Spring Bites: Farmers Market

Translation missing: en.sections.article.title: Spring Bites:
Farmers Market

Spring, as my Uncle Dickie of New Hampshire used to say, is "capitol eating time".

And with winter temperatures finally starting to abate in many areas across the country, your local farmers markets is the best place to suss out some inspiring fresh spring produce to add to your basket.

(That is, of course, unless you happen to be a vegetable farmer yourself. Then just step outside.)

Seasonal food shopping is more than just a tasty no-brainer, it's a gift from nature: fruits and vegetables picked locally and eaten at their peak have more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants coursing through them than those picked before they’re ready and shipped thousands of miles.

In fact, prematurely harvested produce can lose up to 75 percent of their vitamin and health potency after just one week on the road and/or sitting on grocery shelves. So while specific crops and harvest dates depend on where in the world you currently hang your hat, try and get your hands on the following vegetable trio that offer peak flavor – and unique health benefits -- at this time of the year:

First brought to Louisiana in the 19th century by French immigrants, and onwards to California by Spanish immigrants (the state which now provides nearly 100% of the U.S. crop), this often intimidating vegetable enjoys its main harvest in the spring when the thistles are at their largest. Low in calories, high in fiber, and rich in a number of key antioxidants, look for artichokes that have tight, compact leaves and fresh-cut stem ends.

Since these delectable, large headed, unique green monsters stand up to heat and char quite well, what better way to ring in the spring season by firing up your grill as well?

Grilled Artichokes w/ Mustard-Yogurt & Dill Dipping Sauce

1 lemon, halved
4 fresh artichokes
1/2 cup organic yogurt
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper
  • Bring a large saucepan filled with 2-3 inches of water and several pinches of salt to a boil. Fill a large bowl with cold water; squeeze in the juice from both lemon halves.
  • Working one at a time, trim artichoke stems with a small paring knife; snip off the tops of the outer leaves/thorns with scissors. Next, with your preferred large knife of choice, cut the artichoke in half lengthwise through the stem.
  • Add each prepped artichoke to the cold lemon bath before moving n to the next one.
  • When ready, add the artichokes to the boiling water -- cut sides down. Cover and simmer over moderate heat for 10-15 minutes. Remove from saucepan and let cool. (NOTE: Artichokes should be on the tender side, but not overcooked to the point that they start falling apart.)
  • Add organic yogurt to a small bowl. Whisk in the lemon zest, lemon juice, mustard, parsley and dill. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Brush artichokes with olive oil; season generously with more salt and pepper. Grill over moderately high heat for approximately 5-6 minutes until pleasantly charred on both sides and the hearts are fully tender;.
  • Plate and serve w/ dipping sauce.
  • Originally brought to these shores by colonists, beets quickly became a mainstay in U.S. gardens by the early 1800’s. George Washington himself experimented with them at Mount Vernon, and by the late 1880s, Philadelphia’s Burpee seed company offered twelve popular varieties. Rich in minerals such as magnesium and potassium, this colorful root vegetable contains powerful antioxidants and phytonutrients that can help protect against certain cancers, especially colon. 

    When choosing the freshest beets, look for small, firm, well-rounded bulbs sporting unblemished deep red (or golden yellow) skins that are smooth to the touch. Bright, crisp greens on top are nature’s way of saying “Pick me! I’m fresh!”, as are thin taproots extending from the bulbs.

    In terms of preparation, yes, your hands will temporarily turn beet red. But please, don’t let that deter you... although you may wish to avoid making jokes with impressionable small children until you’re done.

    Roasted Beets w/ Fresh Herbs & Pistachios

    8-12 medium size beets (yellow, red, or mixed)
    2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    1 1/2 teaspoons fresh minced thyme leaves
    1 1/2 teaspoons fresh chopped tarragon
    1/4 cup chopped unsalted roasted pistachios
    2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
    Kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper
  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • Wash and scrub the beets clean with a vegetable brush. Remove tops and roots, then peel and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks.
  • Toss with olive oil, thyme leaves, and salt + pepper to taste. (P.S. Don't throw away the green leafy tops. Tasty and high in fiber, they can be cooked like spinach.)
  • Transfer to a large sheet pan and roast for approximately 35-40 minutes (turning once or twice) until tender.
  • Remove from oven and immediately toss with vinegar, tarragon, orange zest and pistachios. Finish with a final sprinkle of salt + pepper and serve warm.
  • Feeling particularly festive? Add a few dollops of goat’s cheese on top.


    The unrivaled royalty of early spring vegetables, asparagus is another vegetable packed to the hilt with health-promoting antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that can help decrease blood pressure and control cholesterol levels. California leads the way in producing most of the U.S. crop, with Washington State and Michigan also in the game.

    Choose spears with bright green stalks and purple-tinted tips; since asparagus does not store well, try to buy and eat these jolly giants the same day, if possible.

    SCIENCE TIME-OUT: Since white and green asparagus come from the same plant, what explains the difference in color? Simple: white asparagus is grown underground. Growers cover the spears in dirt (or other sun blocking apparatus) so they’re not exposed to light. Which prevents the production of chlorophyll. Which as you know -- if you were listening to your high-school science teacher instead of passing notes to Cindy Larson, that is (Hi, Cindy!) -- would turn them green.

    Cooking-wise, the well-crafted dish is all in the tenderness: green asparagus is best tender-crisp (whether grilled or boiled), while the more delicate and mild white asparagus benefits from full boiling and uber-tenderness. And hollandaise sauce. And a crisp white wine. And Barry White.

    That said, if your market only stocks the green variety, try this simple and delicious recipe instead. (Even Barry White would approve.)

    Roasted Asparagus w/ Lemon Zest & Shaved Parmesan

    1 pound asparagus; tough ends trimmed, stems peeled
    1 garlic clove, minced
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    Zest from one lemon
    Shaved Parmesan ribbons
    Kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper 
  • Preheat oven to 425°.
  • Toss asparagus, garlic and olive oil; season with salt and pepper.
  • Roast in center of the oven until asparagus is tender-crisp and charred in spots; should take approx. 12-15 minutes, depending on thickness and how al-dente you roll
  • Remove from oven and sprinkle with lemon zest & shaved parmesan ribbons; serve warm.