Yesterday was the final day of March. But you would never know it from the weather. For most of March we experienced weather that was more like April or May....even June. Yesterday we almost hit 90°. We have been through a warp speed spring...watching in two weeks a progression of bloom that normally occurs over a four to six week period. The lilacs bloomed in March this year. This has been a once in a lifetime Spring.
In a normal year, I usually make my first early Saturday morning trek to the farmers' market around the second weekend of April. As much as I look forward to the market season, I tend to put off that first trip. It's usually still cold...I'm out of the habit...and there just isn't much there. The market is officially open during the winter months, but our normal weather conditions make it almost impossible for the local growers to have much to offer before mid April. The thing that always lures me back is the asparagus. I don't want to miss its arrival. My goal every year is to make it to the market the same week the local asparagus does...maybe a week before....
I don't know if yesterday morning's visit coincided with the first asparagus or not. A friend who farms in the Lawrence area told me that they had begun harvesting their asparagus this past week...so it is likely that Saturday was the day. In any case, I brought home a couple of nice bunches of local asparagus. What a treat...local asparagus in March.
Our evening meal on that first market Saturday in Spring always seems special to me. I never do anything complicated—I just want to savor the moment and quietly celebrate the beginning of the growing year by cooking with some of those first few ingredients. Because that first visit to the market falls more often than not on the weekend before the asparagus arrives, I usually make a big green salad (many of the lettuces and the spinach are the first things to arrive). And I could have had a salad last night—I brought home a big bag of beautiful lettuces. But I really just wanted to enjoy the asparagus.
So for dinner last night we had a simple bulgur pilaf that was loaded with asparagus. I added a few peas from the freezer, spring onions from my morning trip to the market and a big handful of fresh herbs—parsley, mint (already rampant in my garden) and thyme. I finished the pilaf with some pistachios and lemon and served it with a hard cooked egg (eggs and asparagus are wonderful together). For tips on how to create a main course pilaf of seasonal vegetables, check out my "basics" post from a couple of years ago.
I was—as always—so glad to be back at the market. Walking the familiar aisles, seeing faces I haven't seen since October or November, checking out what's new... I was filled with anticipation for the market season ahead. When I returned home, I spread out my purchases on the counter. I was immediately struck by the green-ness of it all. And then when I sat down to my evening meal, I noticed it again in the many and varied shades of green in the finished pilaf. We have been experiencing spring out of doors now for a full three weeks. Yesterday, it made its way into my kitchen....and onto my plate.
Bulgur Pilaf with Asparagus & Herbs
2 T. olive oil
4 or 5 spring onions—including a few inches of the green—trimmed and thinly sliced (you will have about 1 c. onion)
1 T. picked fresh thyme, roughly chopped
1/4 t. fennel seed, crushed in a mortar and pestle
1 c. (6 oz.) medium bulgur, rinsed and drained
1 1/4 c. water
1/2 lb. (trimmed weight) asparagus spears, trimmed and cut in 1-inch lengths on a short diagonal
1 c. peas (thawed, if using frozen)
1/4 c. chopped flat leaf parsley
3 to 4 T. mint chiffonade
1 to 2 T. olive oil
zest of 1/2 a lemon
lemon juice to taste (about 1 to 2 t. or so)
1/2 c. toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
Warm 2 T. olive oil in a medium saucepan with a tight fitting lid over moderate heat. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and sweat until tender and translucent. Add the thyme and fennel and cook until fragrant—about a minute. Increase the heat to medium high and add the drained bulgur along with a generous pinch of salt. Continue to cook for a minute. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered until the bulgur is tender—12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand (covered) for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water. Add the asparagus and cook until just tender. Scoop out the asparagus and rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking process. Spread out on a couple layers of paper towels. Return the water to a boil and add the peas. Cook until just tender. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Add to the asparagus.
Transfer the bulgur to a large bowl and toss in the peas and asparagus along with the remaining ingredients—adding lemon juice and salt to taste. If the pilaf seems dry, add a bit more olive oil. Serves 4 as an entrée along with a hard cooked or egg or a wedge of cheese.
• The pilaf may be served warm or at room temperature.
• The pilaf would be a great dish to take on a picnic or to a pot luck.