I know, I know, it’s still minus 15 or some ridiculous number out there. But I honestly do believe that there is some evidence that the weariness of winter is sliding into the slush of spring.
Spring has got to win the pools as the most exciting season in Hamilton. There’s the impossibly skittish weather – wind, rain, snow, sunshine?; there’s the frost or the mud on the sneakers; there’s the on-going mastery required for the pot hole slalom. There’s the breathless feeling of freedom that accompanies relinquishing the down coat, the salt stained boots, the wool scarf, the lined gloves. And — whoo hoo — it’s time to buy a new handbag! Moreover, unlike the young man whose fancy turns to thoughts of love in the spring, I’ve reached the age when my springtime fancy starts to envision new, fresh things to eat.
There are all sorts of foods that may say spring to Canadians — from maple syrup to minestrone. So here are a few of my favorites:
Spring is the time of new beginnings. Of creation and pro-creation. So what could be a more perfect icon of the season than the humble egg. I’ve always loved to eat eggs in all their many guises, although I do remember, many years ago when we were told by nutritionist gurus that they were unhealthy and would raise our bad cholesterol to devastating heights. I think we were only supposed to eat two a week. (I actually remember doctors — yes, physicians — telling me that they certainly weren’t eating any eggs anymore, at all.) Fortunately I paid no heed, went on eating eggs whenever I felt like it, and now find out that they not only do not have any effect on my cholesterol count, but are considered one of the most nutritious foods of all time. So go ahead and stuff some for Easter, enjoy your favorite omelette or nosh an egg salad sandwich. All will be well.
For others, perhaps, spring is all about green. Green food that’s either been missing from the supermarket for a while or been missing in flavour for a few months. I’m thinking asparagus, leeks, chives (with actual chive flavour), spring onions, peas and snow peas that don’t look like wilted teardrops and – oh, boy — fiddleheads are just around the corner. Here’s a recipe that will put a spring in your step and will make good use of all that flashy chlorophyll:
Ham Hock with Pea and Herb Soup
lifted shamelessly from Nigel Slater’s recipe in the Guardian
ham hock 650 g
peas 200 g shelled
1 large clove of garlic
small bunch of parsley
handful of chive and basil leaves
Method: Put a ham hock in a deep pan with just enough water to cover, bring to the boil, skim off the froth that rises to the surface, then turn the heat down so the liquid simmers. Cover the pan with a lid and leave, with the occasional turn, for 45-50 minutes or so, till the ham is cooked through to the bone.
Remove the ham from the liquor, add the peas and garlic, and cook for 5 minutes or so, till the peas are tender. Add a handful each of parsley, chives and basil leaves to the peas, cook a minute or so longer, then blitz in a blender to give a thick, green sauce. Add pepper if necessary.
Tear the ham into large pieces. Roughly chop a few more of the herbs, then roll the ham in them. Spoon the sauce into bowls and add the ham.
And as an addendum: If there is one fruit that heralds the advent of spring, it must those slim, tender stalks of hot house rhubarb. This early stuff is paler in colour and not as tough or stringy as our own outdoor Ontario rhubarb which is not available until June. Each type is good, but I actually prefer the hot house variety for desserts. It’s not quite as tart as the later rhubarb, so that you don’t need the huge amounts of sugar to make it palatable.
Here’s a recipe for a dessert that makes the most of the early rhubarb. It’s a “Fool” instead of a “Tart” and is much simpler to make.
adapted from Lucy Waverman’s Seasonal Canadian Cookbook
4 cups sliced, tender rhubarb
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp grated orange rind
1 cup whipping cream
1) In a medium pot combine the rhubarb, sugar, water and grated orange rind. On low heat, cook together until the rhubarb softens, about 10 minutes. Cool and drain the liquid, reserving 1/4 cup.
2) Place the rhubarb and reserved juice in a food processor or blender and purée until smooth.
3) Whip the cream until it hold its shape. Fold into the rhubarb purée. Spoon into glass dishes and chill before serving.