Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fresh, Ripe and Ready - Enjoy Locally Grown Fruits and Vegetables

(my monthly food column for Heartland Women)
May 2010

Every year I promise myself I will have my accumulated must-try recipes all organized by season and ready to go when I need them – like when the good stuff starts showing up at the Farmers’ Market. Once I realized my tastes and cravings were governed by the four seasons, it seemed like a no-brainer to develop a similar system for my recipes. So far, though, the must-try’s remain in seasonally sorted stockpiles, just waiting to be hole-punched and loaded into colorful binders.

My intention is to have a binder for each season – once I finish sorting, punching and inserting my files. And, of course, the binders will be color-coded. I’m thinking fresh green for spring, sunny yellow for summer, harvest orange for fall, and snowy white for winter.

At the risk of having you think I’m completely crazy – the color thing sounds a little over the top, I know – I do already have something of a binder system for keeping track of recipe files that has evolved through the years, so I know it will work. The colored binders are handier for quick identification – really, they are!

I began collecting recipes, like most new cooks of my era, with cute, hand-written cards, kept in matching recipe file boxes. When that system became overloaded and unwieldy, the cute cards were installed into cute photo albums, with clear plastic sleeves for individual photos/recipe cards. Flipping through pages was faster and easier than thumbing through file boxes of cards, and the recipes stayed neater.

The first of the true binders appeared one day when I couldn’t manage the loose file for all those newspaper clippings and magazine tear outs of recipes I wanted to try – my own magazines, not those in waiting rooms, of course! All I had to do was punch holes in large pages and place smaller pages inside clear plastic pocket pages. Brilliant!

Now there are several binders and currently they are organized by category of food – from appetizers to dessert. Several categories even have subcategories. And there is also a binder for holidays for quick reference to Thanksgiving and Christmas. It works well, but there is a further refinement of this system that calls out to me as the next generation of binder organization.

For the past few years, I’ve continued to collect clippings and print out recipes from the Internet, but they languish in tipsy stacks and not in binders. I’ve decided the whole system needs an overhaul, to include a necessary purge of anything that just doesn’t sound that appealing anymore. The stacks are being sorted into seasons, which I now find to be the most helpful way to simplify the way I cook, write and teach cooking classes. After the loose stacks are finished, then work begins on the categorical binders. The whole recipe system is going seasonal!

I may be obsessive about all this, but I do acknowledge that few cooks maintain such an extensive recipe resource. With that understanding, I’ve culled through my own messy collection to present some of my top choices for this very month, with its first of the season fresh produce. And by top choices, I mean those with the most likelihood of making it into my personal test kitchen rotation this year, and a chance to become enshrined in Tried-and-True Blue binder! Oh, yes, there is really a blue binder for the all-time favorites.

Whether you are a home gardener, food forager, or a Farmers’ Market lover – and no matter what system you use to file away recipes to try – these are the top ten fresh foods that should be available locally during the next few weeks. And these recipes are some of the most promising I’ve found for each one. I’m on my way to pick out those new binders and finally get things organized!


1 lb. medium-size fresh asparagus
Very good extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated lemon zest
Salt and pepper

Wash asparagus spears and trim tough part from bottom of stalks. Slice diagonally into 2-in. pieces. Cook asparagus briefly, by your favorite method (boil, steam, stir-fry, or roast) until hot, but still slightly crunchy. While still warm, toss asparagus with olive oil, Parmesan cheese and lemon zest. Serve immediately, or hold and serve at room temperature.

12 asparagus spears
4 large sheets phyllo dough, thawed
12 slices prosciutto, thinly sliced
12 pieces sharp cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
4 tbsp. salted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Have bowl of ice water on hand. In a pot of boiling, salted water, cook asparagus for one minute. Transfer to ice water with slotted spoon. Once cool, transfer to paper towels to drain; pat dry. Lay first phyllo sheet on cutting board; brush entire surface with melted butter. Top with next phyllo sheet and brush with butter; repeat with remaining two sheets. Cut into 12 smaller rectangles. Place one piece of prosciutto and cheddar on each rectangle. Place asparagus spears on top with tips extending beyond edges. Roll phyllo around asparagus spears and brush with additional butter. Place rolls on baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden. Serve warm.

