Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Spring Eats

It's springtime in New England (or so they tell us - don't look out the window), and my thoughts turn to seasonal goodies. Not just chocolate bunnies and jellybeans, but the earthier stuff... asparagus, fiddle heads, rhubarb. Grilling season quickly trumps these foods for me, so I'm reminding myself to relish them this year.

Asparagus is at my grocery store year-round these days, which makes me a bit sad. I miss the days when the appearance of those green spears in the produce aisle were a herald of spring along with the first robin. When asked why I ate things at my grandmother's table that I wouldn't eat at home, I swore to my mother that the asparagus from my grandparent's garden tasted better. I don't think she believed me, and why would she? I'm the child that told her I was too full to finish my dinner, but my ability to eat sweets was not impaired because my "dessert stomach" was not full.

I like to cook asparagus with salt, butter and lemon. I chop any leftovers to stir into potato salad with chives and dill. Everything's better with cream or butter in it, and I think dairy and asparagus compliment each other nicely. I mix the spears with grated asiago cheese and marscapone, in a buttered casserole dish. Some bread crumbs (I like panko for its crunch and lightness), pine nuts and a bit more cheese on top and baked until heated through - heaven. You can also cook the tenderest part of the spears in butter and white wine, puree, and reheat (adding cream to taste of course). It looks healthy and springy, but is rich and creamy like soup should be during mud season.

Fiddleheads are good in a foil packet with butter, salt and pepper, tossed on the grill to steam. Don't tell my mother I eat local greens (some of them right out of the woods!) now. I gave her so much grief as a kid when it came to vegetables.

Oh that I could match my grandmother's rhubarb pie. There's a trick to solving the pie soup problem (gelatin, tapioca or flour), but I've not mastered it. Rhubarb sauce over vanilla ice cream is all I can manage, and it's pretty good. The sweet tart smell of cooking rhubarb reminds me of late afternoon sit-down dinners with my grandparents, and the flower patterned tea cups for coffee that were set out next to dessert. Being a "grownup" brought about two changes in my life - I got a cup and saucer of my own at my grandmother's table, and my mother no longer felt she must set a good example and served pie and coffee for breakfast. I highly recommend fruit pie, hot coffee and a good book on a sunny front stoop in the morning.

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