When those jolly green giant spears begin framing every dinner plates, it’s sort of like a migratory bird’s return. “Ah, yes,” we might say, “I remember you, asparagus. The way you soften in butter. The tenderness of your tip. The scent you give our pee.” It might take a week or so of farm stand shopping to jog our gastronomic memories — of the proper way to cook them on the grill (hot and quick seasoned with olive oil) or to slice them into a frittata (in quarters, lengthwise, with chopped onions, milk and cheese). One friend lamented that her young daughter, who fell in love with asparagus last year after some trepidation, had to be reacquainted and reconvinced that she liked this green food. “The look on her face was, ‘Mom, you got me to really like this food and then it went away for 11 months.’ How can you do that to me?”
That’s sort of the point. Eating in season means being opportunistic. And being tirelessly creative in working that only-available-for-a-short-while ingredient into as many dishes and meals as possible. As such, we’ve chronicled asparagus many ways, including the biggest grower of it in the region, Lyle Wells, how it helps hope spring eternal, and some ideas for asparagus and eggs. Not surprisingly, the Italians have a word for this: scorpacciata. It means eating a particular ingredient in copious amounts in its period of local perfection.
And in the very first issue of Edible East End in spring 2005, we featured that word, alongside our “what’s in season” list of vegetables, seafood and other comestibles available in May and June. That meant lettuces and rhubarb, peas and eggs, striped bass and flounder heavy with roe. As well as recipes for frozen strawberries, peas with mint and rhubarb cocktails. Being opportunistic also means being open to trying new crops, and new parts of the crop cycle. In his new book, The Third Plate, Dan Barber argues that the farm-to-table movement has failed because it “cherry-picked” the ingredients it desired most, instead of cooking from the whole plant, the whole animal, and — most important — the whole farm. So while you’re scouring farm stands for the peas and strawberries you have been waiting for so patiently, also consider the flowering heads of arugula and kale gone to seed, the pea leaves and tendrils and the lowly radishes that help round out the field and the farmer’s income.