When the first warm flutterings and tweets of actual birds arrive, it’s time to awaken our bodies, naturally. You might notice that you need a bit of a boost to increase your energy. Our bodies are starting to crave those vegetables that arrive in spring and reject the root vegetables that we have been consuming for several months. Booooring.
Though it is officially spring, we are finding spring vegetables – artichokes, asparagus, spring onions – in the markets, but they are still the same vegetables that got shipped in all winter, and not the spring vegetables from local farms, yet. What we will find soon, if we forage, are ramps, nettles, dandelion greens and sorrel. Now we’re talking.
Nettles or stinging nettles have dreadful spikes and need to be harvested with gloves. When you boil them the spikes are gone. You can eat nettles as a green vegetable or sip them as a tea. They are a real tonic of minerals and amino acids. A few raw dandelion greens in your salads will encourage liver, gallbladder and intestinal happiness. (You know, if they are happy, so are you.) Sorrel makes a great soup called schav, a longtime Eastern European favorite, and it practically makes itself. When sorrel heats it dissolves. Grow some in your garden and it comes back year after year.
Many cultures have in their repertoire dishes that combine spring’s bounty. Vegetable ragouts or medleys are one of them. The Romans made vignerola with artichokes, fava beans, olive oil, onion, oregano, a bit of pancetta, peas, parsley, mint and lemon juice. The French make artichoke barigoule with artichokes, olive oil, garlic, parsley, onion, fennel, carrots, celery, white wine and broth. In Lucca, Tuscany, they have been making a soup since the 16th century called garmugia, which contains spring onions, artichokes, asparagus, fava beans (also called broad beans), a bit of ground veal or beef, some pancetta, vegetable stock and salt and pepper. These recipes vary according to families and locations.
They are all perfect examples of using food as medicine. Here is a recipe that you can try. The vegetables get blanched or parboiled first, separately, so that they retain their flavor and texture. Then they get assembled with some broth, olive oil and seasoning. Pick which vegetables you prefer, more or less, and you will fall in love with the mélange.
Recipe | perk up
SPRING VEGETABLE RAGOUT
1 cup frozen or 3 fresh artichokes
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, and more to garnish
2 garlic cloves, minced
10-12 stems parsley, leaves only, chopped
¼ lb. oyster mushrooms or other wild or cultivated mushroom, cleaned and sliced
4 green onions, trimmed, white parts only
8 asparagus tips
1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
1 cup frozen edamame or fava beans
1 cup snap peas, ends trimmed
6-8 baby carrots or 2 carrots cut long on the bias
6 new potatoes, halved
½-1 cup vegetable stock*
2 radishes, sliced paper-thin
freshly ground black pepper
pinch cane sugar
1) If using fresh artichokes, prepare a bowl with water and lemon juice, and prepare a saucepan with two cups of slightly salted water to boil. Cut the stems and pull off leaves until the pale green part, then pare the dark green parts. Cut into quarters and remove the choke. Put into the lemon water. When it’s all cut up, remove and put all the pieces into the boiling water to parboil for about five minutes, then remove. Save the water.
2) Prepare a bowl with ice water. Blanch the asparagus tips for about one minute. Remove and place in the ice water and set aside. Blanch the green peas for about one minute; place in ice bath, remove, set aside. Blanch the edamame for about two minutes; place in ice bath, remove, set aside. Blanch the snap peas and do the same. Blanch the carrots for about four minutes; place in ice bath, remove, set aside.
3) The potatoes should be small and all about the same size. Little blue potatoes are nice to use here. Cut them in half and parboil for about four to five minutes or until they are just tender. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Cut about four very thin slices of lemon circles.
4) Sauté the garlic and half the parsley in olive oil. Add the mushrooms until slightly wilted. Then add the prepared artichokes and sauté for about seven minutes. Add the green onions and the potatoes and carrots for another few minutes until cooked through. Add the thin lemon slices. Then add the peas, edamame and snap peas. Toss well. Add the vegetable stock to moisten. Cook together, uncovered, for about four more minutes, tossing occasionally, until heated through.
5) Season the vegetables with salt, pepper and a pinch of cane sugar and toss well. Add the rest of the parsley. Place in a serving bowl. Slice the radishes using a mandoline to get them paper-thin, and toss, uncooked, on top. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon to freshen. Serve hot or at room temperature while admiring the colors.
*Come spring, make a broth with the ends and scraps of vegetables that you have saved in a bag in the freezer: onions and skins, stems, ends, garlic stems and paper, cores, tomato skins et cetera. Add some fresh herbs, like parsley stems, thyme branches, bay leaves and a couple of whole unpeeled garlic cloves, some slices of fresh ginger and slices of fresh turmeric, a few peppercorns. Cover with water and bring to a boil, then simmer for at least an hour and up to four hours. Strain well. This makes a great tonic to slurp and sip and flavorful broth base for any spring dish – no bones about it.
Read more about local cuisine and learn about new restaurants on Ulster Publishing’s www.DineHudsonValley.com or www.HudsonValleyAlmanacWeekly.com/category/columns/taste/.