Posted on Thu, March 15, 2012 by Slow Food USA
7 Comments | Categories: Cooking,
Written by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Slow Food USA member and author of the new cookbook, Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables
Green as a word has become so closely aligned with notions of environmental stewardship that we’ve forgotten its most common meaning. Before it promised that your detergent was nontoxic and your dry cleaner renounced plastic death-sacks, before it denoted sustainability, responsibility, and eco-friendly-ability, the word green meant, you know, green. As in, the color of moss, that dollar in your wallet, and a big, shiny Granny Smith apple, the one just waiting for a smear of peanut butter or a fat hunk of cheese.
It’s time to celebrate the best and, literally, greenest offerings to come—at the farm stand, in the produce aisle, and in your own garden. With the approach of St. Patrick’s Day and spring waving hello, let’s momentarily sidestep the corned beef and give almost-here green vegetables their due. (Cabbage will get plenty of love this week, so I’ll skip it below.)
Asparagus. Asparagus can be waifish or stocky. While the pencillike spears have excellent posture and a mild disposition, they also seem impossibly fragile, like a runway model who could benefit from a generous bowl of mashed potatoes. Happily, skinny asparagus shine when turned quickly in a hot pan, roasted for just a few minutes, or dropped in a spaghetti pot during the last breaths of cooking. Thicker spears require a touch more time, attention, and care, but there’s more of them to love, too. Plus, they can stand up to the heat of the grill. Some people like to peel the woody stems from fat asparagus. How fancy! Me? I snap them off at their natural breaking point. Not a single one has ever complained.
Artichokes. My local market has an Artichoke Lady. Her name’s Donna, but in my head she’s the Artichoke Lady, even when she sells squash in the fall. Her artichokes range from the girth of a closed fist to that of an outstretched palm, but the smallest ones always sell out first. This, of course, makes me want them the most. (If the big ones sold out first, I’d want those most, obviously.) If you ever come to Castroville, California, keep your eyes open as you drive along Watsonville Road. Set back slightly is The Thistle Hut, a roadside produce stand with a giant artichoke logo. Imagine how nice it would be if produce huts replaced fast food joints nationwide… just think about it. (See recipe for Wine-Braised Artichokes with Feta and Orecchiette)
Fava Beans. Whenever favas come up, erasing the image of Hannibal Lecter is tough. No character has ever done more to simultaneously raise brand awareness and stamp an indelible stain on a vegetable than Anthony Hopkins did when delivering his liver/fava bean/Chianti line in The Silence of the Lambs. And yet shiny green favas are as gentle as kittens, so long as you peel their pods and boil the beans. The prize inside is pure spring tenderness – wonderful alone with the smallest pat of butter, stirred through risotto, or floated atop a clear broth with a few plump tortellini. I also love pairing them with Israeli couscous. (See recipe for Warm Fava Shallot Couscous)
What other green spring vegetables will soon show up? It depends on where you live, of course, but keep your eyes open for fennel, broccoli, bok choy, leeks, lettuces, and peas. (And that’s just a start.) Greens like spinach, kale, and chard will continue to be abundant as well. Enjoy them all, alone or in combination, with a friend or by yourself.
Love on green vegetables, and they will love you back.
All of the vegetables mentioned in this essay are featured in the new cookbook Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables by Cheryl Sternman Rule, with photography by Paulette Phlipot (Running Press). The color-drenched book is currently available online and will appear in stores later this month.
The flavorful braising liquid in this sophisticated pasta dish reduces into a lovely sauce, which both coats the artichokes and slides into the crevices of the pasta. Toasted pine nuts, if you have some, would make a nice addition.
With green favas, pearly couscous, and sweet shallots, this warming sauté is both comforting and light. (To make it more entréelike, toss in some feta and toasted pistachios.) Buy the freshest favas you can find as older beans can be starchy.
Tip: Consider preparing this dish with a friend. It’s nice to have company when you shuck the favas, as this can take a bit of time.
Recipe reprinted with permission from RIPE © 2012 by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.