Simple Seasonal Feast: The pasta of springtime bursts with local ingredients – including tiny quail eggsNow that it’s spring, this young lady’s thoughts are turning to green grassy pastures, frolicking baby animals and plants poking up out of the ground. All of which have the potential to produce good things to eat – at least in my book.
I await the opening of our local farmers’ markets like a mama bear coming out of hibernation. After months of hearty, filling fare like braised meats and roasted root vegetables, I’m ready to move on. I want to wake up my palate to the fresh flavor of new green vegetables – to feast on the tenderness of itty-bitty spring things, like steamed baby carrots, sweet peas and tasty little lamb chops. There will be plenty of time in the coming months to throw burgers on the grill and drink ice-cold margaritas in the backyard, but now is the time to enjoy the fleeting food pleasures of the season.
While I’ve been buying and cooking trucked-in seasonal produce from the grocery store for weeks now (spring comes early in California), I’m always eager to get my hands on the locally grown versions of my favorite spring produce. There’s something about food that’s just been pulled out of the ground that makes it seem like a greater version of itself – greener, juicer, smellier. More real.
Asparagus is one of the first vegetables to come and go. The season starts early, around mid-April, and is over before you can say “hollandaise.” Walter Gregory of
R Farm in Dow, Ill., is growing two types of asparagus this year – a usual Jersey green and another called Purple Passion. In addition to sporting the color purple, Purple Passion asparagus is sweeter and less stringy than other types, Gregory said. He plans to offer both varieties at the Ferguson Farmers’ Market, which opened April 26.
Because the spears grow fast – sometimes more than a foot a day – they need to be harvested daily. That bunch of asparagus you pick up at the farmers’ market should be so super-fresh you could eat it raw. Simplicity is key. Doesn’t asparagus carpaccio sound good? Shave off ribbons with a vegetable peeler and toss them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Or, you could try my recipe for fettuccine primavera, the pasta of springtime. I set out to prepare this dish using many ingredients from the St. Louis area.
Asparagus: At your nearest farmers’ market right now.
Fresh pasta: Check. Stellina Pasta Cafe in South City makes at least a half-dozen kinds of fresh pasta daily that you can buy to cook at home. I chose the fettuccine for my recipe because I love how the wide strands tangle themselves up the in creamy sauce, but the tagliatelle would be good, too.
Prosciutto: We’ve got it. Volpi on The Hill salts and air-dries its hams right here in St. Louis. I buy it thinly sliced and then roast it briefly in a hot oven to crisp it up bacon-style.
Goat cheese: Yes! There are a few to choose from. Heartland Creamery in Newark, Mo., (available at Straub’s Market and some Schnucks, among other stores) produces a creamy, chèvre-style goat cheese in several flavors – I like the lemon pepper. I use a little of Heartland’s heavy cream, too. Goatsbeard Farm in Harrisburg, Mo., also produces soft rounds of farmstead cheese, along with soft-ripened styles. Look for Goatsbeard cheeses at the Maplewood Farmers’ Market, Whole Foods Market and other specialty shops.
Eggs: Here’s a surprise: Providence Farm is a nonprofit project of The Freedom School in University City, supervised by first-grade teacher Tim Baker. The students care for a small covey of Coturnix quail, which produce the loveliest diminutive speckled eggs. I like to adorn my pasta with a few of these poached cuties. You can find them at Straub’s.
Karen Tedesco lives, cooks and blogs in Webster Groves. She owns DinnerStyle, a personal chef service.