Saturday, May 25, 2019

Recipes for Spring Bounty

Spinach! Asparagus! Then comes Rhubarb! When May rolls around, I’m always surprised, if not outright shocked, by the sheer quantities of spring crops, all rolling in at the same time. When you eat in season, you get used to deciding what’s for dinner by looking at the garden. So starting in April, when the over-wintering spinach comes back to life with a vengeance, suddenly, the bed is busting with leafed-out greens!

I like a handful of spinach in nearly every soup I make, but that’s only handfuls! So, it’s spinach salad nearly every night. My preparation is simple:

Wash the greens thoroughly, and if they’re bigger than baby spinach, tear in two.
Top with thinly sliced carrots, and thawed frozen peas if you’ve got ‘em.

Best dressing with spinach, I’ve found, is balsamic vinaigrette:
In a medium-sized jar, steep 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic in a ¼ c to ½ cup of balsamic vinegar for a couple of hours (most robust and full-bodied flavored balsamic I’ve found is the Kirkland brand from Modena, Italy, at Costco). Before serving, add an equal amount of good quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and shake vigorously. Dress the greens generously, then sprinkle with roasted sunflower seeds. Yum!

Asparagus: Before the spinach starts bolting (soon becoming inedible), the asparagus tips start poking out of the ground. By mid-May, I’m picking 10 to 20 spears every day, and even more during a heat spell. When I go to town, I always bring some to share with family, but between our trips into civilization, our asparagus inventory really builds up! 

Even after you process your asparagus by snapping off the fibrous root ends, which takes care of nearly ½ the spear, you can still find yourself with far larger quantities than you can eat. (And frozen asparagus in my opinion, is yucky.) In an earlier blog, I mentioned how you can use up a LOT of asparagus with roasting with a splash of EVOO, a dash of salt, and a generous sprinkling of organic garlic powder.

My sister Patricia, a wonderful home chef, makes a cream of asparagus soup. Here’s my method, inspired by her recipe. Saute chopped onion, garlic, and celery in EVOO until soft, then remove to a separate container. Simmer a peeled potato and prepped asparagus (amount of your choice) in a small amount of chicken broth. When it’s soft, add the onion, garlic and celery back into the pot, add more chicken broth, and simmer together a few more minutes. Season to taste, then whirl it all together with a hand blender, and finish with an addition of milk or cream. Delish!

Rhubarb, the big challenge: 

Last week, our “main” rhubarb crown yielded nearly 50 high quality stalks. (I credit my big harvest to last fall’s top dressing with composted chicken manure. Which also may have dissuaded our local vole friends from nibbling the roots!) Then last night, I picked our “secondary” rhubarb patch and got another armful. I did ask myself, “Why, oh why did we plant a second patch of rhubarb? But the immediate dilemma was, what to do with 70 stalks of rhubarb? Again, I shared lots with my family, but in the end, it’s just John and me with all that rhubarb. I can’t bake enough rhubarb pies, crisps, and cakes to use it all up.

50 stalks of rhubarb!
On the other hand, this time of year, local fresh fruit is hard to find. The apples have been in storage for months, and show it—and they don’t taste very good either. And while strawberry season is getting closer, it’s still some weeks away. So, why not rhubarb for breakfast?

Granted, rhubarb needs a LOT of sugar to be palatable. While I’m a big dessert fiend at dinnertime, I try not to load up the first meal of the day with too much sweet stuff. This week, however, we ran out of our summer supply of frozen blueberries, and the organic apples at the store weren’t really worth the $2 or $3 a pound price tag, so that left rhubarb.

Happily, I had a quart of frozen marionberries from last summer. I simmered about 6 large stalks of diced rhubarb in maybe a 1/3 cup of water until it was soft but not totally mushy. Then I added the berries, simmered both just long enough to heat the berries through, then to sweeten things up, poured in about ¼ c of maple syrup. I heated the mixture just another couple of minutes, then removed the pan from the stove and stirred in a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. 

I knew the fruit would still be way too tart, so I added 1/3 cup of sweetened dried cranberries, and let them soften in the hot fruit. Once it was cool, I poured the panful into a large jar to keep in the fridge.
For breakie (about a ¾ c serving), I allow the fruit to come to room temperature, then add about a teaspoon of local honey (I didn’t want to cook the honey and lose any of the nutrients). The result: Rhubarb and berry Nirvana!

You may ask, what about the rest of your rhubarb harvest? This is where your freezer is your friend. Washed, diced rhubarb freezes nicely, and if you process it soon after picking, you’ll have all the high-quality ‘barb you need to make Rhubarb-strawberry crisp as soon as the strawberries come in, plus all your other rhubarb delicacies.

Note: best ever dessert I had in Ireland, the land of super-yummy sweets, was rhubarb crumble. I could tell there was more sugar in it then I could ever use in a recipe with good conscience, but heck, I was on vacation!

At any rate, if luck is with you, you’ll be able to use all up your rhubarb before next spring hits you again!