Fresh recipes to capture the spring season

The vibrant selection at the farmers markets are perfect for these seasonal recipes using fresh ingredients.|

Even in a drought cycle we can, if we pay attention, feel the earth waking up all around us. Fruit trees are blooming, chives salute the season straight and tall, fava beans are forming in their pods. The first English peas are arriving.

Farmers markets and farm stands are filled with signs of spring, too, of course. A few farmers have fava leaves, the strawberry stand on Highway 12 just east of Sebastopol has opened and Cliff Silva of Ma and Pa’s Farm is back at farmers markets with his beautiful tomato starts. Other vendors, too, have plant starts, everything from six packs of tiny cilantro to 4-inch containers of a huge array of chilies, including Padrons. Loquat trees are midseason, the fruit heavy on branches. The first spring garlic is ready and soon there will be garlic scapes, spring onions, squash blossoms and the first tiny zucchini. Nettles should appear any day now and local artichokes are just about ready for picking.

In the next few weeks, watch for fresh favas, more strawberries, asparagus, and herb flowers, with the first cherries, the first sweet onions and grapes leaves for dolmas following soon. Commercial salmon season should open in just a few weeks.

There will be local morel mushrooms soon. Spring milk, yogurt, butter and cheese and spring eggs are all particularly delicious right now, as as goats, sheep and cows that graze on green pasture produce milk with different flavors than when they graze on the dry grasses and supplemental feed of other seasons.

If you have a garden, you understand the joy of the seasons, the remarkable satisfaction of walking outside to pick lettuce leaves for dinner and the ridiculously satisfying joy of harvesting your own potatoes. If you don’t garden but shop at farmers markets, you understand seasonal delight, too. If you don’t, now is a good time to start. Even if you attend just a single farmers market a week, you’ll acquire a visceral sense of the seasons that supermarkets simply cannot provide.

For some of my favorite spring recipes, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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Fresh ricotta from Petaluma’s Bellweather Farms is as close as you can get to the great ricottas of Sicily and I find the cheese particularly wonderful at this time of year. On Easter, I enjoyed a salad very similar to this at a friend’s birthday fete and was inspired to make my own version at home. I served it on a bed of shredded sorrel because my garden is full of it right now; if you have some, too, give it a try.

Fresh Ricotta with Favas, Peas, Chives Asparagus & Olive Oil

Serves 4 to 6

1 basket Bellweather ricotta

½ cup shelled, blanched and peeled favas

½ cup blanched English peas

½ pound very fresh asparagus, roasted and cut into 2-inch diagonal slices

Grated zest of 1 lemon

4 tablespoons best-quality extra-virgin olive oil, Olio Nuovo or Meyer Lemon olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly snipped chives

Flake salt (Diamond Crystal Kosher, Maldon Sea Salt, Murray River Salt, etc.)

Black pepper in a mill

Invert the basket of ricotta onto a flat serving dish and use a fork to press down on it gently to break it up a bit.

Scatter the favas, peas and asparagus over the top, add the lemon zest and drizzle the olive oil on top. Scatter the chives on top, season with salt and pepper and enjoy right away.

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If you have homemade stock on hand, this is a very simple spur-of-the-moment dish, Vary the herbs based on what you have on hand, though I don’t recommend rosemary, as it will overwhelm other flavors.

Spring Rice Soup with Peas, Herbs & Eggs

Serves 3 to 4

8 ounces Italian or Spanish rice

Kosher salt

4 cups homemade chicken stock or broth

3 tablespoons butter

1 shallot, minced

1 ½ cups freshly shelled English peas (from about 2 cups unshelled peas)

½ cup very fresh spearmint leaves

½ cup very fresh cilantro leaves

3 ounces best-quality hard cheese, such as Estero Gold, Vella Dry Jack, Parmigiano-Reggiano, etc., grated

Black pepper in a mill

3 to 4 large farm eggs

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

Vinegar-based hot sauce or chile oil of choice, optional

Put the rice into a large saucepan, add a generous tablespoon or salt and pour in the stock or broth, along with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the rice is very soft and tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Put the butter into a sauté pan, add the shallot, set over medium-low heat and cook until the shallot is soft and fragrant, about 7 to 8 minutes. Season with a little salt, add the peas and cook until they lose their raw texture. Remove from the heat.

Fill a small saucepan with water, add the vinegar and bring to a boil.

When the rice is very tender, stir it and if it seems too thick, thin with some stock, broth or water to achieve a soupy consistency. Stir in the mint, the cilantro and the cheese. Taste, correct for salt and season with several turns of black pepper.

Ladle the soup into warmed soup bowls or plates and set near the stove.

Break an egg into a small bowl, tip it gently into the poaching water and cook for 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the egg from the water, shake it gently and add it to one of the bowls. Continue until all eggs have been poached.

Enjoy right away, with hot sauce or chile oil alongside, if using.

Michele Anna Jordan has written 19 books to date, including the new “More Than Meatballs.” Email Jordan at catsmilk@sonic.net. You’ll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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A Few Spring Tips

• To encourage strawberries to release their juices, remove the stems, put the strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar, about a tablespoon per pint. Toss, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

• Instead of steaming asparagus, roast it in a hot (450 to 500 degrees) for 7 to 12 minutes, depending on its size. Smaller stalks (which are from older plants) need less time, fatter stalks need more time and freshly harvested asparagus will be done more quickly, as it has a higher water content.

• Be careful with raw fava beans. Many people of Mediterranean descent lack an enzyme necessary to digest raw favas and eating them can result in a potentially fatal form of anemia. Cooked favas, even those that are simply blanched for 90 seconds, pose no danger.

• To make a very fresh farm egg easy to peel, steam it over rapidly boiling water for 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to cold water and let rest for 10 minutes or so. The shells should be quite easy to remove at this point.

• The secret to growing tender lettuce with no bitter flavors is water. During a drought, use plenty of mulch around each lettuce plant to slow evaporation.

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