Summer Discoveries: Cicely Straws, New Greens and…Fries with Eyes?

Though I love to travel to faraway locations as much as anyone, I don't have to go far from home to make some (potentially life-changing) discoveries. We're only a little over a month into the summer—in the Pacific Northwest the good weather can extend well into September or October—and it's been a banner season so far for eye-opening experiences.

Along with making my own infused vinegar and oil from the spiky pink pompoms in my chive patch, I've had three other new-to-me revelations.

Cicely straws at the farmers' market!

While I was planning a week-long sojourn in a cabin on Mt. Hood, I heard that the Hoodland Farmers Market in Welches had launched its first season and would be open during our stay. Being the farmers' market obsessive that I am, it was immediately put on our schedule. The day after we arrived, I had picked up a few greens to tide us over for the week when a small pile of green stick-like bundles caught my eye.

A hand-lettered sign said "Sweet Cicely Straws 10¢," so I asked the tall bearded fellow standing behind the table what they were like. He said they had a mild, slightly sweet flavor and that they'd be good with light sodas, but when he mentioned he preferred them with gin and tonics, I was sold. A little research revealed that cicely is related to anise, fennel and caraway—it's sometimes used to flavor akvavit—and that the leaves, seeds and roots are all edible.

In the interest of science, on our return to the cabin we immediately tested them with gin and tonics, served al fresco by the river, and while the flavor was subtle, indeed, they were a perfect (and perfectly local), functional garnish.


Confession time: My name is Kathleen and I have a greens problem.

There. I said it. I can't pass by a pile of leafy vegetation at a market without stopping and admiring the fluorescent light green, dark green or medium green hue, caressing a leaf to find out whether it's thick and substantial or soft and ephemeral. I imagine what it would be like to cook with (or not), whether to steam, chop, chiffonade or leave it whole, what preparation would bring out its best flavor.

Like I said, a problem.

So, of course, when Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce mentioned in passing that he'd just received some sweet potato greens from Groundwork Organics north of Eugene, it was all I could do not to grab him by the lapels—Josh with lapels is an odd image, but an apt metaphor for my mania—and insist he give me some right away.

But I held myself in check, picked up a bunch (well, two) and brought them home. Fairly substantial, the deep forest green leaves seemed like they would hold up to a quick stir-fry, so I threw them into a hot pan already heaped with sautéed spring onions and green garlic, spritzed them with tiny bit of chive vinegar and served them alongside rotisserie chicken.=

So, you might ask, am I going to try to free myself of this greens obsession? Um…no…not anytime soon, as a matter of fact.


It started with a dinner on the garden-like patio at Burrasca with owners Elizabeth Petrosian and Chef Paolo Calamai. Elizabeth had posted photos of their Tuscan artichoke dishes made with organic purple Italian artichokes, grown by Tom and Patreece DeNoble of DeNoble Farms, which included a salad of raw shaved baby artichokes, tiny and tender fried baby artichokes and a creamy, delicate artichoke sformato.

Tiny, tender and delicious.

Another dish on the menu was frittura con gli occhi, amusingly translated as "fries with eyes," which was, to me, an irresistible must-have, not only because of the name but it also being fresh West Coast anchovies simply breaded and fried whole. (Yes, whole, as in heads on.) Tiny, crispy and tasting of the sea, I was entranced.

So it was fortuitous when, the very next day, I stopped by Flying Fish, Lyf Gildersleeve's outpost for sustainably sourced fish, and what should be in the fresh case but some of those very same fresh anchovies. I bought a pound and brought them home, breading half of them in a flour, salt, pepper and pimenton mixture and the other half in a panko, salt and pepper mix.

Over the fire.

Frying them in olive oil on a cast iron skillet on the grill, the flour breading coated them more completely and gave the little fish some extra crunch, while the panko was a bit scanty and not as crispy. But oh so fun and so delicious! (Plus I got to say "frittura con gli occhi" several times that evening.)

In Season: Bound, Hop, Jump, Leap, Vault!

