Asparagus has endless preparations. Here, cook it your favorite way, undercooking it slightly. Plunge into cold water to cool it; drain and dry. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place asparagus in buttered casserole dish; dot with butter, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with freshly grated Parmesan and bake 10 to 15 minutes.
Radish butter: It's absolutely fabulous and so pretty. Finely chop radishes and add them to softened butter, having a high ratio of radish to butter. That's it! For a party, serve the radish butter on crostini, crackers or toasted English muffins. Top with a sprinkle of fresh herbs. Lovely.
Any time of day is good for a healthful smoothie. Get out the blender and add to it some nonfat yogurt, a bit of OJ and your favorite berries. Bzzzz away and you're set. Add a half banana if you're so inclined. Freeze the berries first if you want a thicker smoothie.
Strawberries with balsamic vinegar offer a simple dessert. Toss berries with a little sugar and let sit for a few minutes. Sprinkle with a little good balamic vinegar. Taste, add more sugar if necessary. Sprinkle with black pepper, if you're so inclined. Or add some mint leaves.
What's summer without a daiquiri? First make a simple syrup of equal parts sugar and water; heat until the sugar is melted. Cool and store in the refrigerator. For a berry daiquiri, grab the blender and add 1 cup berries to 3/4 cup rum, 2 tablespoons simple syrup, 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice and 1 cup crushed ice. Blend until creamy. Serves 4.
When you tire of fresh peas in stirfries or steamed as a side, try them mashed. In a pan with a little olive oil over medium heat, add chopped green onions, fresh mint and shelled peas. Cover and cook a few minutes. Add a little butter, sea salt and black pepper and mash the mixture. Yum. Babies never had it this good.
Or maybe it's a simple brown butter that you need on your steamed vegetables, whether they are beans or broccoli. Simply melt butter at medium-low heat, and cook it until it turns a pale brown, about 5 minutes. Use immediately.
Pesto can be made in more flavors than the standard basil, good as it is. Try arugula or mint. Put the leaves in a blender with a garlic clove and a few tablespoons of walnuts or pine nuts that have been toasted. Add salt, pepper and olive oil to make a paste the consistency you want. Toss with pasta or use as a sauce with grilled vegetables or meat.
That grilled piece of fish could use a drizzle of parsley butter to give it more depth. Other herbs in the garden? Substitute dill, chervil or whatever you like. First melt butter and add a little minced shallot and cook until softened. Add a bit of wine vinegar with salt and pepper. Add the minced herb and additional vinegar and drizzle over fish.
Picnics mean Jell-O. Make yours sangria- flavored: Sprinkle 2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water; let sit 2 minutes. Add 11/2 cups boiling apple juice and stir. Add 11/2 cups white wine and refrigerate until thickened. Fold in sliced strawberries,grape halves and diced apples or other fruit; refrigerate until firm.
Get the snap in sugar-snap peas: Put a little oil in a large, deep skillet and turn up the heat to high until the oil smokes. Add the peas and cook, stirring constantly, until they are bright green, about 5 minutes. Take them out of the pan and drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil. Or not. You're the cook, so you get to decide.
Strawberry ice cream: Mash 1 pound berries with 1/4 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons lemon juice and a pinch of kosher salt. Transfer half of the mixture to a blender, add 16 ounces sour cream, 1 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup sugar and purée. Combine with mashed strawberries and freeze in ice cream maker.
What to do with all that kale in the CSA basket? Preheat your grill to a low heat. Remove the stems of the kale and toss the kale with a little olive oil, coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Spread out the kale on the grill grate (don't overlap leaves). Cook until the kale gets crispy, turning once midway through, about 15 minutes total.
Asparagus-mint frittata: Whisk together 6 eggs, 1/3 cup grated Parmesan and some finely shredded mint leaves. Trim a bunch or two of asparagus spears, then cut them into 2-inch pieces. Heat olive oil in frying pan. Cook the spears for 5 minutes. Lower heat and add egg mixture and cook 10 to 12 minutes. Put under broiler to firm up top.
