As I anticipated last week’s class, my heart fell. Here I’d advertised a spring class and we were still in the throes of winter with the season being at least three weeks behind a normal year. Temperatures hovered around freezing and the most exciting thing at the market was baby endive (finally growing well after their normal season, because of so much wet and cold) and fat spinach leaves, but a spring menu those do not make. Normally at this season we’ve got sweet strawberries, asparagus, bear garlic (ramps), radishes, baby lettuces of all sorts, new herb shoots, and more than anything, NEW FLAVORS!!!! Not that we don’t love winter, but there is that moment when I can’t think of eating one more leek, or celery root, or parsnip.
So I planned my menus, reasoning as I added Tarte Tatin that it would be gorgeous and please everyone even if it is April. I was right about that, and what a Tarte Tatin it was!
Lemon meringue tart is also a universal favorite and great teaching recipe, so it fits into any season, and it was also a huge success!
I ran into Baptiste, my favorite grower, at l’Hostellerie d’Acquigny, one of our best neighborhood restaurants, and discovered that he had delivered some green asparagus to Eric, the chef, so I shamed him into saving some for me. He’d already texted me that the spinach was up, radishes were in, and though the endive were late they were better than ever. Things were looking up.
And the “meteo” which I check with alarming frequency as I plan classes, was making big, hot, sunny promises. So, as I put on my heavy jacket before heading to the market, I hoped the week would give us some surprises.
And it did. Bunches of delicate purple-hued turnips cozied up to fava beans The cockles and sardines were in more abundant than usual supply, and to my delight, the gariguette strawberries, the very first on the market, were sending incredible perfume into the air.
As the week wore on, the temperatures went from high 40’s to the high 80’s. My garden, which had been a pale shadow of itself, literally exploded with color and fragrance. The quince tree was naked one day, covered with blossoms the next; the fig tree’s snaky bare branches had green butterfly leaves on them overnight; tarragon become a plant, chives and rosemary both sprouted flowers, and I won’t even try to describe how many dandelions there suddenly were in the lawn. Usually a plague, this year they were a gift because we used the golden flowers in salads and as garnish.
It was a roller coaster of a week, because every day gave something new. And now, spring is well and truly here, a few weeks late but that doesn’t matter. It simply means that everything will last just that much later into the season!
LES FEVES ET NAVETS DE PRINTEMPS
This dish makes me think of a Pointilist painting, with its dots of vivid color from the begonia blossoms and the fava beans, interspersed with the white turnips and dark green oregano leaves. It’s an inspiration from Pascal Barbot, chef at Astrance in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. As the French would say, it’s a “clin d’oeil,” or wink, at spring!
NOTE: that when blanching, the ideal ratio of salt to water is 1 rounded tablespoon of coarse sea salt per 2 quarts;liters of water. To shuck the individual fava beans, blanch them in boiling water for about 1 minute, drain them, make a slit in the outer husk and pop out the little green bean inside.
Note, too, that the cooking time for turnips will vary quite wildly, as it depends on the many things including the variety, how fresh they are, how large they are. They are cooked when a sharp knife blade passes through them with just the slightest bit of resistance, which means they are not mushy.
1-1/2pounds (750g)baby turnipspeeled, cut in quarters
1pound (500g)fava beanshusked, individual beans shucked (to give a shy cup of beans)
Edible flower blossomsfrom flowers that have not been sprayed
1tablespoonfresh oregano or marjoram leaves
Fleur de sel
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the turnips, and when the water returns to a boil, cook the turnips until they are tender through, about 18 minutes. Transfer the turnips to the bowl of ice water, and when they are completely cool, transfer them to a cooling rack covered by a cotton towel.
Bring a smaller pot of salted water to a boil over high heat, and add the fava beans. Cook them just until they are tender through, about 5 minutes, then transfer them to the bowl of ice water. When they are chilled, fish them out and transfer them to the cooling rack covered with a towel.
Melt the butter in a good-sized skillet over medium heat. When the butter is hot, add the turnips and sauté them for 1 minute, then add the fava beans and sauté the two vegetables together until they are hot through, about 4 minutes, seasoning them with white pepper and salt as you sauté them. The vegetables should not dry out or turn golden at all, but be evenly hot through and glistening.
Transfer an equal amount of the vegetables to each of four warmed plates. Arrange the vegetables so that they look pretty on the plate, that is so that the fava beans are strewn over the turnips, and sprinkle each plate with the fresh oregano or marjoram leaves, and the begonia petals. Add a tiny sprinkling of fleur de sel, and serve.