For vegetable lovers like me, spring is the best time of year. Look what I found at my local Whole Foods yesterday.
Fresh garbanzo beans, aka chick peas. I had never seen them before, so I decided to taste one or two before doing anything else with them. The soft fuzzy shell popped right open and the gorgeous pale green beans reminded me of popcorn. They were crisp and sweet, something like fresh fava beans, but without that bitter edge. I gave some to Charles and he agreed, so we ate some with a the sharp Castelmagno cheese that our friends from Piedmont had brought us last week. That got us reminiscing about our trip to Piedmont last fall, and the next thing you know we were sipping Clavesana dolcetto as we polished off the cheese and beans. I never had a chance to cook with them since the whole pile of beans disappeared. Must get more.
My friend Elizabeth Hellman Minchilli is an author and writes one of my favorite blogs about living, eating and cooking in Rome. You can find it at www.elizabethminchilliinrome.com. Recently she wrote a post about getting over her fear of cooking stinging nettles, known as ortica in Italian. Just the name is enough to scare you, and though I’ve eaten them often in Italy in ravioli and risotto, I have never cooked them because they are not easy to find here, unless you find them growing wild in your garden. But they turned up at the Union Square Greenmarket the other day, and inspired by Elizabeth’s success, I bought a bunch. Nettles have been used for millenia as both food and medicine, though of course I was more interested in the former. There is a lot of good information about nettles on Wildman Steve Brill’s website at www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Plants.Folder/Nettle.html. I don’t know if it was just this variety, but they did not seem to have any stingers. Wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt when handling them. Wash them well and pull the leaves off the stems. Drop the leaves into boiling water, then use them as you would spinach or swiss chard. The flavor is mild and grassy, though the texture is a bit rough.
Rocket arugula, sometimes called wild arugula, is pointy, crisper and nuttier tasting than the kind with rounded leaves. My mom used to grow it in our Brooklyn garden long before it became a supermarket item. I have always been a huge fan of arugula and happily at this time of year I can find big bunches of it at the Migliorini Farm stand at the Greenmarket. I toss it into chicken soup, or pasta with tomato sauce. My favorite and easiest way to enjoy it is in a salad tossed with extra virgin olive oil, a tiny bit of fresh lemon juice and slivers of Parmigiano Reggiano. I don’t know why I was so surprised to find out how good arugula is for you. I came across this post on nutritionist Dr. Janet Brill’s site http://www.drjanet.com/pages/2011/05/awesome-arugula I was delighted to read that arugula is in the cruciferous vegetable family and full of health benefits, but it’s unfortunate that the writer suggests eating it on a pizza to “make the medicine go down”. I like it on pizza too, but it is hardly medicine! I’d better be careful not to overdose.
This week, I did something a little different. I sauteed the arugula in olive oil with garlic and a bit of hot pepper and piled it on some toasted bread. We had that with roasted local asparagus and fried eggs.