- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The pickings at your local farmers market might remain a bit slim for another few weeks, but fresh produce has finally begun to trickle in. Beyond being the first sign of good things to come, these spring vegetables can be cherished in their own right for the bright flavors they bring to our winter-weary tables.

Asparagus is definitely the king of spring produce. Pencil-thin or thick as cigars, take the spears any way you can find them. Look for spears that are firm, not rubbery, with tightly closed tips.

Try asparagus steamed and sprinkled with simple lemon juice, or drizzled with olive oil and roasted under the broiler, as in the recipe below. Either way, be careful of overcooking it, since one of the best things about asparagus is its tender bite.

Keep your eye out for ramps, another spring favorite. These are in the onion family and taste like a cross between garlic and shallots. Both the white bulb and the leafy greens are edible.

Ramps have a blink-and-you-miss-it season, so buy then while you can. Thinly sliced, they make a great addition to vegetable stir-fries, frittatas and salads. They also pair well with the sweet, earthy flavor of baby potatoes, which are likewise starting to appear at markets.

We can’t talk about spring produce without giving a nod to rhubarb. The season for rhubarb graciously overlaps with the season for strawberries, allowing us to combine them in pies, cobblers and jams. These are delicious, but also be sure to appreciate rhubarb’s merits on its own. The sweet-tart flavor is a refreshing way to end a meal and celebrate the brief spring season while it lasts.

Spring green salad of roasted asparagus, prosciutto, and fried egg

Makes 4 servings.

1/2 pound asparagus

1/4 pound prosciutto, sliced into ribbons

10 ounces spring greens

Juice from half a lemon



Extra-virgin olive oil

4 eggs

Asiago, Parmesan or pecorino to grate on top

Adjust an oven rack to within 6 inches of the top of the oven and preheat the broiler for 5 minutes.

If the bottoms of the asparagus look dry and woody, gently snap the ends off. The asparagus will naturally break where the stem is still fresh. Lay the asparagus on a sheet pan in a single layer and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Use your hands to roll the asparagus until it’s evenly coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Broil the asparagus for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are slightly wrinkled and brown in spots. Asparagus can be broiled ahead of time and served cold or room temperature.

Toss the greens with the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste a few greens and adjust seasonings if necessary. Feel free to add a few teaspoons of olive oil, but I find the simple greens by themselves are the best balance to the rich egg yolk.

Arrange the greens on individual plates. Top with ribbons of prosciutto. Divide the asparagus between the plates and lay them on the top of the salad.

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of oil and swirl to coat the pan. Crack one of the eggs against the side of the pan and slowly release it into the hot pan. Try to let the whites run out first and then the yolk - the whites will begin to set and keep the yolk centered. Cook as many eggs as possible without crowding.

The eggs are done when the white is set but the yolk is still soft. If it doesn’t seem like the whites are completely setting, cover the pan with a lid for a few minutes.

Top each salad with a fried egg and a sprinkle of cheese. Serve immediately.

Rhubarb granita

Makes 4 servings.

1 pound rhubarb

1/2 cup sugar, divided use

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb, 1/4 cup of sugar, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Set over medium heat. Stirring frequently, cook until the rhubarb has completely cooked down and large pieces break apart easily with a spoon, 20 to 30 minutes.

Still over the heat, add the cinnamon and vanilla. Taste the mixture and add up to another 1/4 cup of sugar. It should taste pleasantly tart. Remove from heat, mash the rhubarb into a uniform consistency, and let it cool to room temperature.

Pour the rhubarb into a shallow baking dish. The liquid should be about 1/2-inch thick.

Freeze for 1/2 hour and then rake it with a fork. At this point, the rhubarb will still be mostly liquid. Continue freezing and raking every half hour. The granita will become increasingly slushy and then finally freeze into flakes. The whole freezing process will take about three hours.

Scoop the granita individual cups and serve. Leftover granita can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a week. Fluff with a fork before serving.

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