You have all heard the term egocentric which means regarding the self as the center of all things. Well, I have coined a new word, seasoncentric, meaning obsessed with all things seasonal. This describes me as I saunter through the farmers market excited and overwhelmed by the vision of the available bounty. I couldn’t resist taking my camera along so I could capture the fleeting moment to be remembered as spring wanes. Vendor after vendor offering asparagus, spring onions, parsnips, spinach, rhubarb and yes, the treasured morels. That’s right, they have arrived! I admit at $80.00/ pound they exceeded my budget but I will keep looking hoping to forage a few in our woods or perhaps finding them at a more reasonable price point. Prized by many, nothing excites my palate more than these wild mushrooms. Like ramps, they are available for a very short window, are in short supply and a precious reminder of nature’s gifts.
Being at the market yesterday reminded me of Italy. The homeland of my ancestors, I am always struck by the focus on the seasons. Just like I mentioned in my post last week, the philosophy of beautiful food simply prepared is so prevalent there. I remember visiting in June a few years back and seeing a vendor in Rome selling bags of chestnuts he was roasting on a little street cart. The smell was intoxicating and the scene so quaint I couldn’t resist the temptation. One of the Italians we were traveling with looked at me in shock and said, “why eat December food in the summer?” I felt like such a tourist.
Similar to the Italian people at their markets I traveled through the sea of seasonal offerings yesterday in search of the best looking at the best price so I could take the prizes home and create something mouth-watering. My breakfast this morning was an asparagus, spring onion and spinach frittata topped with some Parmigiano Reggiano, Yum!
Available in abundance at the market and also growing in my garden, asparagus is at the height of its season so I tend to eat it everyday. That said, I must share one of my favorite spring preparations. Simple ingredients, colossal flavor, it goes down like this.
LEMON ASPARAGUS PASTA Serves 6
Recipe adapted from Red, White, and Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables by Faith Heller Willinger
1lb fresh asparagus
2T sea salt
1T fresh lemon zest, finely grated (preferably organic)
¼ c extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb penne rigate pasta (preferably Italian)
¾ c Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
2T Italian flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
- Grab end of asparagus stem and snap off tough ends. Discard. Cut into 1 inch pieces, separate tips and set aside. Cook asparagus stems in 5-6 quarts boiling water with 2 T sea salt, until very tender, 6-8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider to a colander, reserving cooking water in pot, and rinse under cold water. Drain well and transfer to a food processor.
- Cook asparagus tips in same boiling water until just tender 3-5 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon or spider to a bowl of ice water, again reserving cooking water in pot. Set aside.
- Puree asparagus stems with lemon zest, oil, and ½ c asparagus cooking water. Set aside.
- Cook pasta in boiling asparagus cooking water until it is al dente, around ¾ of the recommended cooking time. Reserve 2 cups cooking water and drain pasta.
- Put pasta back in pan, add ½ c reserved water to asparagus sauce and stir into pasta. Cook over medium high heat stirring 3-5 minutes. Add asparagus tips and cooking water ¼ c at a time until sauce coats pasta. Sauce should be thickened but not too thick, as the cheese will thicken it slightly.
- Stir in Parmigano-Reggiano and salt and pepper to taste cook, stirring, until cheese is melted. Transfer to platter arranging the bright green tips so they are highly visible. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and additional cheese.
I have made this many times as well as featured it in class. I can say without hesitation it is a recipe you will want to include in your seasonal rotation. The fresh pop of the lemon paired with the grassiness of the asparagus and the nutty Parmesan makes a palate pleasing combination everybody loves. I guarantee.
I have told you about the produce but our market would not be complete without the “Raging Grannnies” singing their anti-war songs and the music offerings of the National Guard Jazz band. Just goes to show there is room for all of us no matter what your philosophy.
So go forward, choose your favorite seasonal ingredients and spread the love, one dish at a time. Sending it out to you on this beautiful spring day. With love, Jeanne