Tuesday, March 13

Put Some "Spring" in Your Step with Seasonal Produce

by Katherine Matutes, PhD
With spring just around the corner, my thoughts begin to wander to the fresh new crop of produce that will reach its peak this time of year. What’s in season? Expect to see asparagus, fresh peas, sweet cherries, radishes, apricots, rhubarb, fava beans and the elusive morel mushrooms all will begin making their appearances.
Although most of these items are available year-round, they are at their culinary and nutritional best in the spring. Selecting the best of the crop and using the right cooking method can help ensure that you’re getting most from these nutritional powerhouses.
For asparagus, look for stalks that are thinner and tender with closed florets at the tip. Before cooking, trim off the tough woody stem at the base. Some cooks recommend peeling away the outer skin, but this also removes a great source of fiber - so it's better to leave the skin intact. 
The preferred cooking method for asparagus is grilling or roasting. Asparagus is loaded with the water soluble B and C vitamins, and these can be lost to the cooking water during boiling or steaming. Vitamin C is also quite sensitive to heat, so keeping the cooking time short will ensure more nutrient retention and maintain a pleasant crunch. Try roasting the spears in a drizzle of olive oil at 400°F for 10-15 minutes.
Fava Beans
What to do with fava beans? If you’ve never tried these nutritional gems, now is the time to experiment. They're similar in appearance to lima beans once shucked from their pods, but they have a nutty taste and buttery texture. Fava beans are high in protein and fiber, so their addition to soups and salads can help to keep you full longer! Younger beans can be eaten raw, but larger, more mature beans need to be shelled and cooked. Try sautéing them with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and asiago cheese for a tasty side dish or light main course.
For more tips on finding what’s in season locally, check out the free smart phone app Locavore. In addition to pointing out what produce is available in your area, Locavore can steer you to the nearest farmer’s market. Enjoy!
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