Fava beans are back


At last, fava beans are flooding the farmers markets again. These plump, shiny legumes are among my favorite vegetables. When they’re fresh off the bush, they deliver the bright, green taste of spring.

Last weekend, piles of gleaming pods graced several stands at my local farmers market and I couldn’t resist. Part of the charm of favas is their season is short. You eat them when you can get them and they’re best young and tender.

Afficionados eat them raw, unzipping the leathery pods and plucking the beans out of their cottony beds. The tiniest beans, no bigger than a thumbnail, need no further preparation to enjoy their sweet young flavor. But the larger beans hide within a slightly bitter, pale green jacket and really should be peeled before eating.

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Asparagus pasta evokes spring


Whatever happened to spring? The season seems to have leapfrogged from winter to summer when I wasn’t looking. One night I was snuggling under a down comforter and the next I was wondering why I still had flannel sheets on the bed. The thermometer shot to over 90 when I was out hiking yesterday and, around here, that’s pretty hot even for summer.

No matter, the comforts of spring remain in the market. I’m grateful that I can still savor the bright, grassy flavor and crisp texture of fresh, locally-grown asparagus. Even better, the prices are coming down.

When asparagus first arrives at the farmers market, I’m happy just to eat it as plain as possible. It’s the first fresh taste of wonderful produce to come as the days get longer and the weather gets warmer. Nothing more than a little sweet butter is required. Continue reading Asparagus pasta evokes spring

Tomatoes on my mind


Now that the first spring veggies are arriving in the market, I can’t keep my mind from leaping ahead to August, when the heirloom tomatoes will be at their peak. I can’t wait for those vine-ripened beauties to reach my plate. Of all the summer produce, they’re my favorite.

It’s been too long since I’ve tasted a great tomato, fresh off the vine and still warm from the sun. But I’ve come up with a substitute to keep my cravings in check until the real thing arrives in the markets – roasted canned tomatoes.

Before you scoff, consider this: The best canned tomatoes have a depth of flavor you never find in the hot house tomatoes or those that were picked green in Mexico and trucked north. They’re picked ripe and rushed to the cannery. The texture suffers in the canning but that doesn’t matter so much if you roast them, which eliminates much of the excess moisture and concentrates the flavor. Continue reading Tomatoes on my mind

Pignoli for Passover – or anytime


Time is getting short. Passover begins at sunset Wednesday night. If you still don’t have any idea what to take to the seder, do I have a treat for you.

I’m no expert in matters of Jewish cuisine, it’s true. I’m not even Jewish. But many of my friends are and somehow I was always the one tapped to write a Passover story in recent years at the Mercury News. I also was lucky enough to be invited to participate in a Passover seder, the ceremonial feast celebrating the delivery of the Israelites from Egypt.

This much I do know: For most families, the seder menu is a cherished tradition. Whether it’s brisket or lamb stew, the heart of the menu changes little from year to year. The one place where there’s really any room for innovation is dessert. Still, the strictures against flour or leavening make it a challenge.

Amaretti con pignoli, the Italian classic cookies, are the perfect answer for a dessert that will delight diners and satisfy Passover restrictions at the same time. They’re easy but elegant, with a chewy texture and the buttery richness of pine nuts. Essentially, they’re macaroons made with almond paste, sugar and egg whites, a staple on Passover dessert tables. What sets them apart, though, is the luxurious coat of pine nuts that brings new layers of flavor to the simple cookie. Continue reading Pignoli for Passover – or anytime