Sunday, April 18, 2010

Market Inspirations--Asparagus, Spring Onions & the Return of Old Friends

When I arrived at the market this week it was a more active place....more cars in the parking lots, a visible hum and bustle of early market activity, and Shaver Creek Produce, with their strawberries, had moved back to their regular stall on aisle three (to make room for regular aisle one vendors):

As I made my way down the first aisle I spotted the asparagus. The grower told me that this is the earliest that he ever remembers harvesting asparagus for the market. The weather has cooled down to normal range in the last day or two, but we have been in the 80's all week—the asparagus must have gotten a jump start.

As I was purchasing my asparagus, as well as some beautiful rhubarb (I don't seem to be able to pass it up), a familiar face walked up to talk to the grower. Thane Palmberg occupies the first stall at the market—his family has been bringing their produce to the market longer than anyone else there—and I had passed his stall thinking he wasn't at the market yet. He was on his way to get coffee but told me he had spring onions and spinach.

Thane grows some of the most beautiful produce at the market and supplies many of the small, locally owned restaurants here in town. When I stopped back at his stall he told me that both the onions and the spinach that he had with him had wintered over (next week there would be onions from new plantings...and perhaps some radishes) and that even with the cold snowy weather we had had this year he had been able to harvest leeks and parsnips for his restaurant clients through the winter and up until a couple of weeks ago. (Too bad I'm no longer at a restaurant—I would have loved to have had some of those parsnips.)

I stopped to purchase salad greens at Nature's Choice and asked about arugula. Fred Messner held up his thumb and forefinger to show me that it was only an inch or two out of the ground.... Then I was off to aisle three for some strawberries. There are of course still lots of plants for sale at the market—and will be through June. I hope to be ready for some plants in my garden in a week or two...I'm still a bit behind.  (The nice thing about Spring though, is that even if I'm behind in my garden, it still looks good

and makes me happy just to wander through it.  I better get busy though, or it won't make me so happy in July.)

For mid April, I feel like I brought home quite a stash—Asparagus, Spinach, Spring Onions, Salad Greens, Rhubarb and Strawberries:

As soon as spring onions appear at the market, regular onions pretty much fall out of use in my kitchen.  Spring onions take well to the gentler cooking methods that are appropriate for other spring vegetables--wilted with some spinach, used as a base for a spring vegetable ragoût, etc. 

For dinner on Saturday I needed to test a recipe for a Mushroom & Potato Spanish Tortilla that I am teaching in an upcoming class (the class that will include the Rhubarb Cake).  The recipe is normally made with a yellow or white onion, but I think it will be fine--better in fact--with the spring onions.

For the Tortilla, I will use all of the white and pale green parts of the spring onion (added as I would a regular onion). I will then add some of the green of the onions towards the end of the cooking so that they will stay bright green.

A Spanish Tortilla is a thick, flat omelet.  The classic Spanish Tortilla, or Tortilla Española is made with just potatoes.  The potatoes are sliced or diced and poached in olive oil before they are drained and mixed with the eggs.  Sometimes onions are cooked in the oil with the potatoes.  In my mind, the tortilla needs to have the olive oil-poached potatoes, or it isn't really a Tortilla Española, but this isn't actually the case. At its most basic, it is simply a flat omelet, filled with all manner of cooked ingredients.  Almost anything can be added: cooked artichokes, sautéed mushrooms,  blanched green vegetables (asparagus, peas), roasted or sautéed peppers, chorizo, seafood, etc.  I will be adding sautéed mushrooms to mine.

Potato & Mushroom Spanish Tortilla

about 3/4 c. olive oil
2 large spring onions or several small ones, pale and light green portions plus a few inches of the green, thinly sliced cross-wise (about 1 cup in all)
10 to 12 oz. Yukon Gold or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/3-inch dice
6 oz. Crimini or button mushrooms, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. minced Italian flat leaf parsley
6 eggs, room temperature
kosher salt & pepper, taste

In a 10-inch non-stick skillet, heat 2/3 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat for a couple of minutes. Add the potatoes along with 1/2 t. salt. The potatoes should be just barely covered by the oil.

