Photography by Ellise Pierce
Texas winters are manic. Icy one day and sweltering the next. I go from making hearty pots of soups to breezy salads and back again all in the space of a week—cooking becomes less representative of the season and more about trying to play catch-up with the helter-skelter weather. I won’t even get into the nonstop pollen-filled wind gusts—I’m buzzing on Sudafed and Allegra as I write this.
Finally, along comes more predictable spring, and with it, a saner approach to eating. You can put away the slow cooker and those Dutch ovens for hours-long braises, and instead think zippy. Spring’s about keeping your knives sharp and working faster/better/smarter, making meals à la minute, or breaking down the parts of even the easiest of recipes and doing advance prep work so you can spend less time kitchening and more time outsiding.
Spring’s all about eating lighter. Simple and speedy. Less cooking or none at all.
Without a doubt, spring’s debutantes are the biggest stars. They mark the end of the up-and-down crazy, and the beginning of long stretches of brighter, warmer days.
Asparagus comes first. If I’m in Paris, this means thick white stalks, often from neighbor Belgium—and green ones a few weeks after that, only available for six weeks, tops. We don’t have the whitethen- green asparagus tradition in North Texas, but I wish we did.
I like the slight bitterness of the white, and I love the sweeter green ones, too—always fat, by the way, not like the supermodel-thin ones we have here. Easy to cook, asparagus needs no more than a steamer basket in my flatbread recipe that follows, which works as an appetizer or a light dinner. I also like to roast them in a hot oven with a bit of olive oil. Either way, it couldn’t be simpler.
Strawberries, too, mark the beginning of the season. I’m usually so excited that I buy them at the first opportunity, yet often find when I get home and taste them that they’re still more sour than sweet. A bit of sugar will remedy that, but they’re so much better when left to sweeten on their own. I like strawberries best heaped on top of something like a meringue or a cake, like this light pistachio-lemon one in the recipe that follows, instead of cooked into a cake or pie. Warm, mushy strawberries don’t impress me; that said, when cooked into a compote with rhubarb and mint then left to cool, that’s a different story. I’ll add them to everything, from vanilla ice cream or cake to my morning yogurt.
For a brief period when spring first arrives, you can find slender spring leeks, which are lovely served classic bistro-style, with a simple vinaigrette and chopped egg on top, or sautéed and added to new spring potatoes and made into galettes, as I’ve done here—it’s a slight twist on potato pancakes that looks fancy but isn’t. The two sauces make these galettes more special, but aren’t time-consuming; each one takes less than five minutes to make. Serve these for brunch or alongside grilled fish, chicken or steak—plus that magic green sauce will go wherever you want it to.
So will this carrot salad—long, fat ribbons of raw color in a bowl— coming soon to your next backyard barbecue, or packed and ready for an afternoon picnic, at a roadside stop on your way to Big Bend, or if you happen to be on the other side of the pond, on a blanket spread on the Champ de Mars.
Pistachio Lemon Cake with Strawberry + Basil Salsa
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of COWGIRL CHEF:
Texas Cooking with a French Accent (Running Press). Read her blog
(www.cowgirlchef.com), follow her on Twitter (@cowgirlchef) and Instagram
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