By Barbara Kobsar
Choosing produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.
At the market, arugula may appear under names like garden rocket, roquette, or rucola. Regardless of what it’s called, this leafy green offers some of the same heat and peppery flavor as its radish and watercress relatives. It grows year-round, but the milder months produce the ideal small, tender leaves, while summer heat encourages the plant to bolt and the leaves to become bitter. Enjoy it in salads, and consider substituting arugula for basil in pesto, sautéing to add to a pasta dish, or adding as a raw topping on pizza, soups, or vegetable dishes. Like other salad greens and herbs, arugula is best cleaned by swishing in cool water before spinning dry in a salad spinner. To store for up to five days, roll up gently in a dry towel, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate.
Watch for the first strawberries and asparagus arriving back on the market scene this month. The local asparagus season lasts only eight to 12 weeks, while strawberries are harvested well into the summer.
Horseradish is a perennial root vegetable that can perk up mild spring salads, yogurt-based vegetable dips, and scrambled egg dishes. A large white tapered root, it keeps most of its pungent aroma under wraps, but once cut or grated, it quickly turns powerful. Scrub, trim, and peel the root down to its white center, then chop or grate. Prepared horseradish is best used immediately, since it loses its pungency, darkens, and turns bitter over time.
Edible-podded peas are a sweet, crisp spring delight. Snow peas, with their flat pods and tiny seeds, benefit from a quick stir-fry, while plump, tender snap peas add a raw crunch to salads. If you find pea shoots at the market, grab them while you can and add them to soups, sauces, and pastas: The tender tips of the pea vines, including leaves, stems, flower blossoms, and tendrils, are not around for long!
Sometimes called lazy man’s celery, celeriac or celery root needs very little attention in the garden and minimal preparation in the kitchen. It’s not much to look at with its warty, hairy exterior, but once peeled it reveals cream-colored flesh and offers an exceedingly pleasant celery/parsley taste. Use a very sharp knife to trim the celery root of any protruding knobs, then switch to a vegetable peeler to get down to the flesh. Try mixing equal parts cooked celeriac and potato to make a deliciously different mash.
Rhubarb is another perennial and fleeting pleasure of spring. Its long, green- and red-tinged stalks appear here and there at market stands, where they are snapped up by pie, crisp, and jam makers. Rhubarb freezes well, so get it while you can, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces, and freeze in freezer bags so you can keep making those delicious rhubarb desserts all year long .
Veteran journalist Barbara Kobsar has authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. You’ll find her each week at the Walnut Creek Farmers’ Market selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.
Berkeley-based illustrator and musician Caroline H. Gould is a transplant from Brooklyn, New York. She is especially fond of illustrating desserts. carolinehgould.com