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Early spring foods

By Staff | May 1, 2009

The days of late April have given a start to rhubarb, tarragon, and asparagus. Suzzanne Rye found rhubarb and tarragon easily, but the asparagus had only begun to emerge.

With the white of winter giving way to the green of spring, each rainfall provides additional greening of all living plants from grass to trees.

Some of the newly emerged green plants can be eaten and enjoyed as the first bounty of the new growing season.

Rhubarb, asparagus, chives, and tarragon are available now and cool weather vegetables such as radishes will not be far behind.

While farmer’s markets are not open yet in most places, anyone with a garden or permission from someone with a garden means that these very fresh and nearly ready-to-eat treats can be harvested and prepared in a matter of hours from the garden to the dinner plate.

Suzzanne Rye used the last days of April to look for the first of this year’s garden produce. She found rhubarb and some very early asparagus along with a few herbs from her herb garden.

The days of late April have given a start to rhubarb, tarragon, and asparagus. Suzzanne Rye found rhubarb and tarragon easily, but the asparagus had only begun to emerge.

Scouring local ditches for asparagus did not yield any results. A local garden had a few small shoots just emerging plus a few winter onions. It was too early for asparagus in any quantity so a trip to the local grocery store’s produce section provided asparagus in the needed quantity.

Fresh ingredients are a vital component in Suzzanne Rye’s meals. The meals she prepares usually reflect what is in season at the time of preparation. Farmer’s markets are a favorite shopping destination both at home and when vacationing.

She also uses the internet looking for recipes and reading favorite food sites devoted to cooking. The rhubarb coffee cake is from a New York City recipe.

Grilling outside is another favorite whether it is meat or vegetables. Family gatherings throughout the summer and into the fall always include food cooked on the grill.

Big Crumb rhubarb

Rhubarb, tarragon and asparagus are some of the first fruits to rise from the ground as the frost leaves and the sun warms the soil.

coffee cake

This cake has as much delicious crumb as it has cake. The ginger adds a new flavor twist to the traditional rhubarb coffee cake.

Butter an 8-by-8-inch pan and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

For the rhubarb filling:

1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces ( 1 1/2cups)

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

For the crumbs:

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup melted butter

1 3/4 cups flour

For the cake:

1/3 cup sour cream

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 8 pieces.

1. Toss rhubarb with sugar, cornstarch and ginger. Set aside.

2. To make crumbs, in a large bowl, whisk together sugars, spices, salt and butter until smooth. Stir in flour with a spatula. Set aside.

3. To prepare cake, in a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter and set aside.

4. Scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb over batter. Dollop set-aside batter over rhubarb; it does not have to be even.

5. Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. Sprinkle over cake. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter, 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving. Cut into 9 squares for serving.

Roasted fingerling

potatoes

I stole a couple of sprigs off the rosemary waiting to be planted in my herb garden for this tasty way to fix potatoes. If you do not have fingerling potatoes, you could slice a couple of russet potatoes into wedges.

1 pound fingerling potatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 sprigs rosemary

Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Finely chop rosemary leaves. Put potatoes into small bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with chopped rosemary leaves, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Spread potatoes in baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes, stir, then bake 10 minutes more or until tender.

Roasted asparagus,

pepper and onion

Any combination of vegetables will work, but I find the yellow pepper and red onion especially pretty with the new asparagus. I cut my asparagus spears in half so the vegetables are uniform in size. Another pretty combination is asparagus, red pepper and yellow onion.

1 bunch asparagus

1 yellow bell pepper

1/2 red onion

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Wash asparagus and dry in towel. Remove tough ends, then cut asparagus in half. Slice pepper and onion vertically (not rings) into quarter inch wide strips. Try to have vegetables uniform in length. Put vegetables in bowl, drizzle with olive oil. Add chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Line a large baking pan or cookie sheet with foil. Spread veggies on foil. Bake for 10 minutes. Stir. Bake another 5 to 10 minutes or until veggies just start to turn brown and are crisp tender. Taste for seasoning, adding a little more salt and pepper.

Grilled asparagus

with tarragon

Tarragon is almost as early as the chives in my herb garden and partners well with the asparagus.

1/3 cup butter

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 pounds asparagus spears, tough ends removed

Melt butter in large bowl, about 45 seconds in microwave. Add remaining ingredients.

Toss asparagus to coat with butter. Heat grill basket over hot coals. Using tongs, add asparagus to grill basket. Reserve bowl with remaining melted butter. Cook and stir asparagus for 6 to 8 minutes, until asparagus is marked and tender.

Or grill asparagus directly on your grill grate. Transfer asparagus back into bowl with the remaining melted butter. Toss to coat, adding another sprinkle of salt and another grind of black pepper.

Contact Clayton Rye by e-mail at “mailto:crye@wctatel.net”>crye@wctatel.net.

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