Spring Ahead

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Now that it is mid-March in Minnesota, a girl can’t help but long for some sign of new life.  Watch me get ahead of myself here, but I am absolutely geared up for spring in the midwest.  The tall snow is melting into pools out there and the sun is a rare one, warm and optimistic.  Even the birds, I noticed on a walk this week, are singing new songs. 

Mostly what I desire this time of year though is the food of spring.  You shouldn’t be surprised.  I have begun to wear out the root vegetable dishes and hearty fare by now, which isn’t to say I won’t be eager for it this next fall and winter.  I look forward to the upcoming asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, and the many warm vegetables and greens of the spring.  Perusing my book shelf I notice a few impressive recipes from Dennis Cotter of Cafe Paradiso in County Cork, Ireland.  There’s the avacado and arugula risotto with shavings of goats’ cheese and lemon chili oil and the rhubarb and glazed pecan crumble with gingered rhubarb syrup that sound like a bit of heaven now.  And can you wait for the bowls of steaming cream and asparagus soup that are to come?  But my favorite asparagus recipe of all come spring is a savory asparagus and fontina bread pudding.  Eggs and rustic breads and cheeses and greens sound like spring to me and I simply cannot wait to indulge.

Speaking of the season, a pal and past employer of mine, Charlie Kersey, told me over the phone yesterday that his CSA farm in Willow River, MN called La Finca is beginning to get things in order for the season.  They’ve a new website for those interested in learning about the CSA, what they grow, how the shares work, where the drop-off points are, and even just a bit about them.  La Finca is in it’s second year of offering a chicken share as well, and they’ve just added a fall share if you’re interested.  My history with Charlie and the farm is such a fond one that I am always eager to promote them.  Charlie is really just one of those truly kind, down-to-earth, quietly wise, and hard-working fellows that you rarely encounter, and the produce reflects all of that.  La Finca is a beautiful place to visit; if you’re ever en route to Duluth from the Cities and long to stop and walk the fields to stretch your legs or speak to the chickens, Charlie would welcome you.  You would absolutely not be able to resist chomping on a few greens or a tomato while visiting, but please tell him and his wife, Tzeitel, and their new baby, Alida, I said hello…

Here’s a recipe to leave you with in hopes of spring from Alice Waters’ important cookbook Chez Panisse Vegetables:

Green Risotto with Fava Bean Puree, Peas, and Asparagus

1/2 lb young fava beans, olive oil, salt and pepper, 3/4 lb fresh green peas, 4 spears asparagus, 1 medium onion, 7 to 8 cups chicken stock, 4 1/2 tbs unsalted butter, 2 cups arborio rice, 1/3 cup dry white wine, 1/4 cup grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnishing

Shell the fava beans and discard the pods.  Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the favas, and simmer for 1 minute.  Drain them and cool them immediately in cold water.  Pierce the outer skin of the beans with your thumbnail and pop out each bean with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand.  Put the beans in a pot with a little olive oil, a little salt, and water just to cover, and cook slowly, until they are soft enough to puree but haven’t lost their color, about 15 to 20 minutes.  If necessary, add water as they are cooking to keep them from sticking.  Drain them and pass them through a food mill. 

Shell the peas.  Cut the asparagus on the diagonal into thin slices.  Peel and chop the onion into small dice. 

Heat the stock and keep at a low simmer.  In another heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 3 tbls of the butter, add the onion, and cook over medium heat until it is translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the rice and a pinch of salt and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes, stirring often, until the rice has turned slightly translucent.  Turn up the heat and pour in the white wine.  When the wine has been absorbed, add just enough hot stock to cover the rice, stir well, and reduce the heat.

Keep the rice at a gentle simmer and keep adding stock, a ladle or two at a time, letting each addition be almost completely absorbed by the rice before adding the next.  After about 10 minutes, the grains of rice will have softened somewhat but will still be hard in the center.  Stir in the peas and asparagus.  Continue to ladle in more stock, stirring before and after every addition.  After 5 minutes, add the rest of the butter, the cheese, and the fava puree.  Stir well.  Add more stock if needed: the risotto should have a saucy consistency.  Adjust the seasoning.  Serve in warm bowls, garnish with more of the parmesan.

Serves 6 to 8.

Cheers, Kristin