Tuesday, April 13, 2010

vision to me, bearing leaves

Lately, I've been unable to escape the produce section of the grocery store unscathed. I walk in, intending to pick up an onion, maybe some spinach, and I leave half an hour later laden down with more fruits and vegetables than I can fit on my back, wondering what on earth I'm going to do with two pounds of fresh strawberries on top of the five-pound bag of mandarins and those two bunches of asparagus and on and on and on until there's no room left in my fridge for the leftovers. This happens every year; after a winter of roasted, stewed, and baked foods, suddenly I want absolutely nothing more than a simple stir-fry, things that are barely cooked at all, vegetables that crunch. I'm not necessarily very good at "listening" to my body--other than really obvious things like noticing that I feel like crap when I don't sleep enough or I have more than about two beers, that is--but I feel like it's a pretty safe bet that when the scent of fruit makes me flare my nostrils like a wild animal, it's time to stock up.

I think cravings mean something, if only that maybe I haven't been getting enough greens or that I'm getting more exercise as the weather warms up and so need more and better food, and I'm totally willing to listen to my body's desire for radishes because, hey, I like radishes. What I'm finding interesting is that the things I absolutely can't resist right now are the things that are handily just coming into season--I feel no immediate urge to buy more tomatoes, but my god, I've gone through a lot asparagus lately. I spent the last few weeks thinking about zucchini far more than I had any reason to, but the specimens at the store had been increasingly anemic; today, I was happily surprised to see the first giants of the year, and went straight home to make myself an entire pan of enchiladas with thinly-sliced squash, spinach, avocados, and black olives. (I know that doesn't exactly fit into my barely-cooked crunchy-veggie spring ideal, but I believe pretty strongly that enchiladas are never a bad thing.) I'm thinking I need to figure out where to get some rhubarb pretty soon, and when I was googling "seasonal vegetables" and cherries were mentioned I nearly drooled.

On one level this is obviously about food, and that's okay: I like food. I like making food, I like eating food, I like giving food away, I like creating and exploring and learning about food. I also like feeling somehow grounded in natural cycles, in discounting the fact that I live in a giant city where nature is best experienced at extremely close range, and looking beyond that to the Big Picture I like the things that transcend urbanity and remind me that I'm an animal. I watch the seasons and the moon, close my eyes to ignore the concrete and listen to the lake crashing against the beach, put my face right down next to the dirt to see what's there. I am made almost more happy by the dandelions sprouting in people's yards right now than I am by tulips or crocuses or daffodils, because they are unplanned, disorder asserting itself in the unnaturally grassy expanse of a three-flat. Craving asparagus right now makes me incredibly happy because, in this context, it reminds me that I want what is being currently produced. I'm not craving raspberries in January; I'm craving what is growing right now. I'm in sync with some sort of larger process, where my body and the weather and cultivation all want and produce the same things, and it's effortless.

Here's where I run out of gushy things to say about radishes and give you a recipe. I made this for my two (then future) partners last summer, and then again two nights ago, because in all honesty I'm not the best warm-weather cook; beyond stir-frys, I'm at a bit of a loss without the use of an oven. This, though, is delicious, and infinitely variable--my cooking friend Rose-Anne even suggested using cream cheese instead of goat cheese, which I think would work quite well. It's also my favorite way to prepare asparagus, and furthermore, it's legitimately fast and easy, which I'm coming to realize few of my recipes actually are.

Pasta with Asparagus and Goat Cheese
(Rather loosely adapted from this recipe at Smitten Kitchen)

You need:

1 lb spiral pasta
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 lemon
5-6 oz goat cheese (log, not crumbles, as it will melt more easily)
basil, salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, cook the pasta until nearly done; add the asparagus for approximately one minute, then drain immediately. Return to pot, spice, add the lemon juice, and then stir in the goat cheese, broken into chunks. The cheese will melt and coat the noodles and veggies; you can add a little water if it seems too thick.

(This can be made with other vegetables; Deb at SK suggests green beans, and last time I added yellow squash for the last thirty seconds of cooking and was pleased with the results. The asparagus is wonderful, though, crisp and firm but not tough, especially if you buy thin spears.)


Z said...

Confession: When I got home from your place I went to the grocery store and bought asparagus. :)

Rose-Anne said...

Glorious! Your post and this recipe, that is. I can't wait to make this--hopefully this weekend.

a said...

Z: Asparagus rules the world! Yummy. Glad to know I'm influencing you with my vegetative ways ;)
And Rose-Anne, do let me know how it turns out, especially if you do the cream cheese substitution! You've piqued my interest.

erica said...

"I'm in sync with some sort of larger process, where my body and the weather and cultivation all want and produce the same things, and it's effortless." --LOVE it!
this is a great post--and since i'm not exactly an inspired cook myself, i can't offer much in response to the commentary on the art of it, but the instinctive cravings are interesting...

Lauren said...

Lovely post! I can't wait to try that recipe. i love asparagus!

Laurie said...

Wow. I really can't think of anything else to say.

a said...

Well! That's a pretty nice response for something I wrote out at midnight last night. Thanks for making me feel awesome, y'all.

Alicia Dabney said...

I have the same habits with eating, and tend to go on long fruit and veggie sprees during the spring and summer. I can't get enough of asparagus lately, even if it's just roasted on a pan with olive oil, garlic salt, and pepper, then sprinkled with romano cheese at the end.

I'm longing for the cherries off of grandma's tree.

Damn, now I'm hungry.

a said...

God, I miss that cherry tree.

I lvoe roasted asparagus, but I have nearly set things on fire multiple times trying to make it so I usually go with blanching now. Something about me and broilers is just a terrible combination.