If necessary, add another 1 or 2 T. of oil. Maintain the heat at medium until the oil returns to a simmer—a minute or two—then reduce the heat to medium low. Gently poach the potatoes at a gentle simmer in the olive oil until tender (be careful not to let the potatoes get brown or crisp).  This should take about 10 to 15 minutes. During the last couple of minutes add some of the thinly sliced green tops of the spring onions to the pan. Transfer the potatoes to a colander set in a bowl and let drain.

While the potatoes are poaching, heat another non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat. Sauté the mushrooms in a tablespoon or so of olive oil until tender and caramelized. Reduce the heat and add the garlic and parsley to the pan. Toss to combine and continue to cook until fragrant. Remove from the heat and season with salt & pepper.

In a large bowl, briefly whisk the eggs together with another 1/2 t. of salt and some freshly ground black pepper—the eggs don't have to be completely smooth. Add the drained potatoes (they should still be hot) and the mushrooms. Gently fold until all the ingredients are well combined. 

Wipe the skillet the potatoes were cooked in clean and return to medium-high heat. Add just enough of the drained oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan—about a tablespoon. When the oil is very hot (just beginning to smoke), pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Immediately begin to shake the pan vigorously and continue for 10 to 15 seconds while stirring with a heat proof spatula. The eggs should begin to scramble immediately. Then, cook for 15 to 30 seconds without shaking or stirring to allow the bottom to set. Reduce the heat to low, run the spatula around the outside of the tortilla to create a nice even edge, and continue to cook for a minute or two, gently shaking the pan occasionally (to make sure the tortilla isn't sticking). When the eggs are set around the edges (and the tortilla does not appear to be too liquid in the middle), flip the tortilla. Invert a large round plate over the skillet. Hold the plate firmly with one hand and turn the skillet over with the other. If the pan seems dry, add an additional tablespoon or so of the reserved oil to the pan; increase the heat. When the oil is hot, slide the tortilla back into the pan (cooked side up), tuck in the edges neatly (using the heat proof spatula), reduce the heat, and cook until the omelet is cooked through—another minute or two. The goal is a thick soft cake that is a pale golden color on both sides.

Transfer the omelet to a round platter, cut in wedges and serve hot or at room temperature. If you like, serve garnished with sour cream. Serves 4 to 6 as a light entrée.


I served the tortilla with some of the asparagus I purchased at the market--blanched and lightly dressed with olive oil.  Asparagus is great with both eggs and mushrooms and this made a lovely dinner.

Since I had some mushrooms left over, I continued my mushroom, asparagus and spring onion theme for dinner this evening in a quick pasta.

Penne Pasta with Mushrooms, Spring Onions & Asparagus

1 to 2 T. olive oil
3 or 4 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 small spring onions, thinly sliced (white and some of green)
2 T. toasted pine nuts
6 to 8 oz. asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal in 2-inch lengths
6 oz. penne pasta
1/3 c. freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Heat some olive oil in a medium sauté pan over high heat. When the oil is very hot add the mushrooms. Sauté, regulating the heat to maintain an active sizzle, until the mushrooms are browned and tender. Reduce the heat, season with salt and add a teaspoon or so of butter. Add the spring onions and cook until softened—about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the pine nuts.  Toss to combine and set aside.

While the mushrooms and onions cook, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Salt the water generously. Add the pasta and cook for 4 or 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and continue to cook until the pasta is al dente and the asparagus is tender—about 3 minutes more. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water. Add the pasta and asparagus to the mushrooms along with a generous drizzle of olive oil and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add some of the cooking water. Add a few tablespoons of the cheese and toss again. Divide among serving plates, sprinkle with more Pecorino and serve immediately. Serves 2.

I'm fairly picky about trying to eat things only when they are at their seasonal  peak--and one taste of a simple dish like this, made unbelievably good by the local, fresh asparagus, reminds me why I do it.

1 comment:

Katrina said...

"one taste of a simple dish like this, made unbelievably good by the local, fresh asparagus"....and great chef....;)
No asparagus at Lawrence market yet. And I never see strawberries, so I'm a little jealous about that great spread. Nice photo.
Got me some good salad mix from Wakarusa Valley though, so I'm happy I got up early to go.
Made that Spanish Tortilla for my mom and I for lunch a while back. She would have LOVED the spring onions in it (and of course we know my opinion on that.) You'd be proud of me though--I made "the" meatballs for dinner last night and I DID put the shallots in the sauce. Baby steps. ;)