My recent trip to the farmers’ market confirmed my suspicions: Spring has well and truly arrived, at least in my neck of the woods (Southern California). With pleasure, I spied a collection of seasonal harbingers: Asparagus! Green garlic! Rhubarb! It didn’t take me long to envision a menu that would show them off.
Asparagus, for me, is always a thrill. The sight of the first few bunches brings a broad smile. Those early spears are sweet enough to eat raw, so that is exactly how I chose to prepare them. A shaved asparagus salad was in order.
I sliced the spears lengthwise into thin ribbons, something, I recently discovered, that is quite easy to do with a long, sharp knife. (Formerly, I always used a mandoline, which makes nice ribbons but also courts danger. A knife is safer.)
The simplest version of this salad requires only extra-virgin olive oil and salt, with perhaps a squeeze of lemon. However, I decided to build a proper lemony vinaigrette with a few chopped anchovy fillets. Omit the anchovy in the dressing, if you wish, but it’s there to bolster flavor — not to taste fishy.
For color and texture, as well as a bit of sharpness, I added thinly sliced radishes. Any type of radish will work but, for a really vibrant salad, look for the many brilliant varieties of daikon radish available at many farmers’ markets now. These beauties come in a range of colors — crimson, scarlet, purple, even bright green. Or look for “watermelon” radishes, round and the size of golf balls. When sliced, these radishes reveal a multicolored cross-section. An easy salad to put together, this is a festive dish. You could even finish it with shavings of Parmesan or ricotta salata.
Green garlic is another cause for celebration, with its distinct, fresh character that’s pungent but not overpowering. When it first comes to market, its stalks may resemble slim green onions. Some specimens will have already formed the beginnings of a bulb at the root end. But, once the outer layer is peeled, both green and white parts of the stalk can be used, either chopped or pounded in a mortar. (If you cannot find green garlic, a combination of scallion and garlic chives makes a reasonable substitute.)
To give the green garlic a space to shine, I picked up a few pounds of yellow-fleshed Yukon Gold spuds from my favorite potato vendor. (That stand has the colorful radishes, too.) Then, I bought a free-range chicken and hatched a plan. I stuffed the bird with a generous amount of green garlic and a large handful of rosemary, sage and thyme sprigs. I roasted the chicken over wedges of potato so that all the fragrant garlicky chicken drippings infused the potatoes with incredible flavor. Crisp and golden, they rival the best rotisserie-style potatoes, those glistening ones that sit beneath spit-roasted chickens at some butcher shops. The chicken, of course, ends up nicely perfumed, too. (As a bonus, the carcass can be tossed into a saucepan, covered with water and simmered to make a small amount of garlicky broth for future use.)
As for the ruby red rhubarb that pops up this time of year, I knew at once that it would become a glorious fruit crumble — a relative of other homey desserts like crisps and buckles. Chopped into cubes and tossed with sugar and a bit of flour to help thicken the bright juices, the rhubarb gets a nubbly topping made from brown sugar, flour and butter, enhanced with a handful of optional chopped pistachio.
Baked until bubbly and browned, this irresistible dessert can be served with cold heavy cream, whipped cream or ice cream. I always hope for leftovers to enjoy for breakfast with a blob of yogurt. That way, I can continue the spring celebration well beyond a single meal.