At least once each spring, I pull a favorite book, "Unplugged Kitchen" (Viana LaPlace, Morrow, 1996) from among the hundreds that line shelves in every room of my house.
The book is spare and delicate, like a spring morning early in the season, before the landscape has turned lush. There is something almost ephemeral about it and I think of it now, at this time of year, because there's a bounty of ephemeral pleasures all around us and the book always inspires me to slow down and savor this time. If high temperatures continue, these spring delicacies will be short-lived, some disappearing nearly as soon as they arrive.
Fresh fava beans are just showing up at our farmers markets, but hot weather may speed up their season. To enjoy them at their best, when they are sweet, tender and not starchy, don't wait. Indulge now.
The same can be said for both green garlic and spring onions. Green garlic is simply garlic before its bulb is fully formed. Spring onions, left in the ground, will become the storage onions we buy in summer and fall. In high temperatures, this process speeds up.
Asparagus bolts in hot weather, as does sorrel, especially if it is in a sunny area. Artichokes blossom, cardoons turn bitter, tender herbs like chervil and cilantro go to seed and morel mushrooms vanish.
It's a good time, a delicious time, to pay attention to what our gardens and farms are telling us. You may be longing for summer tomatoes and sweet peppers, but don't get ahead of yourself. We have Bing cherries now and Queen Anne, and other varieties will follow soon and before you know it, apricots' brief moment in the sun will come and go. Once summer crops ripen, we have them for weeks. Now is the time to savor spring.
One of the joys of spring delicacies is that simple preparations showcase their best qualities. Sure, you can make, say, a spring onion flan with fava puree and cherry gastrique, but all of your efforts will not add up to something better than these foods closer to their natural state. Fresh favas need blanching and peeling; spring onions need roasting or grilling; cherries need nothing at all except picking.
A mound of roasted asparagus is a great spring meal; add a fresh fava vinaigrette and you have a feast.
Eggs are delicious right now, too, with a delicacy they won't have in the summer. Top asparagus with poached eggs, spoon warm fava vinaigrette over deviled eggs, make frittatas with asparagus and nettles.
Remember, too, that spring cheeses taste different than summer, fall and winter cheeses. Right now, there's an abundance of green grasses for goats, sheep and cows to enjoy, and this diet is expressed in their milk and thus the cheese that it makes. A few spring vegetables with a fresh local cheese is another of the season's fleeting pleasures that you don't want to miss.