5 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups barley
1 cup dry white wine
1 lb. asparagus, cut diagonally into 1-in. pieces
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Warm the broth in a small saucepan over low heat. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7 mins. or until soft. Add the garlic and cook 1 min. more. Add the barley and cook, stirring, for 2 mins.. Stir in the wine and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 3 mins. Add the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring occasionally and waiting until it is absorbed before adding more. Add the asparagus with the last 1/2 cup of broth and cook until tender. It should take 30 to 35 minutes for all the broth to be absorbed. Remove from heat, season with the salt and pepper, and stir in the Parmesan. Spoon into individual bowls.

10 medium beets (about 2 inches in diameter) rinsed, tops trimmed
1 cup water
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives or green onion tops
1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
2 tsp. minced fresh tarragon
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Arrange beets in single layer in 13 x 9 x 2-in. baking dish; add 1 cup water. Cover and bake until beets are tender when pierced with knife, about 1 hour. Cool beets. Peel and cut into 1/2-in. wedges. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add beets; stir until heated through. Mix in chives, parsley and tarragon, then vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

1 cup uncooked wheat berries
1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
2 lbs. carrots, chopped
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 cup golden raisins
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Place wheat berries and 1/2 tsp. salt in a medium saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above wheat berries. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook, uncovered, 50 mins. or until the wheat berries are tender. Drain. Cook half of carrots in a large pot of boiling water 2 mins. or until tender-crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon. Rinse with cold water and drain. Repeat procedure with remaining carrots. Combine carrots and wheat berries in a large bowl; add 1 tsp. salt, juice, cumin, paprika, pepper, and garlic. Stir in the raisins and oil, and toss well to combine. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or until chilled. Sprinkle with the parsley and cilantro. Serves 8-10.

Fresh radishes – cleaned and trimmed
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash and trim radishes, but leave whole. Place radishes on a heavy baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 40 mins., until slightly browned and softened. Serve warm or at room temperature.

4 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp. flour
3 cup chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup grated fresh Parmesan
2 cup shredded fresh spinach leaves, stems removed
3 - 4 cups roasted chicken, torn into bite-size pieces
1 pkg. gnocchi, cooked as directed on package
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat large Dutch oven for 1 min. over medium heat. Add olive oil and diced onion; sauté until onion softens and is clear. Stir in garlic and cook for 30 seconds – do not brown garlic! Add flour; stir to blend and cook for a couple of minutes, but do not brown flour. Add chicken broth and stir with wire whisk to blend until there are no lumps and mixture is thickened. Add white wine and stir to blend. Once mixture is heated through, add Parmesan cheese and stir until melted. Mixture should be a creamy liquid – if not, add more chicken broth to thin to desired consistency. While liquid mixture is still very hot, add spinach shreds and cook until all spinach is wilted. Stir in chopped chicken and cooked gnocchi and heat through; add salt and pepper to taste and more liquid to thin, if necessary. Serve immediately.

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
4 cups quartered hulled fresh strawberries (about 18 oz.)
3 tbsp. fresh lime juice

Combine 1 cup water and sugar in medium saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 mins. Transfer to bowl and chill until cold. Purée quartered strawberries in food processor until smooth. Add lime juice and sugar syrup; process until blended. Chill mixture until cold, about 1 hour. Transfer strawberry mixture to ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Spoon sorbet into container; cover and freeze until firm, about 4 hours. Can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept frozen until serving.

3 cups diced fresh rhubarb
1 ½ cup sliced fresh strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup flour
¾ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup Quick Quaker Oats
½ cup butter or margarine, melted

Place rhubarb and strawberries in a buttered 9-in. square pan. Mix them up. Sprinkle with sugar, flour and cinnamon. Combine ingredients for topping and sprinkle over the fruit mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 mins., or until golden brown. Serves 4-6.

¼ cup water
1 ½ tsp. cornstarch
1/3 cup plus ½ cup sugar
2 cup chopped fresh rhubarb stalks (10 oz.)
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries (5 oz.)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 large egg
½ cup whole milk
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8-in. square glass or ceramic baking dish. Stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan; stir in rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly; simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 mins. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl. Whisk together egg, milk, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl; whisk in flour mixture until just combined.
Reserve 1/2 cup fruit mixture, then add remainder to baking dish and pour batter over it, spreading evenly. Drizzle reserved 1/2 cup fruit mixture over batter. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake portion comes out clean, 25 to 30 mins. Cool in pan on a rack 5 mins. before serving. Serves 6-8.

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