No matter how you say it, spring in the Northwest is a much-anticipated season. Gardeners are getting out their seed packets and determining how many yards of compost their backs can withstand—see this post about holding off on the tomatoes for now—and cooks are dreaming of the bright green herbs and greens that will soon festoon their tables.

Seeing nettles and fiddleheads already popping up in my social media feeds, I figured it was time to talk with produce guy and fruit monkey Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce about what he's seeing on his local farmers' fresh sheets. So grab a pencil, kids, it's time to make our spring farmers' market shopping lists!

Raab-o-Rama

Josh knows my weaknesses, so of course the first thing he pulls out is the list of the various raabs, rapinis and rabes on offer. We could both hear Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm snorting that the only true raab comes from turnips, the rest are the inflorescence of plants, defined as "a group or cluster of flowers arranged on a stem that is composed of a main branch. Morphologically, it is the modified part of the shoot of seed plants where flowers are formed."

Raab with mushroom sauce.

So, with that, in alphabetical order, look for these inflorescences at the markets: bok choy, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, kale sprouts, mizuna, red choy, spigarello, tatsoi and turnips, among others.

Josh notes that each tastes slightly different depending on the parent plant's particular flavor profile, but all have that amazing, vibrant flavor and crunch when pan-fried—I like to brown a little homemade bacon and chopped garlic first, then add the greens, chopped or not—or, in the case of the bigger sprouts, roasted quickly in a hot oven.

Whew!

More Greens

As for other greens, look for watercress, various mustards, mizunas both green and red, arugula, and a new one to me, wasabi arugula—Josh said it has the tangy bite of that Japanese root. (Note to self: must try.) Lettuces are just barely coming on but will be available shortly, and spinach, which is a bit more cold-tolerant, is here now.

Fiddleheads.

With spring running about a month later than last year, wild things are going crazy trying to catch up. Look for the aforementioned fiddleheads, as well as "triangle leeks" or wild onions, which have a curious folded vertical green, as well as nettles. These will be available at the markets, but if you're headed out on a hike, here's a guide to foraging wild onions and garlic.

Calçots, that spectacular Spanish scallion relative pioneered in Oregon by Manuel and Leslie Recio at their late, lamented Viridian Farms, are appearing, too, so make some salbitxada sauce and throw a spring calçotada! Spring onions like Walla Walla and red onions should be appearing soon, but green garlic is here now—use them like scallions or make a pesto to toss with pasta or serve it alongside grilled meats and fish.

Purple sprouting broccoli.

Dribs and drabs of local asparagus and purple sprouting broccoli—refer to it as PSB if you want to sound cooler-than-thou—are just now coming into season, but Josh advises that you need to get to the markets early to get the little asparagus available, at least for the next couple of weeks before the full harvest comes in.

Bundles of fresh spring herbs like parsley, oregano, chervil, thyme and chives are beginning to show up, so chimichurries and other herb sauces are definitely called for. Microgreens and young shoots of favas and peas should also make your list. They will only get more abundant as the season rolls along.

Roots and More

Radishes, spring beets and the small, white hakurei turnips as well as their greens are terrific roasted and served with the herb sauces mentioned above. Small local bulbs of fennel will be here toward the end of the month.

Rhubarb.

One of my favorite vegetables-that-cooks-like-a-fruit, rhubarb, is flashing its red stalks, and Josh said a green variety that, unlikely as it seems, is a bit more sour than the red variety, is also being grown locally.

Look for local mushrooms like maitake and lion's mane are coming in from forests and fields, and I've heard whispers that this year's morel harvest may be a big one. Though Josh warns that false morels, or verpa bohemica, a species of fungus known informally as a "false morel" is sometimes sold as a true morel, so be sure to ask your vendor.

Strawberries?

Still two to three weeks off, according to Mr. Alsberg. Look for them at the end of April or the beginning of May. He said that Unger Farms in Cornelius is the driver for strawberry season in the Willamette Valley, and the first to appear will be Albions, followed by Seascapes. The first Hoods will most likely be available around Memorial Day, though—and this is a mantra we should all take to heart—"everything is subject to Mother Nature."