Do seasons have flavors? For some of us, they do. A scent, a kitchen memory or a photo in the latest edition of Saveur causes action between the anatomic connections of the olfactory bulb and the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus known as the the satiety center. In other words, they cause us to remember a flavor associated with an experience.
Yet, omnivores that we are with every grocery store convenience, this idea is becoming diminished. At this point, my children look at me oddly when I ask, “what does spring taste like?” How would you describe the flavor of each season? Are there foods in your annual palate that restrict themselves to a ripe selection within a window of days? Are these tastes driven from childhood memories or something that you’ve grown to appreciate as an adult?
I find most of my food-season connections are built around summer. That’s understandable. School was out. Vacations and swimming were in and life took on a picnic attitude. I won’t reveal those flavors to you until we get there. Today, we’ll focus on spring.
To me, spring tastes of fennel and leeks, both heavy, white bulbous treats pulled from the earth. Both cast with a light green water color wash and subtle flavors. It’s as if they recognize that they’re coming on tales of winter yet a prelude to the dog days of heat ahead. Nothing too strong. Nothing too loud. Just a gentle fragrant reminder that the freesia are blooming.
Fennel is not quite celery and not quite apple – a bit anise. It pairs with nearly anything and is never overbearing. It’s a good source of vitamin C and potassium and due to it’s water content and fiber has a good “fullness factor”. I love it roasted with olive oil, in a stir fry or baked on it’s own with parmesan.
Leeks are mild tasting vegetables in the lily family that are crazy high in vitamin K and also have ample A. They are a fantastic addition to soups, pastas, eggs and baked alone. They also dehydrate really well so that one need not only taste them in the springtime. The Welsh wear them in their hats on March 1 to commemorate a battle fought against Saxon invaders in a field of leeks.
The possibilities presented by these two together are really only limited by the pantry. Try them cooked in risotto or in a gratin. Add them to other vegetables in a fresh chopped salad. Brush them with olive oil and put them on the grill as your main meal or a side dish. I trust you’ll find them synonymous with this time of year when new life is springing from the earth. What does spring taste like where you live?
Fennel Blossom Soup
recipe from Desert Roots Farm
- 2 Tbs unsalted butter
- 2 cups sliced leeks (white parts only)
- 2 potatoes diced
- 4 cups fennel bulb diced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 3.5 cups vegetable stock
- 1 Tbs fresh fennel flowers
- salt and ground pepper to taste
- fruity olive oil to garnish
Heat butter in a heavy soup pot. Add leeks and cook over medium-low heat until translucent. Add potatoes and fennel and deglaze with wine. Add stock, bring to a simmer and cover for 30 minutes. Add fennel flower and then puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle individual bowls with olive oil before serving.