- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Nothing says springtime like a trip to my local farmers market. There the stalls brim with all the colorful, often offbeat produce that the season brings. Whether it’s coiled, green fiddlehead ferns or rotund red and white radishes, I always find a wondrous vegetable for my dinner plate.

Here are some of my springtime favorites, along with suggestions on how to prepare them:

FAVA BEANS

Long, pale green and shaped like a large lima bean, the fava or broad bean originated along the Mediterranean during ancient times. Their subtle flavor goes well with a variety of the region’s signature ingredients, including olive oil, garlic, lemon, mint, parsley and sesame paste.

As for what to do with a bag of fresh fava beans, I boil them in their pods for about 10 minutes before shelling. After slipping the legumes out of their tough skins, I can saute them with butter, garlic, asparagus tips and a splash of chicken stock for a spring-inspired side dish. I can also add them to fresh pasta, or puree them with potatoes for a light yet creamy soup. Or I can slow-cook them, then partially mash them with garlic, olive oil, cumin and lemon juice to create ful medame, an Egyptian specialty.

If looking for a healthful appetizer, I can make these iron and Vitamin B-rich beans into hummus, feature them on bruschetta, or toss them into a salad of radishes, mint and greens. The culinary possibilities are limitless.

RADISHES

Often relegated to the status of garnish, crisp, juicy radishes hit their peak in springtime. Beyond their minor roles in salads and crudite platters, radishes taste great when steamed, sauteed, roasted, mashed or stir-fried. Thinly sliced, they work well in tempuras, as substitutes for water chestnuts, or in tea sandwiches with butter and sprinkle of salt.

Likewise, radish tops are a delight to eat. Tossed into soups or salads, the greens provide a peppery zing.

Although I know them best as little, red globes, radishes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Mild yet succulent, French breakfast radishes resemble small, scarlet carrots with white tips. Watermelon radishes look like pale green softballs. Cut open, they possess a slightly sweet, ruby flesh.

No matter what their form, radishes should be firm and blemish-free, with perky greens. To increase crispness, soak the radishes, with the roots on, in cold water for several hours before using.

CHANTERELLES

Reminiscent of a brass, rather than string, instrument, the trumpet-shaped chanterelle mushroom rears its wavy, apricot-orange head during the rainy southeastern spring. It possesses a scent similar to apricots and a flavor ranging from meaty to peppery.

Attempts to cultivate chanterelles have met with little success. However, many markets carry these wild mushrooms starting in late spring and — thanks to the Pacific Northwest, which has a fall to winter chanterelle season — extending through February.

When buying this exquisite fungus, choose plump and spongy ones. Steer clear of those with broken or withered caps.

A companionable ingredient, these mushrooms form pleasant partnerships with poultry, pork, fish and beef. Likewise, they serve as wonderful fillings for crepes, omelets, and tarts, as well as toppings for pizzas. They can easily be stewed or marinated. Sauteed in butter with a little minced garlic, salt and pepper, they make an irresistible side dish.

SWISS CHARD

Pairing well with chanterelles, Swiss chard earned its country-specific name in the 19th century, when seed catalogs added the name “Swiss” to distinguish it from similar looking greens. A popular element of Mediterranean cooking, its origins can be traced back not to Switzerland but to the hanging gardens of Babylon.

Swiss chard has the unique ability to appear as two different vegetable dishes at the same meal. Its thick, green, ruffled leaves can be used raw in a salad, added to soups, stuffed with meat or vegetable fillings, or sauteed or steamed. Its broad, white stalks can be steamed, stewed or gratineed.

When cooking chard, do not use aluminum cookware. This green contains oxalic acid, which will discolor aluminum.

From wavy, orange chanterelles to pale green fava beans, I can’t wait to sample all the unusual produce that spring brings.

Tarte of chanterelles, Swiss chard and Emmentaler

This recipe is adapted from “The White Dog Cafe Cookbook” by Judy Wicks and Kevin von Klause (Running Press).

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1½ cups chopped white onions

8 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, torn into bite-size pieces

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves

½ cup dry white wine

½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 cups tightly packed Swiss chard leaves and stems, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 9-inch deep dish frozen pie crust

1 tablespoon fine dry bread crumbs

6 ounces Emmentaler or other Swiss cheese, grated (about 3/4 cup)

Melt the butter in a large, nonreactive saute pan on medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the chanterelles, thyme and sage, and saute until the mushrooms release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high, add the wine and cook until all of the liquid has evaporated. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, nutmeg and pepper. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

In a large saute pan over high heat, heat the olive oil until it ripples.

Add the chard and saute until the leaves begin to wilt. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of water over the chard and continue to saute until the leaves are wilted and the stems are tender, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Taking the pie crust, sprinkle the bread crumbs in the center of the crust and spread them evenly in a circle. The crumbs will absorb any excess liquid in the filling and keep the pastry crisp.

Spread half of the cooled mushroom filling on top of the bread crumbs. Sprinkle with one-third of the grated cheese.

Squeeze out any excess moisture from the chard. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread the chard in an even layer on top of the cheese. Top this with half of the remaining cheese. Top the cheese with the remaining mushroom filling and then top that with the rest of the cheese.

Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, then lower the temperature and continue to bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust and cheese are golden brown.

Makes 4 servings.

Braised radishes with chives

15 to 20 radishes, well scrubbed and with greens and roots removed

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3/4 cup chicken stock

2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

Salt, to taste

If using globe radishes, cut the radishes in half. If using French breakfasts, quarter them. Set the radishes aside.

In a large skillet or saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the radishes, chicken stock and chives to the pan and cover. Simmer until the radishes are tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Place the radishes in a warmed dish, then increase the pan’s heat to medium-high and boil the liquid until reduced. Pour the thickened sauce over the radishes, sprinkle them with salt and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Ful medame

This Egyptian specialty can be served as an appetizer as well as an entree. Traditionally, hard-boiled eggs accompany the dish, but I prefer slathering it over pita bread or chips.

1 pound fava beans, shelled and skins removed

8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon cumin

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

Pita bread or pita chips, for serving

Place the fava beans in a stock pot filled with 6 to 8 cups of boiling water. Boil the beans, uncovered, for 1½ hours, then add the garlic. Continue to cook for another 30 minutes or so, until the beans are tender. During these 2 hours you may need to periodically add water. However, by the end of the cooking time, most of the liquid should have evaporated.

Remove from heat then mash the beans and garlic. Add the lemon juice, cumin, parsley, salt and pepper, and stir to combine.

Spoon the ful medame into a medium-sized bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Serve alongside pita bread or pita chips.

Makes 6 servings.

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