Spring is just around the corner and that means a new vegetable season.
Some grocery stores are now letting you know which produce is local. Make sure to look for the signs if you want the freshest available.
Vegetables such as asparagus will start showing up at stores in February. Broccoli rabe will soon follow, and although spinach is available year around, you might find fresh picked spinach at the local farmers market soon as well.
In the old days, the new season meant a significant menu change was at hand. Farm-to-table and seasonal foods were a way of life back then.
Today farm-to-table is a fad of sorts, but it is a very good one, based on sound ideas. Locally grown foods are fresh, and picked at the heights of ripeness and flavor. Store-bought produce must have a two-week shelf-life, so it is picked a bit early. Store-bought is fine if it is reasonably fresh, blemish free and affordable, but local will win the taste contest every time.
Some of the best restaurants abide by that principle, and they do the best they can to buy from local sources. Chefs have the good stuff figured out, and so should you.
Here are a few simple recipes I hope you enjoy.
Garlic Sauté Broccoli Rabe
This is as simple, and delicious as it gets.
1/4 cup best quality olive oil
3-4 cloves thinly sliced garlic
Large pinch red pepper flakes
1-pound fresh broccoli rabe, ends trimmed
Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a simmer. Add the broccoli rabe and cook until the thickest stems are almost tender. Drain thoroughly and set aside. Heat the oil in a heavy bottom sauté pan, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic starts to brown. Add the broccoli rabe and toss well. Cook for just a minute or two, then serve at once as a delicious side. If you want to make this a main course, add steamed rice.
Spinach and Pasta
It’s hard to imagine a dish easier than this, or more delicious. Just don’t forget the Parmigiano-Reggiano!
3-4 cups fresh spinach (doesn’t have to be baby)
1-pound thick pasta, like pappardelle
3-4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
Best quality olive oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes
Prepare the pasta to package directions, making sure it is al dente (not overcooked), drain and set aside. Add best-quality olive oil to a sauté pan, heat, add the garlic and cook until it starts to discolor. Remove the garlic and discard. Add the spinach, a handful at a time, and cook only until wilted. Just a minute or two. Plate the pasta, toss in a little olive oil, add the cooked spinach (discard excess liquid) and garnish with all the freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano that you like. Serve at once.
Asparagus and Filet
One of the best things you can do with asparagus is to pair it will a grilled filet of beef. Buy the best beef you can afford (look for heavy marbling), give it a good sear on a wood fire grill. Add butter to a sauté pan, heat to medium and finish the filet in the butter, lid on. While the filet is cooking, add the asparagus, which you have doused in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, to the grill and quickly cook (grill closed) until tender. Remove and set aside. When the filet is done, deglaze the pan with a bit of heavy cream to finish the sauce. Plate the asparagus, add the beef and top with the sauce. Serve at once.