Although I’m writing this column a few days before its publication and I’ve learned to remain wary of weather forecasts (just as I don’t trust Roombas, wall-safe tape and people who don’t like anchovies), I can’t contain my excitement at the prospect of a 64-degree day. Even if it will be mostly overcast and rain will arrive in the evening, this Thursday is expected to be relatively warm, and I can’t wait.
I may seem like I belong in the wintertime — I grew up in the Northeast, thick sweaters comprise a solid 80 percent of my wardrobe, and I haven’t shaved my face in over three years — but for the past couple weeks, I’ve been revelling in the early harbingers of spring.
The tiny buds appearing on trees around campus and the transition to daylight savings time (however traumatic it was to my sleep cycle) promise that warmth and light will soon come, along with the endless possibilities of springtime cooking and eating.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love winter food. My Dutch oven has seen plenty of action since November, churning out plenty of chilis, ragùs and soups. Turnips and beets, along with their extremely versatile tops, are among my favorite vegetables.
And truthfully, if I could eat holiday roasted turkey swimming in a pond of gravy and surrounded by islands of potatoes once a week, I probably would (even though I definitely shouldn’t).
That’s why I’ll spend spring break at home in Jersey throwing a last hurrah for the winter and cooking up its greatest hits. So far corned beef and cabbage, lasagne alla napoletana, and ossobuco are on the menu, with plenty more braises and stews to come.
But so help me, seasonality gods, if I have to nearly dislocate my shoulder trying to wedge a knife through another rock-hard butternut squash, I’m going to lose it. Winter gets old fast, and so does its climatically appropriate and agriculturally necessary cuisine.
I’m ready for a change, and I have been for a while.
I’m ready for that first Friday above 65-degrees when half of Hopkins heads to the Beach with their liquor store bags and argues with security guards over the definition of a “wet campus” all afternoon.
I’m ready for student nights at Camden Yards, when I’ll hand over seven dollars for the right to pay a 500 percent markup for Natty Boh and another 10 bucks for mac and cheese topped with devilishly sweet crab meat.
And I’m definitely ready to head over to the Waverly Farmers Market for the first time this semester and tote home an ambitiously grand haul of springtime vegetables.
Spring might be my favorite season for food, and it’s a terrific time to experiment with ingredients and techniques you might have neglected.
Asparagus is probably the vegetable most directly tied to the spring, since it pokes its tender heads out of the soil as soon as April begins. Fresh, bright and exceedingly versatile, I buy it by the bundle and turn it into a variety of main courses, sides and garnishes.
You can smother it in béchamel or Mornay, top it with bread crumbs, and bake it for a hearty, au gratin–style entrée. I also like to blister the stalks in a ripping hot pan before dressing it with lemon juice or vinegar for a ridiculously easy side. You can even shred it raw to add it to salads or use it to lend a little crunch of green to a cold soup.
Soon after, fresh peas are finally available. Although frozen peas are perfectly respectable (and a staple in my freezer year-round) there’s nothing like the surprising sweetness and superior texture of peas at the peak of their season. They’re also almost effortless to prepare, since they’re at their best when barely boiled and lightly seasoned.
As summer approaches and most of the produce planted when the ground softened reaches the market, the possibilities become even greater. Strawberries, the first fruit to hit the stands and possibly my favorite, are perfect eaten raw and underrated as an ingredient in savory preparations.
Somewhat heartier vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower go great in a soup or succotash, and the local potatoes at the market are infinitely more flavorful than the ones wrapped in cellophane at the supermarket.
So I’m welcoming spring not just because it means my hands won’t turn to granite when I bike to class and the sun won’t set before I make it out of bed on the weekends. Although I will pay due deference to the hearty meals of winter in the next couple weeks, I truly can’t wait to sink my teeth into the fresh brightness that springtime eating will bring.