Love Your Peas and Carrots...Leeks and Asparagus too!
There's only one time of year when we get to eat true spring vegetables, and this is it. That might seem like an obvious statement, but year-round availability of so much fresh produce has robbed us of our innate sense of seasonal awareness. The anticipation, even desperate longing for the annual gift of specific fruits and vegetables. Each one in the complete delight of its individual prime. Juicy ripe peaches and tomatoes immediately come to mind. But right now I'm talking about all the sweet and tender baby vegetables that spring to life when the fruit trees are still blossoming...
"Braised Spring Vegetables", continued:
...Slender, tight-budded stalks of asparagus. Leeks so slim you might mistake them for scallions. Thin-skinned, almost translucent carrots. And the real treat of tiny green peas to knock back raw on the half shell. Or just barely heat, if you please. You'll want to go to the garden for these innocent beauties. Your local farm stand or farmers' market, if possible. At least if you hope to find them still dewy fresh and filmed with soil. But if the only babies you find have already turned into teenagers, then you can always cut them down to size to bring them back to tenderness.
Here's a simple, butter-steamed braise that lets you cook these vegetables all together in a single pan after adding them one-at-a-time in quick succession. Individual cooking times will vary depending upon their youth, freshness and the size of your pieces. So monitor them carefully.
Casual Recipe for Braised Spring Vegetables
small bay leaf
salt & pepper
fresh herbs: mint, parsley, thyme, chives and/or chervil
- Clean, trim and cut the leeks, carrots and asparagus. Shell the peas. [See notes below.]
- Melt a hunk of butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat; then add the bay leaf and leeks. Stir, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until almost tender (about 5 minutes).
- Stir in the carrots, add several tablespoons water, salt, pepper and nutmeg; cover and cook until almost tender (2-5 minutes).
- Stir in the asparagus, add a little more water as needed to keep the vegetables from browning; cover and cook until almost tender (2-5 minutes).
- Stir in the peas; cover to steam for just a minute.
- Taste for seasoning and stir or tuck in fresh herbs.
and Play with:
It can be hard to get leeks completely clean between the layers. Sometimes I just cut them across into rounds that I can push out into rings as they soak; then swish them around in several changes of cold water until all the mud is gone. My uncle told me that was cheating, but it works really well. Or you can cut them lengthwise halfway down to the white bulb end to be able to fan out and rinse inside the greener tops. But if they're small enough, it's simply elegant to leave them whole.
Carrots, on the other hand, can either be scrubbed or peeled if the exterior is too rough or bitter. Little ones can be cut in half lengthwise to show off their sunrise-striped interiors, while slicing larger carrots into thin diagonals will reveal a glowing cat's eye effect.
Pencil-thin asparagus can be left as is, but thicker stalks are silkier peeled clean of their tough outer layer. Either can be left whole or cut on the diagonal into tapered pieces.
If you can't find good English peas, then substitute sugar snap peas (once again cut on the diagonal). But I do love to shell and snitch peas. It's a real lemonade porch pastime. Like knitting. You get to just sit there and quietly work your way through it. And you can also save all the pods (along with your leek and asparagus trim) to create a Cream of Green Spring Soup for another day. We'll talk about that next time.
But in the meantime, try adding some green garlic along with the leeks. And/or extend this into a complete side or main dish by including a mound of freshly dug new potatoes. Cut them the same size as the carrots and add them alongside in that step for even cooking. Have fun playing around, but just remember that to be "like peas and carrots" means they belong together.
Bon Appetit! Kay
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