What to Eat Now

I'm going to let you in on a little secret, and by "secret" I mean something maybe everybody else in the world knows who took home ec, but I had to learn after years of standing overwhelmed in the grocery store, eager to walk home empty-handed and order Chinese. It happened like this. Dinner was easy at my house one week. And then dinner was easy for another week, and I decided I better keep my mouth shut about it for fear the feeling would go poof. So I kept quiet, and kept cooking, and tried to figure out what exactly what working. The nightly dinner rush became more pleasure than panic, and here's what I discovered: It's all about the produce.

We eat a lot of roast chicken at my house. As in, I pretty much roast a chicken every Sunday night. That night we carve it up, later in the week I use the leftovers in salads, sandwiches, stir-fries, and curries, and every now and then I'll boil the bones to make a make a light stock for soup. But here's the clincher: it's not boring (I swear!). If the cast of seasonal characters around that chicken changes from spring's grassy asparagus and crisp red radishes to summer's peaches and tomatoes, dinner keeps feeling new. We're not eating the same thing every night; we're eating some of the same things prepared in different ways. Every family has its favorites--pasta, steak, tacos. Use different components in that familiar template and dinner feels fresh without your having to reinvent the wheel each night at 6 o'clock. This is nothing new, but it's a lesson I had to learn the hard way. Knowing a few techniques and basic template dishes allows you to make adjustments to the weekly dinner menu based on what's in season and on sale. And if that sounds repetitive and snoozy, believe me, it's not. If anything, it's an opportunity for your creativity to run wild.

Here we offer ideas for how to prepare the bumper crop of fresh produce just now rearing its head. These are simple ideas and techniques offered in the pursuit that simple suppers can be cooked off-the-cuff--and come out brilliantly.

One of the first harbingers of spring, "radishes are definitely exciting," says Food52's senior editor Kristen Miglore. "They have a lot of personality."

"Radishes and butter get along famously," quips Miglore. Simple and surprisingly elegant, this is a perfect nibble with a cocktail or a glass of wine.

Shave your radishes on a mandolin or slice thinly with a knife. Scatter into a green salad and toss with vinaigrette.
MAKE IT A MEAL: Add quinoa to your salad. Layer sliced radishes in sandwiches or tacos for a bright hit of color and snap.

Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman could have knocked us over with a feather after this suggestion. "You can roast them with olive oil and salt," she said. Why didn't we think of that? "They almost get a little turnipy, a little bit interesting." Instead of their raw peppery taste, think of something mellow and sweet.
MAKE IT A MEAL: Pop a pan of radishes in the oven when you roast chicken or serve with an omelet or frittata.

"Cut them in half or quarters and saute them," in olive oil or butter suggests Miglore. "It mellows their peppery bite." Scatter fresh mint on top or just leave them plain with salt and pepper.
MAKE IT A MEAL: Serve with seared scallops or roasted or grilled fish.

Related: Radish recipes

"I love that butter bibb lettuce," says Perelman. From arugula to watercress, now is the time to snap up these tender leaves.

Let your greens keep company with more than just tomatoes and cucumber. Perelman suggests "trying to hit all these flavor notes," when making salads, "the zing, the crunch. ("I'm a huge fan of feta," she says), hard-cooked eggs, and cooked, cooled grains all keep salads filling and flavorful. Remember those radishes for a pretty hit of color, and Perelman suggests making a jar of buttermilk dressing and storing it in the fridge. "It's one of my favorite recipes on [Smitten Kitchen]."

"I've gotten really into gently wilting greens," says Perelman. "When the greens are so fresh, it's nice not to cook them to death."
MAKE IT A MEAL: Toss wilted greens with pasta and Parmesan. Top a grilled steak with wilted greens, olive oil and lemon. Or try Perelman's favorite: cook up a tiny bit of onion in butter, wilt greens and pour over a tablespoon of cream. ("Yes, there's butter and cream," she admits. But just a tad.) Serve with eggs and toast.

Related: Spring greens recipes

Green garlic is young garlic, harvested before its bulbs have begun to form. It smells like your familiar grocery store garlic, but with its long green stalks and slim white ends, it looks more like fat scallions or skinny leeks. "It's very tender and delicate tasting," explains Miglore.

"Use it like you would a shallot," suggests Miglore. Green garlic makes a special seasonal beginning to soups, stir-fries, or a side dish of sauteed greens.
MAKE IT A MEAL: Author and blogger Molly Wizenburg cooks green garlic in butter and olive oil, then adds vegetable stock and simmer. Add spinach, puree, and stir in a spoonful of creme fraiche. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

"Green garlic and almonds would be really nice together," suggests Miglore. Pulse green garlic and toasted almonds in a food processor. Add olive oil in a thin stream until a paste forms.
MAKE IT A MEAL: Serve green garlic pesto on on grilled shrimp or chicken. Slather on bread in sandwiches. Toss with pasta and wilted greens.

Related: How to make perfect pesto (video)

"Rhubarb's a little inscrutable," says Miglore. "You're so used to it being with strawberry." But rhubarb has a personality all its own--tart and a little tangy--with a stunning hot pink color.

"A really great way to get to know it is to cook it in a compote," suggests Miglore. Cook chopped rhubarb with water, sugar, and lemon juice until the sugar dissolves. Lower heat and simmer until rhubarb is tender.
MAKE IT A MEAL: Serve over Greek yogurt with fruit, nuts or granola. Spoon on top of pancakes or rice pudding.

Follow the same method as compote, but strain the liquid. Add to white wine, spritzers, and cocktails for a shot of pink.

Related: Rhubarb recipes

These spring stalks have a grassy flavor that makes every dish taste fresh.

Roast asparagus with olive oil and salt, and the stalks will take on a rich caramelized flavor in spots.
MAKE IT A MEAL: Roast alongside a whole chicken or with grilled or broiled pork chops.

"When you're getting asparagus that's so freshly picked it's dewy and bright, peel it into ribbons with Parmesan, lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper," suggests Perelman.
MAKE IT A MEAL: Serve a shaved asparagus salad with store-bought gnocchi or ravioli, grilled salmon, or with farro and a poached egg.


You don't even have to use olive oil for sauteed asparagus. Save the added calories and "saute it with a little bit of water and salt," says Miglore.
MAKE IT A MEAL: Toss sauteed asparagus with hot pasta, lemon and olive oil. Add in a scrambled egg and/or a spoonful of ricotta cheese.

Related: Asparagus recipes

What are you most excited about eating right now? Do you cook from-the-hip or rely on recipes?

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