Simple Art of Cooking: Recipes for East End Asparagus, Rhubarb, Strawberries

When I traveled to Italy through the 1980s I tried to recreate the meals I ate there. I quickly realized that it would be difficult, because the recipes depended so much on the raw ingredients. While we understood that fresh was important, the products were not locally available at that time unless one lived in a farming community. Since then of course farmers markets sprouted up on city streets and in town squares across the nation. The fruits and vegetables that are available have been planted, grown and harvested with only freshness and flavor in mind—not shelf life or shipping schedules.

Here on the East End, however, we live in a farming community. There’s a whole range of fresh food available. Picking up what’s locally grown and cooking it simply, makes for the best food experience. It engages your senses and enriches your life. When I pick up my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) order at the Green Thumb in Water Mill, or visit other local farm stands, I am making a connection with the farmers and, in a way, making it a partnership. Choose locally grown products and taste the difference!

GRILLED ASPARAGUS WITH GARLIC 

Hurrah! Asparagus is now available at our local farmers markets!

Serves 4 to 5 

2/3 to 3/4 pound farm fresh medium-size asparagus spears
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed or pressed
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat gas grill to medium-high

1. Break off tough woody stems of asparagus where they naturally bend and discard ends. With a paring knife, peel away the points along the spears, leaving the tender ones at the top. Rinse well and pat dry with paper towel. Transfer to a plate.

2. In a bowl mix the garlic, oil, salt and pepper, pour over the asparagus and toss to coat. When ready to grill, place the spears on a secondary grate with small openings, if necessary. Toss the asparagus with tongs, until lightly charred and tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Taste for seasoning and serve warm.

STRAWBERRY RHUBARB COMPOTE

Prepare this timely compote several days ahead, top with your favorite ice cream and optional praline topping.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Praline topping (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons blanched almonds

Parfait

11/2 pounds rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water plus more as needed
Zest of 1 orange
1 pint strawberries, hulled, washed and halved or quartered
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
Vanilla ice cream

For praline, grease a baking sheet and set aside. Place the sugar in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. The sugar will begin to liquefy and then turn a light amber color. If crystals form, brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. When the color deepens to caramel color, add the nuts all at once; stir to mix. Quickly but carefully, pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet. When completely cool and brittle, break into pieces and chop coarsely in a food processor. Praline may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

For the parfait, trim the leaves from the rhubarb and discard. If the rhubarb stalks are slim, do not peel, only wash. If the stalks are thick, peel off the tough strings.

Cut the rhubarb into 1” pieces and place in a heavy non-reactive saucepan. Add the sugar and water and stir to mix. Cover the pan tightly and bring to a simmer over medium heat, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the orange zest and cook, covered, for about 8 minutes after it has begun to simmer. Stir the rhubarb gently with a wooden spoon once during the cooking. If the mixture seems dry, add more water a teaspoon at a time until a spreadable texture. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the sugar if necessary. Add the strawberries and stir just to mix. Cover the pan so the berries soften slightly. When compote is lukewarm, stir in the Grand Marnier. Serve layered with ice cream and optional praline topping.

Reprinted from Silvia Lehrer’s “Savoring the Hamptons: Discovering the Food and Wine of Long Island’s East End.” (Running Press)

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