Monday, March 28, 2005

Spring Vegetables

Typically the arrival of thistle shaped green vegetables such as asparagus and artichokes signal that Spring has sprung. But last week I was seduced into buying some exotic looking white asparagus and violet artichokes, each of which are much more common in Europe than they are here in the states. Fortunately interest in a greater variety of vegetables is growing and so they are getting easier and easier to find. My two sources? Berkley Bowl and Trader Joe's.

Last week I got a chance to go to Berkley Bowl for the first time. Berkeley Bowl is an independent supermarket that puts the big chains to shame. The produce section is what they are most famous for and it truly is impressive. While not as elegant as the great food halls in London, the variety and volume is way beyond what I'm accustomed to. Prices are moderate, I bought a pound of white asparagus and a four pack of Belgian endive, for a little over two dollars each.

Canned white asparagus have a tinny flavor and mushy texture; but fresh they are quite wonderful. I like them so much that I smuggled them home from Paris the last time I was there. They were just as common and similarly priced as the green ones. Last night I made risotto with asparagus and shrimp inspired by a recipe I found on the back of the arborio rice box. My additions to the recipe were baby scallops, some fresh grated lemon peel and a drizzle of lemon flavored olive oil. It was divine!

At Trader Joe's I found the violet artichokes. I tried several types of delicious artichokes when I lived in Tuscany, but I don't remember seeing these. Trader Joe's calls them Fiesole artichokes, but I'm not sure what the real name for them is. They also claim they are more tender and have less choke than regular artichokes; I just found them so beautiful I couldn't resist purchasing them. Big artichokes, little ones, hot, cold, green or purple I've yet to meet an artichoke I didn't love. Then again, I could say almost the same thing about asparagus.

The last of the white asparagus and the Belgian endive will become a salad tonight, served with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette. I think I may stuff the artichokes, stay tuned for more details...