My recent trip to the farmers’ market confirmed my suspicions: Spring has well and truly arrived, at least in my neck of the woods (Southern California). With pleasure, I spied a collection of seasonal harbingers: Asparagus! Green garlic! Rhubarb! It didn’t take me long to envision a menu that would show them off.
Asparagus, for me, is always a thrill. The sight of the first few bunches brings a broad smile. Those early spears are sweet enough to eat raw, so that is exactly how I chose to prepare them. A shaved asparagus salad was in order.
I sliced the spears lengthwise into thin ribbons, something, I recently discovered, that is quite easy to do with a long, sharp knife. (Formerly, I always used a mandoline, which makes nice ribbons but also courts danger. A knife is safer.)
The simplest version of this salad requires only extra-virgin olive oil and salt, with perhaps a squeeze of lemon. However, I decided to build a proper lemony vinaigrette with a few chopped anchovy fillets. Omit the anchovy in the dressing, if you wish, but it’s there to bolster flavor — not to taste fishy.
For color and texture, as well as a bit of sharpness, I added thinly sliced radishes. Any type of radish will work but, for a really vibrant salad, look for the many brilliant varieties of daikon radish available at many farmers’ markets now. These beauties come in a range of colors — crimson, scarlet, purple, even bright green. Or look for “watermelon” radishes, round and the size of golf balls. When sliced, these radishes reveal a multicolored cross-section. An easy salad to put together, this is a festive dish. You could even finish it with shavings of Parmesan or ricotta salata.
Green garlic is another cause for celebration, with its distinct, fresh character that’s pungent but not overpowering. When it first comes to market, its stalks may resemble slim green onions. Some specimens will have already formed the beginnings of a bulb at the root end. But, once the outer layer is peeled, both green and white parts of the stalk can be used, either chopped or pounded in a mortar. (If you cannot find green garlic, a combination of scallion and garlic chives makes a reasonable substitute.)
To give the green garlic a space to shine, I picked up a few pounds of yellow-fleshed Yukon Gold spuds from my favorite potato vendor. (That stand has the colorful radishes, too.) Then, I bought a free-range chicken and hatched a plan. I stuffed the bird with a generous amount of green garlic and a large handful of rosemary, sage and thyme sprigs. I roasted the chicken over wedges of potato so that all the fragrant garlicky chicken drippings infused the potatoes with incredible flavor. Crisp and golden, they rival the best rotisserie-style potatoes, those glistening ones that sit beneath spit-roasted chickens at some butcher shops. The chicken, of course, ends up nicely perfumed, too. (As a bonus, the carcass can be tossed into a saucepan, covered with water and simmered to make a small amount of garlicky broth for future use.)
As for the ruby red rhubarb that pops up this time of year, I knew at once that it would that it would become a glorious fruit crumble — a relative of other homey desserts like crisps and buckles. Chopped into cubes and tossed with sugar and a bit of flour to help thicken the bright juices, the rhubarb gets a nubbly topping made from brown sugar, flour and butter, enhanced with a handful of optional chopped pistachio.
Baked until bubbly and browned, this irresistible dessert can be served with cold heavy cream, whipped cream or ice cream. I always hope for leftovers to enjoy for breakfast with a blob of yogurt. That way, I can continue the spring celebration well beyond a single meal.
Shaved Asparagus and Radish Salad
Total time: 15 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
3 tablespoons fruity, flavorful extra-virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 anchovy fillets, rinsed, blotted and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
1 pound asparagus, medium-thick spears if possible
1 cup thinly sliced daikon radish or other radish, preferably a mixture of colors (or more to taste)
1. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice and anchovy. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.
2. Snap off and discard the tough end of each asparagus spear. Using a sharp knife, slice asparagus lengthwise into ribbons. For skinny asparagus, just halve lengthwise.
3. Place sliced asparagus in a large salad bowl. Toss with salt and pepper, then add the dressing and toss to coat.
4. For each serving, place a handful of dressed asparagus on a plate. Surround with slices of colorful radish, and tuck a few more slices among the asparagus ribbons. Sprinkle radishes lightly with salt.
Roast Chicken With Green Garlic, Herbs and Potatoes
Total time: About 3 hours
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 (3- to 4-pound) roasting chicken
Salt and pepper
3 pounds medium yellow-fleshed potatoes, such as Yukon Gold (about 8 potatoes)
4 to 6 green garlic stalks, or use a combination of scallion and garlic chives
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Handful of thyme, rosemary and sage sprigs
1/2 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Season chicken inside and out with salt and pepper.
2. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Peel the potatoes, cut them in half, then cut halves into 2 or 3 thick wedges. Boil potatoes for about 5 minutes, until barely done, then drain and cool.
3. As potatoes cool, peel outer layer of garlic stalks and cut off roots. Slice both tender white and green parts crosswise into thin rings, then sprinkle with salt and roughly chop to resemble “minced.” (You should have about 1 cup of chopped alliums, whether you use green garlic, or a combination of scallions and chives.) Transfer chopped garlic to a dish and cover with olive oil.
4. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange potatoes on the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Set the seasoned chicken on top of the potatoes. Tip the chicken up and transfer the garlic-oil mixture into the bird’s cavity, then place breast side down, with potatoes surrounding.
5. Take a generous handful of herb sprigs (stem-on) and stuff into the cavity.
6. Roast, uncovered, for about 1 hour until chicken is nicely browned and thigh juices run clear when probed with a paring knife. Remove chicken, tipping the inside juices onto the potatoes, and keep warm on a plate.
7. Raise oven temperature to 425 degrees. Using a spatula, move the potatoes around the roasting pan, allowing juices to coat potatoes well. Return to oven to brown potatoes. Baste potatoes every 5 minutes for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are golden. Sprinkle with parsley. Carve bird and serve.
Tip: After carving, the carcass can be tossed into a saucepan, covered with water and simmered to make a small amount of garlicky broth for future use.
Total time: 1 1/2 hours
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
For the filling:
About 2 pounds rhubarb stalks, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (6½ cups (783 grams))
1 1/4 cups (251 grams) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
For the topping:
1 cup (128 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (52 grams) granulated or brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground ginger
Pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup (113 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces or grated on the big holes of a box grater
1/2 cup finely chopped or ground pistachios (optional)
1. Prepare the filling: Toss the rhubarb cubes with sugar and flour. Set aside and let macerate while you make the topping, about 20 minutes.
2. Make the topping: Put flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, ginger and cinnamon in a bowl, and stir together. Add butter and work into flour with fingers or a fork, as if making pie dough. The mixture will be loose and crumbly. Stir in the pistachios, if using.
3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Transfer sugared rhubarb to a 9-inch baking dish, about 3 inches deep. Sprinkle topping loosely over fruit to a depth of about 1 inch.
4. Place dish on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour, until topping is golden and filling is visibly bubbling at the edges. Cool slightly before serving.