Savor the sweet taste of a north country summer
Treat your palette to the bold freshness of spring
Summer is one of the greatest reasons for living in the north country. It is Mother Nature’s reward for surviving yet another monster of a winter. It has only been a few short months since we were surrounded by an overcast and gloomy, monochromatic world, nature’s own version of “50 Shades of Grey.” The snow just kept falling as the plow guys and shovel-strong women and men struggled to keep up. On the days that the sun actually peaked out from behind the clouds, the thermometer rarely recorded a number above zero.
Hardly a cause for celebration, we survived and it feels like winter has been over for ages. Mother Nature has some pretty clever ways of making us forget the terrible by blessing us with the awe-inspiring, just look at childbirth. If babies were not cooing bundles of adorable, nobody would go through childbirth more than once. We forget the labor pains and exhaustion, the freezing temperatures and dreary days. The alternative to this selective amnesia would be a world of only children living in Florida. Enough reminiscing about mountains of snow that were taller than your second-story window or the 10-mile walk to school — uphill both ways. Just look outside your window. Spring has spring and, at this writing, summer is hot in its heels. As memories of last winter fade they are slowly replaced with the glories of spring: digging wild ramps, planting beets and lettuce seeds, the strange way your pee smells after eating asparagus, picking rhubarb and garlic scapes and, of course, cooking freshly picked food for friends and family.
During winter, I never want to leave my house. I give homebody a whole new definition. Come spring, I never want to be in my house. If I could, I’d stay out in the garden from sun-up to sundown. I would be a very happy camper. As I putter about with my trowel and pruning shears, the reality of what to serve for dinner lurks in the recesses of my brain. I tug a weed here and there and pinch back an overzealous basil plant, keeping low to the ground, hoping not to be spotted by a hungry teenager, avoiding being dragged back to reality. When I attempt to enlist their help with gardening chores I can usually buy myself another half hour of peace in my sanctuary.
Hunger is suddenly forgotten and the need to practice an exceptionally dusty instrument becomes urgent. What to make for dinner? Something quick, something easy, something that uses some of the incredible bounty that spring has brought. I try to camouflage myself among the climbing vines and asparagus spears as the teenagers begin to circle.
“Will it ever stop snowing?” has been replaced with “Where is Mom? What’s for dinner?”
Taste of summer rice salad
2 cups Arborio rice
1 pound fresh asparagus, tough ends snapped off, and cut at an angle into ¼-inch pieces
2 cups frozen baby peas, thawed
1½ cups frozen Edamame beans, thawed
¼ cups finely diced celery
2 shallots, finely diced
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice more as needed
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped chives
¼ cup roughly chopped mint
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt. Add the rice and boil until the grains are just cooked —they should be slightly al dente — about 15 minutes. Drain well and then spread the rice on a baking sheet to cool.
Bring a separate large pot of water to a boil and blanch the asparagus for 12 minutes. Have a large bowl of ice water ready, immediately submerge the asparagus in the ice bath until chilled, about 1 minute.
Remove the asparagus from the ice bath, drain well, and transfer to a bowl. Add the peas, Edamame, diced celery and all of the chopped herbs to the bowl and toss to combine.
To make the vinaigrette, combine the shallot, lemon juice, vinegar, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Whisk in the oil. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
Combine the rice and the vegetables and herbs in a large bowl. Season with salt and a few twists of black pepper. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the rice and toss to combine. Serve at room temperature.
Boo Wells is chef and owner of the Farm House Kitchen, a catering company and cooking school in Sackets Harbor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.thefarmhousekitchen.com.