As spring nears, a few favorites
Spring is on the horizon, making us tipsy with evocative aromas and the music of the season, the songbirds that sing so gloriously as the sun rises. Even as we scan the skies for more rain, the fingerprints of the coming season are everywhere, in the blossoming trees, the tips of tulips poking through the cold soil, the little blue flowers that cover the rosemary bushes outside my study, the brilliant yellow of blooming mustard and daffodils.
As the new season unfolds, a cornucopia of delicate green foods is at our fingertips, especially if we have a garden, a year-round farm subscription or the good habit of shopping at a farmers market.
If shopping at a farmers market is not yet a habit, spring is a perfect time to start. It is a great way to feel closer to your little bit of the earth and its rhythms. Even the best supermarkets offer produce from around the globe, making it difficult to have a real sense of what is going on right here, right now. Most farmers market managers strive to insure that none of their vendors are sneaking in produce from wholesale vendors.
Today's recipes are simply a few of my favorite ways to enjoy this time of transition, when nights are cold, mornings are freezing and afternoons full of promise.
I love the way the earthy taste of potatoes blossoms when they are either cooked with artichokes or in the same water. If you have a pot that will hold the artichokes and potatoes, feel free to cook them at the same time.
Artichokes and Potatoes on a Bed
Makes 4 servings
4 large artichokes, trimmed
2 garlic cloves, halved
-- Kosher salt
12 small new or fingerling potatoes, scrubbed
3 cups watercress, leaves and smaller stems
-- Extra virgin olive oil or Meyer lemon olive oil
-- Black pepper in a mill
-- Homemade mayonnaise or aioli, optional
2 lemons, cut in wedges
Put the artichokes into a heavy, deep saucepan just big enough to hold them snugly. Add enough water to cover the artichokes, add the garlic and 2 tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the artichoke hearts are tender but not mushy. To test, use tongs to remove an artichoke from the pot, turn it stem side up and press a bamboo skewer into the heart through the stem end. If there is just a bit of resistance, the artichokes are done. Test for the first time after 20 minutes for an artichoke of average size.
When the artichokes are cooked, transfer them to a colander to drain, put the potatoes into the cooking water and simmer until tender when pierced with a bamboo skewer. Drain.
To serve, put the watercress into a bowl, sprinkle with a little salt and drizzle with olive oil. Toss thoroughly and divide among individual plates. Add an artichoke and three potatoes to each portion and season with black pepper.
Put mayonnaise or aioli, if using, into individual ramekins and set one on each plate. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve immediately, while the artichokes are warm and the potatoes are hot.
Because this simple refreshing dish is based on foods that are in season at the same time, feel free to alter it based on what you have at hand. You can add spinach, use leeks in place of asparagus, fresh favas instead of peas and simply omit whatever herbs you do not have. I do not, however, recommend eliminating the butter; it is an important ingredient that both facilitates the absorption of the nutrients in the other ingredients and contributes the flavor that pulls the other ingredients into harmony.