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I have been home to New York City this week, and though it may be belated, the balmy sunshine and those magnificent cherry blossoms in the park have affirmed, SPRING is here! After a long, grey, and dismal English winter, I feel like Persephone returning to Central Park after a six-month stint in Hades. I can now toss out those vases of English roses and darling daffodils with which I had attempted to turn my room into a spring hot house…because now it is finally safe to go outside.
When I’m in New York, I eat—but, truth be told, I rarely ever cook. Being back for only a week, I frequented some of my favorite restaurants, like Otto and Vespa, and tried a new one: BLT Market. In every restaurant, spring was in the menu. BLT Market, chef Laurent Tourondel’s homage to the local farm market, lists the current prime crop on the side of its monthly-changing menu. This month: scallops and artichokes—two of my favorites! At Mario Batali’s Otto, my mother and I tucked into the week’s special pasta, penne primavera, sparkling with slivered garlic, spinach, asparagus, and fresh fava beans. At Vespa, my neighborhood favorite, we dined, as we do at the beginning of every spring, al fresco in the back garden peppered with hanging lanterns and cascading flower petals. There we sampled the orecchiette with pesto and zucchini, carrots, broccolini, and peas. The vegetables were seasonal, fresh, tender and crisp, and never boring. They were the emerald, the malachite, the jade and peridot of the meal, the main event against the background of pasta, the enhancer, the priority. Even when I sat in Central Park ready to enjoy my hotdog (I heart NY), a blossom fluttered down and landed in my mustard! Spring is everywhere, from the Union Square farmers’ market to the hotdog stand on 64th and Fifth Avenue.
I think the first bud of spring in French Revolution was last week’s recipe for minty, buttery petits pois, a nod to my adopted English hometown. And now that I come to think of it, it being so early on and all, I don’t suppose we’ve been properly introduced. My name is Kerry, and I was a vegetarian (“hi, Kerry”) for twelve years when I was growing up. Though I’ve since returned to eating meat, I can never eat much of it, and I still absolutely adore vegetables. Artfully executed vegetables garner far more praise from me than any “main dish,” and they’re the only thing I ever return to for seconds.
And yet, vegetables are so often the unfortunate sidekick, the best friend, but never the star. I blame water. Every house I went to for dinner as a kid had roasted chicken, pilaf-ed rice, and then plain boiled vegetables, forlorn and limp on a platter full of tasteless condensation. Poor little things. Positively neglected! And that would be my dinner…but really, I can’t get mad at ignorance. I just have to educate, and here is the first rule: boiling vegetables is barely ever acceptable, unless a superb vinaigrette is involved. Think about when you sit in the bath for too long: you emerge pruny, dizzy, and lazy. You may tolerate such a condition in yourself, but you certainly should not when it comes to your dinner!
Variety is the spice of life, and the trick to vegetables is to find a medley of ways to keep them as intact as possible. That is to say, compact the flavor; don’t dilute it. Roast, grill, sauté, marinate. It’s amazing how it’s even easier to roast a vegetable than to boil it, and the economy in time invests millions in taste. You bring out the best in the vegetable, allowing the natural sugars to caramelize and develop, and you create simple pairings that display the vegetable to advantage. For example, sometimes, ironically, bringing out the best in a vegetable means to add a touch of meat, like in my asparagus bouquets, roasted in a hot oven with woodsy rosemary and fragrant olive oil, served wrapped in a ribbon of smoked bacon. The crisp freshness of spring paired with the warm comfort of a log cabin. Mushrooms are little sponges, and in my pomegranate mushrooms, the baby portobellos soak in a bath of pomegranate juice, red wine, and fresh thyme, so that they burst with flavor as they pop in your mouth. Haricots verts du sud, my most requested vegetable dish by far (my dear friend Anna can eat a whole pound of it herself!), stews delicate French green beans with the Côte d’Azur flavors of tomatoes, wine, and garlic. The recipes take only a few minutes, and even fewer ingredients, but vegetables come to your table, like to Central Park, alive and lively after a long, cold, boring winter.
As we walked through Central Park, my mother reminded me, despite the hectic city coursing and pulsing around us, to stop and smell the roses—and tulips and daffodils and cherry blossoms cropping out of the concrete all around us. That’s good advice, and so is her other lifelong axiom: eat your vegetables!
1 pound of asparagus, with the ends snapped off
1 twig of fresh rosemary, leaved and chopped
1 tablespoon of olive oil
3 slices of bacon, cut in half longwise
Salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Toss the asparagus with the olive oil, chopped rosemary, and salt and pepper. Divide into 4-6 bundles, depending on how many servings you wish to present. Wrap each bundle in 1 ribbon of bacon, and set onto a foil-lined baking sheet.
- Roast for 15-18 minutes, until the asparagus are tender but not overdone, and the bacon is crisp. You may want to drain them on a paper towel.
Haricots Verts du Sud
1 pound of haricots verts, trimmed
1 14.5-ounce can of petite diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
¼ cup of dry white wine
1 clove of garlic, minced
½ shallot, minced
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Heat the olive oil and drop the shallot and garlic into it, allowing them to soften on medium heat for about 45 seconds. Follow with the tomato paste and haricots verts.
- Allow to soften for about 5 minutes, and add the wine and tomatoes, along with salt and pepper.
- Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the beans are tender.
- 1 pound of cremini mushrooms, halved
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- 3 leaves of fresh sage, sliced (optional)
- ¼ cup of dry red wine
- ¼ cup of pomegranate juice
- Heat the butter and oil in the pan, and add the shallots, mushrooms, thyme (right on the branch), and the sage. Do not season the mushrooms until they get good color on them.
- When they are nicely caramelized on medium to medium-high heat, add the salt, pepper, wine, and juice, and lower the heat to medium-low. Allow the liquid to thicken, and serve.
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