If April showers bring May flowers what do torrential May downpours and cool weather bring? A slightly longer spring is what. I admit to a minor case of the grumpies when faced with day after day of rain, however it did wonders for extending the normally short New England spring which to my mind seems to last all of two days and occurs somewhere between crazy rainy days and blazing hot pre-summer days. My bleeding hearts started slowly then went on and on and on. They are just now starting to slow down and go into seed production.
The culinary benefit of this weather has been a prolonged asparagus season. The Pioneer Valley is well-known for its Hadley Grass. The rich soil found in the towns along the Connecticut river offers perfect growing conditions for asparagus and when it is in season we gorge ourselves on the green stalks until they can no longer be found in the markets or farm stands at which point we are left to wait another year before we binge again. Asparagus was one of the only things Grammy Caldwell and I ever disagreed on (another thing we disagreed on was Dan Quayle but I’m not going there). I’ve always prefered the pencil thin stacks which require no peeling, while she insisted only stalks as fat as your thumb were fit to eat. In the end we had to agree to disagree on the topic of asparagus.
There aren’t really recipes for how I cook asparagus. Last night Shawn tossed a bunch of the stalks I’d brought home in a bit of olive oil and scattered them crossways on the grill after the burgers were done (the crosswise trick is essential as otherwise you will be sacrificing your asparagus to the fire gods).
Tonight I’ll make a simple saffron risotto and when it is done cooking I’ll toss handfuls of cut up pencil thin asparagus on top of the risotto to steam. With the lid back on the pot the heat from the risotto will cook the asparagus while I grate the Parmigiano Reggiano. A quick stir to mix everything together, followed by a cloud of Parmigiano on top before we all dig in.
Cool prolonged springs are also conducive to radishes. While I have never bothered to grow radishes in my own garden I get immense satisfaction from piling bunches of French and Easter Egg radish into my basket at the farmer’s market. My home-from-market snack is a thick slab of bread from a bakery at the farmer’s market slathered with butter, thin slices of radish and a sprinkle of salt. An open-faced spring sandwich.
We had our first really hot day yesterday and the kids are busy studying for exams which start next week so I know summer is right around the corner. This makes the spring fling I’ve been having with radishes and asparagus all the sweeter since I know it is, as my friend Thomas likes to say, a LTO (limited time offer). What more could I ask for today beyond radish and butter sandwiches, asparagus and saffron risotto and no rain?
*If anyone knows what kind of tree this is I would love to know. There is a pair of them on Market Street which I go out of my way to drive by each spring because I love looking at their twisted, curving branches chock full of the sweetest pink flowers. If I can find out their name perhaps I will get one.