Sunday, April 14, 2013

What's Good Now? Early Spring Ideas

Springtime, Allium, and other Seasonal Vegetables

            Although our region’s peak growing season is still a few months in the future, early to mid-spring brings several in-season treats. The delicious fennel bulb does best after hard freezes but before the heat of summer, and now is the perfect time for local onions and other plants in the Allium family – leeks, shallots, ramps, garlic, scallions and chives. Nutritionists consider all of these vegetables great sources of fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals.
            Onions, of course, are grown all over the world and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), are the second most commonly cultivated vegetable worldwide after tomatoes. According to the website, onions and onion extracts can relieve asthma, bronchitis, and cold symptoms, and the WHO “supports the use of onions for the treatment of poor appetite and to prevent atherosclerosis.” 
            Onions, leeks and fennel form the basis of the following vegetarian recipe. It makes a good entrée for two people, perhaps served with rice or noodles; we enjoyed it recently as a side dish with pan-fried crabcakes.

Tastes way better than it looks here!
Recipe: Braised Fennel and Leeks
Serves 4 (side, or two as a main dish)

1 ½ c chicken or vegetable broth
½ c white wine
½ c water
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced in half
½ c chopped onion
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried tarragon
2 T butter (optional)
Salt and freshly ground or cracked black pepper, to taste

3 leeks, white parts only, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise
2 fennel bulbs, cored and cut into quarters lengthwise

2 c sliced mushrooms, any type
3 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the braising liquid in a large, deep sided frying pan: add the liquids along with the garlic, chopped onions, herbs, butter (if using) and seasonings. Cover and bring to a boil.
Arrange leeks and quartered fennel in the pan. Bring liquid back to boiling, then reduce heat to low, cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a smaller frying pan, heat olive oil over medium and add mushrooms. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, add salt and pepper and remove from heat.
To serve, carefully remove fennel and leeks to a platter; top with sautéed mushrooms.
Note: Strain the braising liquid to remove solids and store broth in the refrigerator for another use—it will be quite flavorful.

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