Suddenly, Summer… in Spring

Sorrel and Green Garlic

Fresh Sorrel and Green Garlic

What seemed like an eternally dull and March-like spring has suddenly burst into summer But now it seems as if August is here in May! Because of the heat, I crave the foods of late summer like juicy tomatoes and melon, although here on the East coast we are still firmly within the season of young stalks and shoots: green garlic, rhubarb, asparagus, sorrel and pea tendrils. It’s so inspiring to see them at the markets, and I can’t resist- sometimes I buy more than I can possibly eat during my leisure days. These things are costly, and I make sure I use them all up. Some I can toss into salads, but many spring ingredients seem suited to cooler weather and delicate cooking: sorrel and nettles in puréed farmhouse soups and creamy sauces for fish; green garlic softened in butter and used in egg dishes such as omelettes and frittatas, and most deliciously, in the Green Garlic Pudding Soufflé- a familiar anchor of the Chez Panisse café’s spring menus. And as for rhubarb, it’s most often baked into crumbles and pies.

Although these ingredients require time spent in the kitchen when I’d rather be outside on the grass, cool drink in my hand, there are ways to work around this seasonal confusion:

Creamy puréed soups, such as the reviving nettle and sorrel one my friend Stephanie made for us on a sweltering night last week, or the potato with peas and herbs below, can be iced down and served chilled– or stored and reheated on cooler days- and are especially delicious with a large dollop of yogurt, creme fraîche, or a swirl of buttermilk stirred in.

Cool Potato and Lovage Soup CREDIT: Annd Kovel and James Ransom for The Wall Street Journal

Treat your lovely green things with care– they are newborns, after all. I like to place the stalks of asparagus in a bowl of cool water until I’m ready to cook them; I keep them on my counter for a day, and in very hot weather I place the whole setup in the refrigerator. The stems continue to drink in the moisture, which keeps the asparagus tips nice and firm. On hot days I prefer quick, simple preparations, and I will steam the asparagus briefly and toss with butter, or throw them on a hot grill if that’s what the meal dictates. All they need then is a drizzle of delicious olive oil, coarse salt, and a squeeze of lemon. Shaved, raw asparagus will keep you away from the stove completely, although I don’t think the flavor of asparagus can really be appreciated until it’s cooked. But, if you insist: Use a vegetable peeler to shave the stalks into ribbons, Toss them gently with olive oil, lemon and salt and layer on a plate with plenty of parmesan shavings and basil or parsley- and finely chopped toasted almonds or hazelnuts.

Prepping ahead is the other key to keeping cool in the heat. Wash and dry delicate greens and roll them loosely in a clean, light cloth before storing in the refrigerator in an open plastic bag. It’s very important for air to get in so the greens don’t become wet and slimy.

And I long ago relieved myself of any obligation to bake unless I feel like it. Instead, I make things I can use later stalks of rhubarb can be quickly chopped and simmered: in simple syrup and strained to make a puckeringly tart, pink liquid I keep chilled to use as a base for lemonade and cocktails. Or the rhubarb can be cooked down with just a splash of water and sugar to taste- and okay, strawberries too- until it’s all completely soft. Then the fruit simply needs to be mashed with a potato masher and served, still warm, over scoops of vanilla ice cream- or even better- fresh ginger ice cream. Any left will keep in a jar in the fridge until you’re ready for more. This is the most delicious fruity sauce to stir into your morning yogurt cup.

On Memorial Dy weekend I was thanking my lucky stars (though, of course I don’t believe I’m lucky) that I had planned ahead; my Vin de Pamplemousse is ready for aperitifs. During the cool months of early spring I had prepared a simple concoction, trusting that summer would come. Grapefruits were sweet and heavy with juice, and I sliced them and steeped them into a ratafia for 40 days.  But more on that later…


Thinking Ahead: Preparing Vin de Pamplemousse in March

Get your Early Glow(s) on


   Early Glow Strawberry Oven Preserves with Yogurt

Early Glow Strawberry Oven-Preserves with Yogurt

This is it: the moment when our late Spring fantasies finally come to fruition  We’ve been seeing those big, sour Driscoll strawberries in the grocery stores for months, and pretending Spring is strawberry season. But this ain’t California, and I’ve learned to be patient. And finally: real, red, pretty, strawberries are in the local farmers’ markets. I fell victim to their charms last week. I saw, I tasted, and I bought one 6 dollar quart of them without even batting an eye.  Then I walked around the corner of the market and spotted a table of even redder, riper, sweeter (I tasted again) strawberries. Oh, I bought those too. Early Glows, I was told- a super sweet and juicy variety. Get them while you can.  Based on my rudimentary research, only Sycamore Farms from Middletown, NY is selling these super-sweet berries at the Union Square greenmarket right now.

For three mornings I rinsed a few lovelies and served them up, judiciously selecting only the amount I thought we’d eat, so none would be waterlogged and go to waste. But my children are odd and even though the first words out of my 9 year old son’s mouth were: “Those are some Sweeeeet strawberries!”, neither he nor his little brother ate more than two. I did my part, but come Sunday, I still had more than a quart of strawberries, now somewhat over-ripe, sitting around.

Wanting to bake a treat I knew would get eaten, I made this:


                                         Strawberry-Pistachio Crumb Cake

This lovely, tender cake is a simple thing to make and you do NOT need a mixer.

Pistachio Crumb Topping: Stir together 3/4 cup four, 1/2 cup sugar ( I used some brown and some white), 11/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted pistachios, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (if you have it), 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted.

Cake: Preheat oven to 350 with rack in the center. Butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan, tapping out excess flour.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl: 1 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Cream together: 1 stick room temperature unsalted butter and 2/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy- give it some elbow grease. Add 2 large eggs, beating well after each addition. Stir in 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.

Mix in, alternating: the flour mixture and 1/4 cup buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Spread into prepared pan and smooth top so it’s even. Dot with halved or quartered strawberries, to lightly cover the surface (about 2 cups). Sprinkle pistachio crumb topping over strawberries, and bake until cake is golden and a skewer or thin knife comes out clean when inserted in center, 55-60 minutes.  Cook on a rack for 10 minutes, and then invert quickly onto a tray- place rack on bottom and invert again, so crumb is on top. Let cool before cutting.


Ever the home economist, I decided to save gas and cook off the remaining over-ripe strawberries while the oven was on, so I made this: Early Glow Strawberry Oven-Preserves for spooning onto yogurt, ice cream, anything.

Toss: 2 cups halved or quartered strawberries with about 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 cup water in a deep-sided baking dish. Bake at 350 until tender and lightly syrupy, abut 1 hour. Let cool, transfer to a jar, and store in the refrigerator at least 2 weeks- if they last that long.


no strawberry shall
      go unused