Thursday, May 16, 2013

April showers bring May flowers—and vegetables!

Last week brought the return of my favorite farmers and artisans to the local farm market. Beautiful spring weather brought out familiar faces that I’ve missed over the winter, even if I don’t have names to go with the faces. At the East Goshen Farmers Market, I was spoiled for choice, both for spring crops and for Mother’s Day presents. Asparagus, kale, leeks, green onions, new potatoes, arugula, lettuces provided inspiration for several banquets. Chocolates and cakes and cookies and waffles and bread satisfied everyone's hunger for sweets and starches. Dog lovers could indulge their favorite pooch with treats or immortalize a pampered pet with a custom portrait. There was even a stand with hand-sewn aprons, potholders and bags.

Grandmom Ancone
While I look forward to going to the market, my great grandmother depended on her own resources to supply her family with produce. The season’s bounty was that much fresher because it came straight from the garden. Grandmom would gather her harvest in her apron and tote it into the kitchen where she would perform her alchemy. The first sign of spring in our house were the fresh greens. She would forage for the first tender dandelions and for broccoli rabe, and her garden produced tiny, tender leaves of spring lettuce long before they became a gourmet specialty. Baby onions were turned into an omelet within hours of being plucked from her garden. The eggs came from her own hens. We nibbled on fresh peas as we shelled them, but she would save enough to add them at the last minute to her veal stew.

My mother continues the tradition of her grandmother-in-law, and she plants a kitchen garden, but much of her harvest goes to the deer that live on her property. She enjoys gardening, though, and doesn’t begrudge the animals their share.

I only dabble. I have a collection of fresh herbs growing in pots on the deck and one lonely tomato plant surrounded by garden lettuce that I look forward to harvesting soon and dressing lightly with my great-grandmother’s vinaigrette. She would drizzle olive oil over the leaves, toss, add a splash of vinegar made from homemade wine and a generous pinch of salt, toss again, and taste and adjust until it tasted right. 

My only change is that I put the dressing ingredients in the bottom of a bowl that I’ve rubbed with the cut end of a clove of garlic. Oh, and I add a dollop of Dijon mustard, which helps emulsify the vinegar and olive oil. You can get fancy and mash in an anchovy or two, or you can add a handful of fresh herbs, or you can substitute balsamic vinegar or lemon juice for the red wine vinegar. Use a fruity olive oil, or experiment with the various nut oils, but don't substitute vegetable oil. Olive oils are heart healthy, and a tablespoon will dress enough lettuce for two to four people. The loss of flavor isn't worth any caloric savings! 

If you feel a need to measure, the ratio of vinegar to olive oil is 1:2 (1 tablespoon vinegar to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, for example). Three tablespoons of dressing is enough to dress a huge salad--you don't want to drown those tender lettuce leaves!