Market Fresh: Make the most of rhubarb, asparagus

The growing season is well underway and the markets are off to a bustling start. Each week the bounty at the farm stalls grow.

The growing season is well underway and the markets are off to a bustling start. Each week the bounty at the farm stalls grow.

My favourites right now are rhubarb and asparagus. Both these plants are a sure sign that winter is over.

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Apparently, rhubarb was not considered a food plant until the mid-18th century, when sugar became more affordable, although it has been used in Chinese medicine as a laxative for thousands of years.

We always had rhubarb in our garden and my mom loved to eat it raw, dipped in sugar — that seems to be a British thing. I prefer it in a chutney. Try cooking it with sautéed onions, a bit of orange peel, ginger and some apple cider vinegar and sugar. You can season it with a bit of clove or nutmeg if you like. The chutney is delicious with roasted meats and cheeses.

Of course, strawberries are a classic rhubarb pairing and rumour has it the first local berries will soon be available. If you are lucky enough to get some, a crumble is an easy way to capture the first tastes of spring.

Simply chop a couple of cups of rhubarb, slice a couple of cups of strawberries, toss them in a bowl with half a cup of sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla. Spread the fruit into a greased baking dish and top with a mixture of two cups oats, half a cup of brown sugar, a quarter cup butter and two tablespoons flour. Pop it in the oven at 350 F for 45 minutes and serve hot — preferably with something cold and creamy from Rocky Point Ice Cream.

And just so you feel good about the crisp, rhubarb is a decent source of fibre and vitamin C.

Asparagus is also a good source of vitamin C as well as fibre, potassium and iron, so fill up while it is fresh and local. Some of the farmers grow white asparagus; it’s the same plant as green asparagus but, as it grows, it is “earthed up,” meaning the soil is piled up around the plant, preventing the sun from triggering photosynthesis.

Stem thickness in indicative of the age of the plant. The thicker the stem, the older the plant. I prefer the thicker stems as they don’t seem quite as stingy to me. Asparagus can be quite woody near the bottom of the stem. You can easily snap the bottom off at the natural break point on the stalk but be careful not to snap too much off — you don’t want to lose any of the goodness.

To make the most of asparagus, I prefer a simple sauté with a good olive oil; a half teaspoon each of Koji salt and The Cawston Farmer’s Herb d’ Provence blend are all that is necessary to bring out the bright spring flavour.

If you want to go all fancy, try a flatbread. Spread a store-bought flatbread with Neufchatel cheese from Golden Ears Cheesecrafters, sprinkle some thyme over top, asparagus pieces, thin slices of red onion and a good drizzle of olive oil. Bake in a hot oven for five to eight minutes. Remove from oven, drizzle with a squeeze of Nonna Pia’s Balsamic Reduction, and serve.

We at Coquitlam Farmers Market are definitely gearing up for another splendid season of fresh local food. We have lots of workshops and events planned, too, so keep your eyes open for what is coming. Yoga anyone?

Karen Curtis is the Lemonade Lady (www.kicslemonade.ca and kicslemonade.blogspot.ca) at the Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam farmers markets. Her column runs monthly.

 

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I’ll leave you with a great rhubarb bar recipe that I have made a few times. You can use other fruit in place of the rhubarb, so keep this recipe handy and follow the fruit.

RHUBARB DREAM BARS
crust
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
filling
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups diced rhubarb
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line the bottom of an 8x8” pan with parchment, bringing it up the sides so that it will be easy to remove the squares after. Whirl the crust ingredients in a food processor and then press into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 min., crust will still remain very pale.
While the crust is baking, mix together the eggs, sugar, flour and salt, whisking well. Stir in rhubarb. Pour onto the hot crust and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.
Let the bars cool and remove with the parchment paper. Cut into squares. Makes 16.
– recipe adapted from food.com
 

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