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Comfort food and books for comfort

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Christina Stock Photo A simple, yet delicious spring dinner: new potatoes, asparagus and Black Forest ham with browned butter, fresh ground pepper and salt.

The secret of the season and a guide to gardening

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

In last week’s column, you learned how to tell if fish is fresh — if you are ever close to the ocean and fresh fish, you will be able to use that knowledge.

Today, I want to share with you some simple steps how to shop for vegetables and getting the best for your money. And a recipe that fits perfect to the season.

We are pretty spoiled, let’s face it. Thanks to modern transportation, we can have fresh vegetables all year-round. However, off-season, most vegetables come from markets far away or from greenhouses. How can you tell what’s in season? First, of course, there are many webpages and books that tell us what grows where and when. But let’s say you are standing in the grocery store not wanting to spend time searching the internet.

My grandmother, Oma Else, taught me the secret. Go for the price. Fresh produce that are in season are much more reasonably priced. I’ll give you a head start for April in New Mexico: Asparagus is the best from February through May. Beets are right now coming into season and thanks to our long growing season, are perfect through November. Bok Choy, the Asian cabbage — perfect for stir-fries — is in season from fall through spring. Basil, broad-leaf parsley and cilantro grows year-round. Wild onions or green garlic is in season in March and April. Mint year-round, of course — once you plant it outdoors, you’ll never get rid of it again. The same goes for Oregano. The first harvest of the tiny new potatoes is here, which goes together with asparagus. These small potatoes are sold as new potatoes. They have been harvested before achieving their full size in fall. Their skin is paper-thin, they are sweeter than the ripe old potatoes, as well. There are only a few things as satisfying as these little potatoes boiled with asparagus and brown butter.

Picking the best of the vegetables is no secret. Go with the CCF method: crisp, colorful and firm. Exceptions are potatoes. Avoid any potatoes that have green spots or a green hue. They have been left in the light, which produces chlorophyll (not toxic), but also mildly toxic solanine throughout the vegetable, which turns it bitter, as well. Some scientists think that solanine can cause cancer — it will cause intestinal problems, so stay away from them.

Now my favorite recipe:

Green asparagus with new potatoes, ham in browned butter

Ingredients:

1 pound small new potatoes, washed

1 pound fresh green asparagus, cleaned, bottom cut

4 medium slices Black Forest ham (or more if you like)

1/3 cup real butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

Preparation:

Bring a deep pot of water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook 15 to 20 minutes.

Bring another pot of water to a boil and add the clean asparagus. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until the asparagus is tender.

In a separate pan, melt 1/3 cup of butter, stirring until the butter foams and begins to turn brown. Immediately remove from heat.

Put the asparagus and the potatoes on a deep plate (or two separate plates) and drizzle the butter over it. Roll the ham and arrange next to the asparagus and potatoes.

Have some salt and a pepper mill for you and your guest ready at the table for seasoning.

If you like it richer, you can replace the butter with a béchamel or hollandaise sauce. You can also sprinkle finely chopped fresh parsley over the potatoes.

Serve immediately.

As a book recommendation, I’ll go back to a classic, by Albuquerque landscape architect Baker H. Morrow, “Best Plants for New Mexico Gardens and Landscapes.” The book was first published in 1995 and updated in 2016. It’s a written and visual guide that is thorough, covering regions and towns, including Roswell. It is written straight forward and covers trees, shrubs, ground covers and most importantly, soil conditions, altitude, drought, urban planting and even ultraviolet radiation.

I especially liked the sketches of trees — some things you have to visualize. He added quite a few plants that weren’t available in the first edition. A lot has changed in the last decade. Morrow explains how to be efficient in water management and create landscapes that help with shade and our wind in spring.

Morrow is the author or editor of many books, including the coedited “Anasazi Architecture and American Design” and “Canyon Gardens: The Ancient Pueblo Landscapes of the American Southwest.” A practicing landscape architect in Albuquerque for more than 45 years, he is the founder and a professor of practice in the landscape architecture program at the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of New Mexico. He is working right now on three new books.

He is one of the founders in 1973 of the Morrow Reardon Wilkinson Miller (MRWM) firm, the only landscape architectural firm in New Mexico with 11 licensed landscape architects. He retired in 2016. Some of the projects are the Albuquerque desert landscape medians and the Artesia Veterans Memorial Plaza and Park, adjacent to two MRWM streetscape renovation projects. The integration of the design with the existing streetscape creates a seamless transition between the downtown street and the park, and is aimed at strengthening the city center and further defining a sense of place in the city. MRWM was responsible for hardscape, planting and irrigation design.

The site is located between the existing City Hall and the site of a future City Hall annex building and is part of the Artesia Main Street Renovation and Texas and Second Streetscape Renovation. MRWM worked closely with the city of Artesia’s Community Development Department to ensure that the design met the city’s vision.

For more information, visit saap.unm.edu or mrwmla.com. Morrow’s book, “Best Plants for New Mexico Gardens and Landscapes,” is available at all book stores and online as an eBook.