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First Tastes of Spring

From the River City Kitchen

At last the long hard days of winter are drawing to an end. Cool-weather vegetables such as asparagus, fresh peas, crunchy radishes and rhubarb are the first local fruits of the garden to grace our tables. Their presence trumpets the arrival of spring and the beginning of the much-awaited season of fresh local produce.

Fresh local asparagus is one of the delights of the year. Its appearance signals that the seasons are finally changing. Whereas imported asparagus is available year-round, the stalks of a tender, freshly picked asparagus offer a flavor far more sublime than the out-of-season variety. Look for firm, bright green stalks with tightly closed tips.  

A fresh, young English pea is so tender and sweet that it is best eaten raw straight from the pod. This favorite of all ages can be tossed cold in salads or warm with pasta. They truly shine in a creamy risotto accented with bright lemon zest.

Radishes are at their best when grown in the cool weather of spring. These cheerful little vegetables add color and a peppery flavor to the table. Wash them well, cut off the root and leaves, and slice thinly. As the French, serve radishes simply with sea salt for dipping, fresh butter and a crusty baguette. They also make a lively addition to salads, sandwiches and soups. 

Rhubarb is a vegetable that pretends to be a fruit. A stalk resembles a rib of celery except that it is a rich red color. Be sure to remove the poisonous leaves as only the tart stalk of this plant is edible. Sweeten this extremely tart vegetable with sugar and your favorite fruits for traditional desserts such as crumbles, crisps and tarts.

Asparagus with Citrus, Parsley and Garlic 

From Molto Italiano by Mario Batali

Serves 4 to 6

1 ½ lbs. jumbo asparagus

Zest and juice of 2 large lemons

Zest of 1 orange

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 tbsp. finely chopped Italian parsley

2 tbsp. fresh mint, cut into chiffonade

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Coarse sea salt

Snap off the fibrous bottom part of each stalk of asparagus. Bring 4 qts. of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 3 tbsp. salt. Set up an ice bath next to the stovetop. Drop the asparagus into the boiling water, and cook until crisp-tender, about 1 ½ minutes. Remove and immediately submerge in the ice bath to cool for 5 minutes, moving the stalks frequently to be sure no hot spots remain; add more ice if it all melts.

Remove the asparagus and drain on a kitchen towel, then transfer to a large bowl. Add the lemon zest and juice, orange zest, garlic, parsley, mint and olive oil, and toss gently to mix well. Arrange the spears on a platter, and pour the mixture remaining in the bowl over them. Sprinkle with the sea salt, and serve with a flourish.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble 

From Food to Live By by Myra Goodman

Makes one 2-quart crumble

For the filling:

2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered (about 3 cups)

1 lb. fresh rhubarb, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces (about 3 cups)

½ cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour

¼ cup minced crystallized ginger

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

For the topping:

½ cup whole wheat pastry flour

¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)

½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. ground ginger

Pinch of salt

8 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits

Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, for serving

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 375° F.

Make the filling: Place the strawberries, rhubarb and granulated sugar in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Add the flour, crystallized ginger and lemon juice, and stir to combine. Set the filling aside.

Make the topping: Place the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt in a medium-size bowl, and stir to combine. Add the butter. Using a pastry blender, two knives or your fingers, blend the butter into the mixture until it is crumbly and well combined.

Transfer the filling to a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Loosely crumble the topping over the filling.  

Bake the crumble until the filling bubbles up around the edge of the baking dish and the topping turns golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve the crumble hot or warm, with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.