The Big Bang of the Culinary Year
If a chef rather than an astronomer had devised the calendar, the year would begin not in January but in May, when the vegetables that appear are a cook's dream come true. May is the time of life beginning anew, of optimism and promise, and this spirit is revealed in the fragile shade of green that infuses the entire landscape--a pale, expectant hue that announces tender young buds and shoots as they sprout into being. Not coincidentally, this color also defines many of the foods of May, such as pea shoots, fava beans, and asparagus--many of which rank among my favorites of any month.
These vegetables share a similarity of spirit, a vulnerability if you will, that is wonderfully appropriate to the time of year. This month is also cherished a bit more than the others because many of its culinary gifts are as fleeting as daffodils. Ramps (sweet, wild leeks) and fiddleheads, for instance, truly flourish only during these few short weeks, a rare instance where nature prevails over the blurring of the seasons brought on by the year-round availability of most produce in supermarkets. Personally, I don't mind the limitation; while it would be tempting to have these divine ingredients all the time, part of their charm is the anticipation created by this strict seasonality.
When cooking in May, try to find some quiet time in your routine to relax and give yourself over to the tenderness of the season. When I think of this month, I envision recipes that use several of these ingredients on the same plate, often juxtaposing them against one dominating element to emphasize their endearing fragility. A good example is Atlantic Salmon with Morels, Ramps, Sweet Peas, and Chervil, in which the accompaniments are rather poignant compared to the fillet, an effect that is echoed in Veal Chops with Spring Leeks and Soft Polenta.
May is also the time to avail yourself of vegetables so flavorful they can stand as a course by themselves. A superb illustration of this is Warm Asparagus and Oregon Morels with Fava Beans, Chervil, and Mushroom Jus, in which plump stalks of asparagus act as a perfect foil to the meaty, woodsy mushrooms--a fully rounded dish that doesn't seem to be lacking a thing despite the fact that there's no fish, poultry, or meat on the plate. Similarly, I've held off on garnishing the Asparagus Soup, permitting its sylvan grace to speak for itself.
You might wonder where one would find such idyllic inspiration in the rigid, grid-patterned arena of New York City. For me, and for many other chefs, the answer is the Union Square Green Market--a diverse gathering of farmers who brave the urban jungle several times a week to set up camp on a plaza of sorts between Fourteenth and Seventeenth streets. As soon as the market is up and running each year, my cooks and I drop by every day that it's open, roaming the stands, smelling the herbs, handling the produce, and catching up with the farmers. After months of winter, this is a very effective and enjoyable way for us to reconnect with the earth.
My wife, Helen, and I do our own, cosmopolitan brand of cultivating this month as well. In March, we germinate a variety of heirloom seeds twenty-three stories above the city on the terrace of our apartment. There, in a cold frame I've fashioned out of Plexiglas and wood, young vegetable plants soak up the first rays of spring. In May, we load them into the back of our Jeep and drive them out to our country home, where we carefully transplant them into our garden, which we refer to affectionately as our "edible landscape." Our daughters, Olympia and Victoria, take great pleasure in watching tomatoes, beans, and cucumbers make their annual debut, and we all reap the bounty of this shared endeavor throughout the summer.
For my family, this month is an especially meaningful one, since it brings Helen's birthday and, of course, Mother's Day. We don't offer brunch at the Gotham Bar and Grill, so--in the name of a Mother's Day Brunch --I'm delighted to have this opportunity to share some of our personal, favorite breakfast recipes. These include Pancakes with Honey-Almond Butter and Citrus Salad with Lemongrass, Toasted Almonds, and Mint . And, if you've ever wondered how to make doughnuts, here's your chance--this chapter includes a primer as well as my recipe for Jelly-Filled Doughnuts .
Excerpted from Alfred Portale's Twelve Seasons Cookbook by Alfred Portale with Andrew Friedman Copyright© 2000 by Alfred Portale with Andrew Friedman. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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