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At the Kitchen Table: 04/15/2010

At the Kitchen Table: Spring Fever!



Spring weather has arrived and with it longer days, green hills and the bounty of local produce. Spring is especially beautiful in the Sonoma Valley. The vines get a trimming, California poppies are competing with mustard, and sheep are cleaning up vineyards into neat tidy rows. There is a buzz in the air as everyone gets to work on outside projects that have been waiting for warmer and drier weather.

As a child growing up in the Midwest, our vegetables were shipped to us from California, sometimes, in a can. Our spring weather wasn’t the beneficent weather of Sonoma, but more like a mild winter seasoned with ice storms. Our Easter holidays were spent wondering if we could get out of the driveway, down our road and out onto the main highway safely.

It was my job to set the table for Easter dinner where all three generations of my family gathered. A ham was carved, accompanied by scalloped potatoes, a tossed salad, and green bean casserole with Durkee onions on top. If Easter was late, we might be lucky enough to have home grown asparagus. Grandpa, the baker, made the Parker House rolls and our favorite cookies. Fruit salad had a dollop of whipped cream, and yellow cake with coconut frosting topped with jelly beans completed the meal. While I wouldn’t go back to my 60s upbringing food-wise, I am glad that I learned to appreciate time spent together around our table.

We are so fortunate to live in one of the most diverse agricultural regions in the country, with the perfect climate for growing an incredible variety all year long and cooking seasonally. You can enjoy the arrival of spring with asparagus, peas, spring onions, kohlrabi, artichokes, shallots, radicchio, arugula, golden beets, nantes carrots and more. All these veggies in just the first week of spring!

The farmer’s market returns to the Square on Tuesday nights in April, Oak Hill Farm is open on Highway 12, and summer weather is now closer than ever. Happy spring and see you at the farmer’s market.

Early Spring Risotto with Fennel, Asparagus, and Fava Beans

A perfect way to celebrate springtime! Make it when asparagus and Fava Beans start to appear at the market. I like to serve it with a crisp dry white wine from Sonoma Valley, like Gundlach Bundschu’s Gewürztraminer or Spann Vineyard’s Chard-Viognier.
Serves 4-6 
  • 2 cups Arborio rice 
  • lb. asparagus, thinly sliced 
  • Fava beans, peeled 
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped 
  • fennel bulb, finely chopped 
  • Zest of one lemon 
  • 1 cup white wine 
  • 8 cups vegetable broth 
  • Olive oil 
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • Basil and parsley thinly sliced or chopped 
  • cup Parmesan Reggiano cheese, freshly grated

 Cut the asparagus on the diagonal. Peel the fava beans’ thick sheath or outer peel away, and then par boil them for a minute. It will be easier to peel the skin. After peeling, sauté them in a little garlic for just a minute or two, until they brighten up in color. Put in a cuisinart, pulse and set aside. Chop the onions and fennel. Zest the lemon into a bowl, set aside. Thinly slice the fresh herbs and set aside. Pour the broth into a saucepan and bring to a simmer and keep warm.

Heat a large (11”) deep sauté pan to medium, add the olive oil, salt and pepper, then add the onions and fennel, sauté until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the rice and stir until the rice is slightly toasted, about 3-4 minutes. Add the white wine and simmer for a few minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Reduce the heat to low and continue to add the broth a ladleful at a time, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding the next. When the risotto becomes creamy, cohesive and a little al dente, add the asparagus.

Stir in the remaining broth and cook until the rice is slightly al dente at the center. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and chopped herbs, and heat through. The risotto should be creamy and loose, but not runny. Finally, add the pureed fava and garlic mixture until completely melded together and risotto starts to turn a little green. Add some Parmesan cheese, remove from heat and transfer to a warmed serving dish. Serve additional Parmesan Reggiano at the table.


Tricia O’Brien writes the Vegetable of the Month column for the Oak Hill Farm newsletter and lives in Glen Ellen. You can visit and follow her blog at www.cafetrix.blogspot.com.
Email: tobcaters@gmailcom

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