As spring nears, a few favorites

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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

of Watercress

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.

Asparagus and Peas with Spring Herbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Rice

Makes 3 to 4 servings

1 cup jasmine rice, rinsed several times

-- Kosher salt

1? pound fat asparagus stalks, tough ends snapped off, spears cut into 2-inch diagonal pieces

-- Olive oil

1 cup freshly shelled peas

3 tablespoons butter, preferably Clover-Stornetta or Straus

1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons fresh chervil leaves

1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon

-- Black pepper in a mill

-- Small chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano

Put the rice into a heavy saucepan, add 1? cups water and a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately reduce the heat to very low, cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes. Without lifting the lid, remove the pan from the heat and let steam for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the asparagus on a baking sheet, drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil and turn the asparagus to coat it with the oil. Season with salt and roast until tender, between 5 and 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the stalks. Remove from the oven.

While the asparagus cooks, put the peas in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, drain, return to the pan and add the butter and the herbs. Toss to melt the butter and season with salt.

To serve, divide the rice among 3 or 4 bowls and top with asparagus. Spoon some of the pea mixture over each portion and season with several turns of black pepper.

Use a vegetable peeler to make curls of cheese and scatter several on top of the vegetables and rice. Serve immediately.

Radishes -- so easy to grow, so quick to the table, just three weeks after planting -- are delicious any time of year but best, I think, in the spring when their natural heat wakes us from our winter drowsiness. This dish, based on the Indian condiment, is excellent alongside roasted chicken, any type of curry and couscous. It is even good on its own with hot flat bread.

Radish Raita

Makes about 1? cup

1 bunch radishes, preferably French Breakfast variety, trimmed, tops reserved for another use

2 teaspoons minced fresh chives

-- Kosher salt

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt, such as Bellwether Farms Sheep Milk Yogurt

Cut the radishes into very small julienne and put them into a small bowl. Toss with the chives and a generous sprinkling of salt. Stir in the yogurt, taste and correct the seasoning.

I came across a version of this tonic in "Healing Secrets of the Seasons" by Judith Benn Hurley (Morrow, 1998), which is used, the author writes, by Japanese herbalists to help alleviate sinus congestion and other symptoms of spring allergies. I have added honey in part because it helps the flavor of ginger blossom and in part because local honey is thought to help mitigate allergies when taken daily. Whether or not it works, the tonic is delicious and satisfying.

A Delicious Spring Tonic That May Help Your Hay Fever

Makes 5 cups

10 to 12 slices ginger, each about the size of a quarter

2 tablespoons minced chives

1 tablespoon local honey, optional

Pour 4 cups of water into a saucepan, add the ginger and bring to a boil over a medium flame. Lower the heat and simmer very gently for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the chives, cover and let steep for 10 minutes.

Strain, discard the ginger and chives and stir in the honey, if using.

Sip warm throughout the day whenever spring allergies are a problem.

Michele Anna Jordan can be contacted via e-mail at michele@

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