Fresh spring flavor

Plentiful strawberries, sorrel and aspargus add lightness to dishes after winter’s heavier fare

The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionMay 29, 2013 

It’s the season for brighter, fresher flavors. The tangy sweetness of strawberries, the tender grassiness of just-picked asparagus, the refreshing sharpness of sorrel and the spice of young garlic and onions are just what we’re longing for after the darker, heartier foods of winter.

It’s an age-old craving, this desire to indulge in the tonic vegetables and fruits of spring.

Margie Thorpe, founder of Vegetable Husband, finds the arrival of spring has some of her customers thinking of tomatoes and other summer crops. She has to explain that tomatoes are going to be hitting their stride in late July. Instead, she tempts them with strawberries.

She created Vegetable Husband to make it convenient for people to support local farmers and enjoy organically grown food. Place an order online and the following Wednesday, a fabric-lined bushel basket with eight or so produce items will be delivered to your door.

Thorpe goes out early Wednesday mornings to gather produce from local farms within about an hour and a half of Atlanta. She says her customers are as excited about the arrival of strawberries as she is. “If there are children in the family, they see those strawberries and you’d think we had put a chocolate Easter bunny in there. It’s great to have something you can enjoy right out of the basket,” she said.

For those who want to invest a few minutes of preparation in their strawberries and are thinking beyond dessert, chef Ron Eyester of Rosebud and the Family Dog demonstrated three fast strawberry recipes at the Morningside Farmers Market recently.

He made strawberry syrup, steeping the strawberries in a sugar syrup with cloves, cinnamon sticks and cayenne. The result was eerily reminiscent of cinnamon Red Hots. Eyester’s suggestion for serving is to combine the syrup with a glass of ginger ale or champagne.

He tossed other strawberries with roasted beets, thinly shaved fennel, Marcona almonds and arugula, then dressed everything with lemon olive oil, sweet chile sauce and red wine vinegar for a colorful salad. Finally, Eyester sauteed strawberries with sorghum syrup, sherry, balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of black pepper and served the result over grits.

Of all the spring vegetables available at the farmers market, sorrel might be the least familiar. “I’ve only been eating sorrel for the last five years. One of my farmers introduced me to it,” Thorpe said.

She appreciates the tart, lemony flavor that is somewhat of a surprise from what looks like a leaf of lettuce or arugula. She adds a little chopped sorrel to her salads but she really loves sorrel pesto, which she adds to eggs, spreads on sandwiches and uses as a base for a variety of crostini. Like strawberries, sorrel is rich in vitamin C, just what we’re craving after all the vitamin K and calcium of our winter diets.

GREENS & STRAWBERRY SALAD 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

41/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 stalk green garlic, thinly sliced

2 cups sliced strawberries

1 bunch small green onions, thinly sliced

1/2 cup (2 ounces) shaved and crumbled Parmesan

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar

4 cups butter lettuce, leaves torn into bite-size pieces

In a small dry skillet, toast walnuts over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer walnuts to a salad bowl and allow to cool.

In the same skillet, heat one teaspoon olive oil over medium heat and add green garlic. Saute just long enough to bring out the aroma, about 1 minute, and add to the walnuts in the salad bowl.

In a medium bowl, combine strawberries, green onions, Parmesan, pepper, salt, vinegar and remaining 31/2 teaspoons olive oil. Toss gently to combine.

Arrange greens on serving platter. Top with strawberry mixture and sprinkle with walnut/green garlic mixture. Serve at once. Per serving: 220 calories (percent of calories from fat, 67), 9 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 17 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 8 milligrams cholesterol, 257 milligrams sodium. ASPARAGUS AND PARMESAN PASTRIES 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided

1/4 cup part skim ricotta or Neufchatel (about 2 ounces)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Zest of 1/2 lemon 48 stalks asparagus, tough ends snapped off

1 (14.1-ounce) package prepared pie crusts

1 egg, beaten

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup Parmesan, ricotta or Neufchatel, dill and lemon zest. Cut asparagus spears on the diagonal into 3 pieces. Reserve bottom third of asparagus for another use.

Roll out one pie crust to a 10-by-15-inch rectangle. Spread half the cheese mixture over crust. Cut crust into squares, about 21/2 inches per side. Working with one square at a time, arrange 2 pieces of asparagus including one tip diagonally on each square. Fold one corner of pie crust over asparagus, then fold opposite corner over and press lightly to seal. Asparagus ends should be peaking out. Arrange on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining squares.

Repeat process with remaining crust, ricotta mixture and asparagus and arrange on second baking sheet. Brush all pastries with egg and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Bake pastries until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Per pastry: 55 calories (percent of calories from fat, 51), 2 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 3 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 5 milligrams cholesterol, 81 milligrams sodium. CLASSIC SORREL SOUP 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup chopped leeks, green onions or ramps

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

5 cups chopped sorrel (about 3 small bunches, 6 ounces)

Salt to taste

1/2 cup cream

2 egg yolks

In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add the leeks, green onions or ramps and reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and cook gently 5 minutes. Remove lid and stir in flour, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Remove from heat.

While the onions are cooking, in a large sauce pot, bring stock to a low boil. Add sorrel and reduce heat so liquid is simmering. Cook until sorrel is mostly wilted, about 2 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover soup and stir in cooked onion mixture. Stir together, taste for seasoning.

In a small bowl, whisk cream and egg yolks together. Add a 1/4 cup hot soup to cream mixture and whisk together. Add another 1/4 cup of soup, whisk and repeat once more. Pour the hot cream mixture back into the pot of soup, continuing to whisk. Make sure soup is just below simmering and cook 5 minutes.

Serve immediately. Per 1-cup serving: 165 calories (percent of calories from fat, 65), 10 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 14 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 104 milligrams cholesterol, 62 milligrams sodium.

Hands on: 10 minutes / Total time: 10 minutes Serves 4 Adapted from a recipe provided by Margie Thorpe, Hands on: 25 minutes / Total time: 50 minutes Makes 48 Adapted from a recipe by Margie Thorpe, Hands on: 30 minutes / Total time: 30 minutes Makes 6 cups Adapted from a recipe by Chef Ian Forrest of FLIP burger boutique

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