something that bridges us from the dark and murky vegetables of winter to the bright and sprightly vegetables of summer. Raw, it tastes rather fresh and green, but cooked, it takes on all these wonderful qualities–it becomes bitter and complex and, as Lydia Bastianich says when she cooks with it on this old episode of Julia Child: “almondy.”