I just returned from New York, where I was ignominiously defeated for a second time in the Best Blog category at the James Beard Awards. Hurumph. On the plus side, Holly and I ate a lot of great food. And I mean a LOT of great food. It was an epic eat-fest, from a tasting dinner at Chef Brad Farmerie’s Public to the quiet grace of a meal at Little Giant, to a lavish steak-and-softshell-crab extravaganza at Chef Michael Lomonaco’s Porter House, to the send-off feast at Craft.
Through it all, I kept seeing the glories of spring put in front of me in endless variation: Artichokes, ramps, morel mushrooms, pretty spring eggs, fresh fava beans, and enough asparagus spears to arm the Zulu army. They were all delicious.
On the plane home last night, I thought: What if I put them all on one plate? I was reminded of Primo’s line in the great film “Big Night,” where someone asks what, exactly, is inside a timpano? “Everything that is good in life,” he says. The same is true with this dish.
I call it “Spring Explosion,” and yes, folks, it is vegetarian. I thought about adding a little sautéed lardo to the dish, and I still might someday, but after all the rich food we’d been eating, I wanted to keep things light.
The Japanese have a thing about their high-end eating that I like very much: They try to include many different cooking methods within the same meal, an effect that creates an array of textures each designed to highlight whatever it is they are cooking.
I put that idea to use here: On the plate there is steamed asparagus, sautéed morel mushrooms, broiled ramps, lightly blanched fava beans, artichoke heart confit — and a fried pheasant egg. I garnish it with shavings of pecorino cheese and Meyer lemon zest.
I am happy to say that our artichokes are ready, and these were the first we’ve eaten. I trimmed them out, rubbed the hearts with lemon and sliced them thickly. A little salt, then into a pot with some olive oil over the stove set on low. I only cooked them about 25-30 minutes — long enough to soften without becoming truly soft.
I got the morels — gorgeous, perfect blonde morels! — from my friends at Earthy Delights; I’ll be playing with them more in a bit. For this dish, I simply sauteed them with shallot, a half teaspoon of dried thyme and some olive oil. I also got the ramps from Earthy Delights: They have lasted a long time in the fridge, much to my surprise. I coated them in oil, salted them and set them under the broiler for 3 minutes, just to get a little char.
I picked the fava beans this afternoon. I happen to love fresh favas, and have written about them a lot in this space, both when the beans are young and sweet and brilliant green, as well as when the favas are beginning to turn a bit yellow, meaning their sugar is turning to starch.
This year I caught the favas at just the right time: They are fully formed, yet still sweet. I picked a five-gallon bucket of them today, and of that only a handful had any yellow in them. I pick when the plants stop setting new flowers and begin to turn paler.
My secret to early favas? Here in Sacramento, fava beans overwinter. I planted them in November, and let the rains take care of them. I did not water my beans once. Yep, I dry-farmed favas! Take that, irrigation Nazis!
The kicker to Spring Explosion, the piece de resistance, is that sunny-side-up pheasant egg. How on God’s Green Acre did I get my hands on a pheasant egg, you ask? Actually, they are available at the Sacramento farmer’s market on Sundays, but that’s not where I got mine.
Nope, I got a note from my friend Rebecca asking if I wanted some. Uh, sure! But why the hell do you have pheasant eggs? Turns out they are a side effect of raising pheasants as fodder: Rebecca, you see, hunts ducks with falcons. You heard me. Falcons. And falcons love a tasty pheasant, so Rebecca raises them to help train her raptors. Wild, huh?
So how was this dish I call Spring Explosion? It needed a little more lemon juice than I used, but otherwise it was a wonderful walk through pretty much everything I love about springtime produce. The textures contrasted well, especially the charred ramp leaves, which became crispy and a little smoky-tasting.
I may not get to make this dish again this year, though. It’s May in California, and that means we’ve probably seen the last of the rain until September, at the earliest. Our long, hot, arid summer approaches. We had a warm wind today, and my thoughts are straying from asparagus and ramps and toward zucchini blossoms and tomatoes. To each its season.