Spring and my palate is a wreck.
On the Front Range, the weather sea-saws between too -warm days that force green shoots of daffodils and tulips skyward (giving me panic attacks about the kind of summer heat to come )and wet, dreary spring snows that cultivate mud and slush, and propel Greg and me out to the yard to cover our sprouting beds.
Inside, my food cravings swing wildly between the still clinging winter need for warmth and comfort and the spring promise of renewal and freshness.
I feel as schizophrenic as the weather, and bullied by the unpredictability of each day.
I have strong inclinations about seasonal eating. In my book, you don’t gorge on lasagna in July any more than you‘d daintily sip gazpacho in December. Food matches mood and weather. In winter, when I’m head to toe in leggings and boots and scarves, I want whole roasted chicken and buttery mashed potatoes, or pork and veal meatballs rolled lovingly in marinara or anything made with creamy polenta. These foods make me happy when it’s cold and barren outside; eating them I feel cozy and cared for. But once the thermometer rises above 50 degrees and I’m flirting with wearing skirts and showing naked legs, I want food that is more delicate and fresh, as light as I begin to feel in the thawing days.
That’s why spring eating is so pleasurable. We get strawberries and artichokes, asparagus and lamb, spinach and peas. Foods that have some substance but also lighten up what by now is the dull winter palate. I’ve been thinking a lot about transitional eating and dishes—the things I trot out this time of year that have a foot in both winter and the summer days to come.
Here are two of my favorite spring things to eat:
The unbelievable velvet and custard of eggs cooked with cream and Gruyere has been rudely shoved aside in the standard quiche recipe which treats the cooking of this sublime mixture as crudely as a cheap and unsatisfying form of the one-night stand. Too often it’s done way too fast and in an environment so hot the eggs are expected to puff and brown. Does that sound like a peak experience to you? An egg, one of the universe’s perfect creations, should never, ever brown. While no doubt the result can be tasty (in a one-note, all-about-the-cheese sort of way), the result is a rubbery or sponge–like egg-thing that lies, as if pitched like a shovel full of manure, in the mouth.
Clearly I prefer my sensual encounters to take their time, and the egg, one of the most sublime ingredients at every cook’s disposal, must be treated like a shy virgin. Be gentle, my friends.
My favorite basic quiche recipe comes from James Peterson’s Glorious French Food. I follow the cooking instructions for his Bacon-Custard Tart which sets the oven at 325 ˚. “As soon as the mixture no longer ripples,” Peterson writes, the quiche is done—about an hour. For my perfect tart, I sautéed leeks (a remembrance of winter) in butter and add about a cup of Gruyere (with a pinch of nutmeg) to a ratio of 3 eggs and 1 1/2-1 3/4 cups of cream (no milk allowed). Add some ham if you like. The result is something you’ll want to take to bed on a Sunday morning while you watch winter turn to spring and back again, gloriously happy you don’t have to go anywhere.
Spring Pea Risotto
While risotto generally makes me think of fall and winter, I love to compose a spring version with fresh peas. The result is satisfyingly creamy (clearly my winter culinary muse) and clear-eyed and hopeful–the rich risotto balanced by the bright addition of peas and lemon. Again, I use another chef’s master recipe (Tom Colicchio’s Porcini Risotto from The Craft of Cooking) and make my own variation by adding shallots instead of onion and fresh shelled peas and lemon zest at the last minute, just before the final mounting of butter with just a bit of Parmesan. Make sure the risotto spreads out on the plate, and enjoy the absolutely satisfying mouth feel of velvet coupled with bounce, which brings to mind new spring grass and tender shoots and the promise of all things green.
Spring is, as the poet e e cummings wrote:
and fro moving New and
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there…”
As the climate does what it wants to do in the next several windy/watery/chilly-warm weeks, let us all move ‘to and fro” “placing an inch of air” in our routines, “moving new and old things.”
Isn’t that why we love spring?