Spring is definitely in the air. It’s one of my favorite seasons here in Arizona. I love the wildflowers blooming, spring training games and the smell of orange blossoms. I also love seeing my favorite spring foods in the grocery store.
As I have been perusing grocery stores lately, spring produce is there for the picking. Stores have had fabulous prices on my spring favorite — asparagus. Look for asparagus with tight tips; they are the freshest. Snap off the woody stems. If I am using thick asparagus, I often peel each stalk with a potato peeler so I retain only the most tender part.
My favorite way to prepare asparagus is on the grill. I sprinkle them with a little bit of olive oil and salt and use grill pans or baskets to keep them from falling through the grates of the grill. I often make extras so I can cut up the leftover asparagus in a salad or frittata. In salads, I add strawberries and chicken with the asparagus and greens — and sometimes goat cheese. It’s a perfect way to use leftovers.
Spring ushers in fabulous fruit, too. Produce counters have been bursting with gorgeous strawberries. One way to get the best, most flavorful strawberries is to sniff them. Even if they look perfectly red and ripe, if they don’t smell like strawberries, they won’t taste sweet.
Pineapples have been plentiful lately, too. Picking a great pineapple is a little more difficult. First, color will not necessarily indicate ripeness. I tend to look for ones that are partially yellow with some green showing. The crown should look fresh and not wilted. Now, sniff the bottom of the pineapple. It should smell sweet, not fermented. If the pineapple has sticky juice leaking from the fruit, it is overripe. If you do not plan to use the pineapple right away, keep it in the fridge so it doesn’t spoil.
I like to grill pineapple, too. I peel and slice it, then brush it with butter, honey and cinnamon and place it over direct heat on the grill. It will only take a minute or two to get grill marks. Turn it over and grill the other side. Do not overcook it or it will become mushy.
I love to go to farmers markets to buy seasonal produce, but I recently learned about an organization that offers produce that may not look perfect but is perfectly good to eat. They sell it at “farmer’s market-type venues” in the Valley. You pay $10 for about 60 pounds of food. (If you do not think you can use 60 pounds of produce, share it with your friends and family.) The organization is The 3000 Club, and the program is called “Market on the Move.” Check out their website at www.the3000club.org for a market in your area. Several locations are in the East Valley.
Judy A. Toth is the owner of Simply Impressive Cooking School in Mesa. Her column appears the second Wednesday of the month. Reach her at (480) 654-1981 or www.SimplyImpressive.com.