Chow Town

May 3, 2013

Asparagus, ramps are nature’s way of proclaiming the arrival of spring

Making the most of seasonal ingredients can be as simple or complex as you care to make it.

Chow Town

The daily dish on Kansas City's food and drink scene

Seasons are nature’s way of beginning and ending a chapter.

There are times when the line is blurred by a slow crescendo, gradually fading from one point to another.

You’re sweating in a sweltering late August sun while dining on a ripe heirloom tomato. Before you know it, there are leaves scattered around you and a breeze slightly blows through your sweater.

Other seasons mark transition with an immediacy that you cannot help but take notice of. Spring is such a time.

Winter’s labored nuances of snow, drab skies and a sun that is more memory than daily companion begin to clear. A season marked by root vegetables of darker reds, oranges and browns has left the body and mind yearning for something fresh.

The sun begins to shine, trees again filling with green signs of life.

And just like that, spring bursts and blooms. Beautiful plants and vegetables are sprouting, shooting out of the ground with colors of greens, yellows, even purples.

This is nature’s way of saying that yes indeed, spring has arrived.

There is an almost cultist fervor surrounding the new season’s initial offerings. Things like asparagus and greens are often the first arrivals from the ground to the farmers markets.

They are followed by coveted wild gifts like morel mushrooms and ramps, a whimsical form of wild garlic that falls somewhere between scallion, leek and legend.

Farmers and foragers can’t wait to put these ingredients into cooks’ hands, who in turn excite at making magic happen on the plates and palates of eager diners.

This is the wonder of seasonal food.

Nature has a language all its own just waiting to be heard. Look around and listen; that voice will amplify. Cooking and eating are acts in life that involve every sense a human being has.

Take asparagus for example. We see its vivid green color all full of moisture and life. We hear the snap of the stalk precisely where the fibrous ends give way to the supple lengths moving upwards.

There is a bright aroma to freshly cooked vegetables like asparagus that is unmistakable and enticing. After slight blanching or even grilling, it has a giving toothsome texture that tastes of freshness in each bite.

Making the most of seasonal ingredients can be as simple or complex as you care to make it. One of the best ways to approach seasonal cooking and eating is to look at a dish or menu not as a checklist but a series of suggestions.

See what looks good at the market. Communicate with your farmer or vendor and ask what is good at that moment. Eating an ingredient at the peak of the season means nature has done the work of providing something near perfection.

Seasonal food is an ongoing communication between nature, ingredient and people.

Meet the people that grow your food and you will inevitably form a new connection and understanding of what and how to eat.

Armed with the bountiful inspiration and ingredients of the season, the possibilities are endless.

Asparagus and Fried Duck Egg with Crispy Duck Skin and Wild Ramp Green Sauce

For this dish, I use the best ingredients I can find and let them speak for themselves. Asparagus, ramps and beautiful farm fresh duck eggs. Blanch the asparagus ever so slightly in boiling salted water. The duck egg is fried in its own duck fat, rendered from the duck skin which serves like a crispy cracker alongside the luscious golden runny yolk. The ramps were chopped finely and blended with crushed pistachio, lemon and herbs adding bright notes to complement the richness of the egg and vegetal flavors of the asparagus.

A final sprinkle of a lovely Maldon sea salt gives texture and seasoning to make all of the components sing harmonious notes of spring.

Makes one serving

For the asparagus and fried duck egg:

3 to 4 large stalks of asparagus

1 duck egg

Duck Skin (plus any fat trimmings from butchering a duck)

1 teaspoon of Maldon Sea Salt

For the wild ramp green sauce:

6 to 8 stalks of purple/white base and green tops ramps, finely chopped

2 tablespoons pistachios, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

1 teaspoon mint, finely chopped

1 teaspoon tarragon, finely chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 to 3/4 cup good Extra Virgin Olive Oil

To prepare the asparagus and duck egg: bring a large pot of water and 1 tablespoon to a boil. Put skin in pan over low heat, render fat until skin is lightly browned and crispy. When water is boiling, blanch asparagus by dropping them into the water and cooking them 1 minute or so. You could remove and shock it in ice water, or simply set aside. Put pan on medium heat, add 1 tablespoon duck fat. When duck fat shimmers slightly, crack duck egg into pan. It will splatter a bit, but that’s okay. You want those nice crispy edges, a just set white and a beautiful runny golden yolk. Finish with a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt, or the finest salt you have.

For the wild ramp green sauce: Combine ramps and pistachios in mixing bowl and add lemon juice. Stir thoroughly, letting the ingredients mingle nicely. Add the herbs. Slowly pour in the olive oil, stirring as you go until you reach a lovely spoon-able consistency.

Source: Tyler Fox

Tyler Fox is a personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes a “nose-to-tail” cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local farm-to-table foods.

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