Swiss chard: Cut off any tough stems. Coarsely chop the leaves and drop into boiling, salted water. Cook until leaves are tender, 7 or more minutes. Drain and serve with butter, olive oil and/or vinegar.
Easy does it: Roast or grill your asparagus by first tossing the trimmed stalks in a little olive oil. Cook until tender. Sprinkle with coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper, or with toasted sesame seeds.
Quick rhubarb sauce: Chop rhubarb into small pieces. Melt a little butter in saucepan. Add rhubarb and sugar (about 6:1 portions) and cook until rhubarb is tender, stirring constantly. Add a little vanilla, if desired. Serve warm over ice cream or cheesecake.
Rhubarb juice: Simmer chopped rhubarb in water until it's tender. Strain off the juice and discard the rhubarb. The juice will be very tart. Add it sparingly to lemonade or to a glass of water for a tart flavoring agent. Or add a little to black iced tea. Or freeze as ice cubes to be used in summer drinks.
Fresh peas? Shell them and place in salted boiling water. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until they are tender and bright green. Drain them. Melt butter and add the peas, along with salt and pepper and a minced herb (mint, basil, chervil or parsley are good). Cook for 2 to 3 minutes and serve.
Pasta with spinach and cream: Chop spinach coarsely. Melt butter in saucepan and add spinach with salt and pepper. Cover, reduce heat and cook until spinach is tender, about 10 minutes. Add a little cream and cook another 5 minutes. Boil water for pasta and cook until tender. Drain; toss with a little butter and a lot of Parmesan. Toss with spinach.
Grilled chicken salad: Pound a boneless chicken breast until less than 1/2-inch thick. Marinate in soy sauce while grill heats up. Cook chicken thoroughly; remove from heat and cut into small pieces. To salad greens, add dressing of fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Top with chicken.
Carrots with cumin: Peel and grate (or shred) carrots. Combine juice from oranges and juice of lemon with a little olive oil and a teaspoon of cumin. Toss carrots with dressing and serve.
Toss spring greens with a mustard- tarragon vinaigrette: 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or tarragon vinegar, 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon, 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Is there a better way to eat new potatoes, fresh from the garden? Steam or boil them, unpeeled but halved or quartered, until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and toss with butter and parsley.
Chocolate-dipped strawberries: Wash and dry berries. Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment. Melt good-quality chocolate with a dab of shortening. Dip a strawberry halfway into it and gently shake off excess. Place berry on baking sheet and repeat with others. Store in refrigerator. Use within 12 hours.
Stuff deviled eggs with basil pesto. Wow! To make deviled eggs, place eggs in pot with water to cover. Bring slowly to a boil, then cover pot and remove from heat. Let sit for 15 minutes. Plunge in cold water to cool. Remove shells. Cut eggs in half and remove yolks. Mash and mix with mayo and pesto. Fill egg whites with it.
Make your own herb seasoning. Combine 1 cup kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground fennel and 1 tablespoon each fresh thyme, rosemary and sage. Rub the herbs with your fingers to bring out the fragrance. Spread on parchment on baking sheet and, with oven at lowest setting and the door propped open, dry for about 12 hours. Grind in spice grinder.
Flavor your cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese with mashed berries for a delicious morning spread for your bagel or English muffin.
Those purple chive blossoms that appear briefly in June look lovely tossed in salads or atop soups. The mild chive flavor is an added plus. Or mince the flowers for a flavored, very pretty butter.
Use some of your squash blossoms by stuffing them for dinner. Remove the interior pistils. Stuff with a soft cheese (ricotta or mozzarella) or cooked ground meat, adding only a small amount of filling so the blossom can close. Bake in greased pan at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Or sauté blossoms, unstuffed, in olive oil.
Enough with the heavy foods of winter! We are well into the seasonal change that marks our dinner tables: the local asparagus and radishes, lettuce, rhubarb and herbs that slip into our meals and brighten our spirits as surely as a sunny day. Wherever you find these treasures -- the farmers market, your own garden, a CSA box, the produce aisle -- that first clutch of produce brings enthusiasm from cook and diner alike. Need new ideas for the berries on your bush? Or the arugula peeking from the garden?