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It's FINALLY happening! The green markets are starting to get more than just roots and hearty greens! Ay dios, it's about time. I think this time of year is all about delicate flavors and cooking methods. Most of the produce that's coming up around now doesn't need much beyond a quick blanch or saute, which is fine by me. Bright colors and crisp, fresh flavors abound! Today, I picked up one of my favorite greens - pea shoots! I love them because of their intense pea flavor, but mainly because of the curlicued tendrils at the end. They can spruce up any springtime dish! Garden peas usually take the whole summer to grow, but these are harvested after just around 2-4 weeks when the leaves are still tender and young. I was also able to pick up some fresh English Peas, right from the pod! Yes, I was having a moment with peas. Speaking of - check out this article about peas from the New York Times! Quite entertaining to say the least. So what else, you ask? Garlic scapes - CHECK. Fiddlehead ferns - CHECK! White asparagus from Chef's Garden - DOUBLE CHECK! All I needed was a bunch of morels and it would have been the ultimate combination of springtime. BUT, due to my aforementioned thought, I wanted all the delicate flavors of my ingredients to shine through. Morels would have been a great addition, but maybe overpowering. Either way, let's get to cooking!
Early Spring Vegetable Medley with Tarragon and Lemon
Serves 4 as appetizer
1 lb. white asparagus
1 C fresh peas
1 C fiddlehead ferns, brown paper parts removed and ends trimmed
2 lemons, one used for zest garnish
2 T garlic scapes, finely chopped on the bias
3 T tarragon, finely chopped
A handful of pea shoots!
Microgreens & edible flowers, for garnish
To start, prep the white asparagus. Cut off the woody bottom of the stalk and discard. With the spears laying flat, peel the outer skin of each off. This isn't absolutely necessary, but the asparagus won't seem nearly as tender as it should otherwise. Cut into about 1- to 1.50 in pieces. In a large pot, add about 4 cups of water, the juice of one lemon, and about 1 t of salt, and bring to a boil. While the water is heating up, prepare an ice bath for the vegetables. When the water comes to a boil, blanch the asparagus first. These will need to cook for a few minutes until fork tender, but it depends on the thickness of the asparagus. Be sure to test! Once they're ready, remove, drain, and shock in the ice bath. Lay on a paper towel and reserve. Next, do the same to the peas and fiddleheads (individually) - for both, you'll only need the water to come back to a boil, then remove and shock in the ice bath.
If you're really ambitious, you can shell the peas - again, not 100% necessary, but you'll get a better pea flavor, you'll have a bunch of split peas, and you get to entertain yourself by peas ricocheting off of yourself, the bowl, and whatever else is near you. After peeling, I quickly fried up the skins for a crispy addition to the dish. To each his own! It's a pretty arduous process, so if you don't have the time or patience, forgo.
Next, heat up a large saute pan over medium to medium low heat. Swirl in a couple tablespoons of olive oil, and allow it to heat it. You don't want the oil to be too hot, as you're just heating the vegetables - you don't really want to brown them at all. Toss in the garlic scapes, and cook for about a minute. Next, sprinkle in 2 T tarragon, stirring often. Finally, add in the peas, asparagus, and fiddleheads, a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of white pepper, and cook until they've all warmed through. Again, continue to stir often so you get the scape and tarragon flavored oil evenly distributed. Remove from heat.
To serve, divide the pea shoots evenly amongst four serving dishes. Divvy up the vegetable mixture atop the pea shoots, and if you've got them, sprinkle the fried skins on top. Garnish with the remaining fresh tarragon, a bit of lemon zest on each, a grind of white pepper and some microgreens. If you have it, finish with a bit of Maldon sea salt for an added crunch and flavor explosion. Enjoy!
What a delightful combination of flavors! As aforementioned, each component within this dish is extremely delicate, with flavors that can be easily overpowered. The simplicity and balance of items within this make it a perfect combination. The cooked tarragon paired perfectly with the vegetables, bringing out their earthiness, while the zest brought out the brightness in the dish. Because the pea shoots were the bottom of this dish, parts of them were warmed through, creating a nice balance between slightly warmed pea shoots, and fresh, crunchy shoots. The flavors of the white asparagus, the peas, and the fiddleheads all came through, and everytime you got a bite of the garlic scape, there was a great explosion of flavor. Overall, a fantastic springtime dish! If you can get your hands on any of these items, give this dish a whirl!