Better late than never. That's how Long Island farmers greeted spring 2014.
"We're about 30 days behind," said Michael Massino, owner of Organics Today Farm in East Islip. He opened his farm stand on March 1, but his first produce pickups for members of his Community Supported Agriculture, usually scheduled for the first week in May, will have to wait until the end of the month.
We're all waiting. First, there was the polar vortex with its unceasing supply of snow. Once the snow melted, however, the warming seemed to grind to a halt just above freezing. When we could finally see the grass again, the question arose: Would we ever see another local vegetable?
Finally, Mother Nature's bad mood is beginning to thaw.
Massino has been harvesting a slew of exotic lettuces, and this week will reap three kinds of kale (curly, Tuscan and Chinese), along with Swiss chard, Napa and Italian cabbage, escarole, spinach and baby spinach, beets and spring onions.
True to the name of her East Moriches farm -- Early Girl -- Patty Gentry started planting in mid-March and now has lettuce, spinach, kale, radishes, broccoli raab and green garlic to show for it. "I had them under fabric row covers," she explained. "The seed catalogs say these plants are 'cold- tolerant.' Well, they tolerate the cold, but that doesn't mean they enjoy it. When the soil is cold, they can't take up the minerals. But now, finally, they're coming up."
As for traditional spring vegetables, such as English peas, sugar snaps, fava beans, she said, "it'll be mid-June -- if I'm lucky."
In addition to 80 acres of farmland, Sang Lee Farms in Peconic has about 20 greenhouses, and that allows the certified organic farm to get a jump on the season -- no matter the winter weather. "Right now," said co-owner Karen Lee, "we have mesclun, baby arugula, baby romaine, baby mustard greens and baby kale, baby bok choy, Asian greens like tatsoi and mizuna, plus radishes, scallions, rainbow chard and lacinato kale. And we're just starting asparagus."
Early Girl, Organics Today and Sang Lee are among the first Long Island farm stands to open, but more come online every week. Click here to see a complete list.
For a complete list of Long Island's weekly farmers markets and when they open, click here.
Asparagus with scrambled eggs
Lyle Wells, who farms 60 acres of asparagus in Riverhead, told me his favorite way to eat asparagus is with scrambled eggs. For me, it's a toss-up between scrambled eggs and fresh egg pasta. This method of cooking asparagus -- cutting it into segments and steam-sauteing it on the stovetop -- will work with either accompaniment. Try to get asparagus spears of similar thickness so they all cook at the same rate.
1 pound asparagus
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
Chopped chives for garnish
1. Trim or break off the woody ends of the asparagus and cut each spear into 1½-inch lengths. Place in a lidded skillet that's big enough so the pieces are in one crowded layer, and add 1 tablespoon butter, all the olive oil, 1 tablespoon water, a good pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper. Cover skillet and place over medium-high heat, shaking it occasionally, for 3 to 10 minutes, depending on freshness and thickness of asparagus. (If pan dries out, add another spoonful of water.)
2. When the asparagus is just short of tender, remove the lid, turn up the heat and saute the pieces while cooking off the remaining water. When only a film of oil remains on the bottom of the pan, saute the asparagus a few moments longer to pick up a little brown color. Set aside while you scramble the eggs.
3. Beat the eggs well. Pour a few spoonfuls of water into a 10-inch, nonstick pan and place over medium heat for 5 minutes. Pour out the water, wipe the pan, add 1 tablespoon of butter and turn heat to low. When butter has melted, add eggs and cook, stirring almost constantly with a rubber spatula. Periodically take pan off the heat so the eggs remain creamy. It will take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes before they form a soft, curdlike custard. When they are almost done to your liking, add the final tablespoon of butter, take off the heat and stir until they are done.
4. Transfer eggs to a serving platter, sprinkle with salt, spoon asparagus around the eggs and garnish with chives. Makes 4 servings.
When the delicate, oblong, white-tipped French radishes are harvested at Sang Lee Farms in Peconic, owner Karen Lee likes to make this elegant recipe, which makes for a lovely breakfast. You also could use regular radishes.
1 baguette, sliced horizontally and cut into quarters
Butter, at room temperature
3 to 5 French radishes, trimmed and sliced, lengthwise, very thin
Coarse sea salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread each piece of baguette generously with butter, then layer on radish slices. Sprinkle with salt and bake until radishes soften, about 10 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
Spring salad with walnut oil and malt vinegar
A salad with baby greens at First and South in Greenport.
Sauteed kale with pasta
Michael Massino, owner of Organics Today Farm in East Islip, can't grow enough kale to satisfy customer demand. His favorite way to enjoy it is sauteed and served with penne or ziti. This recipe will work with any leafy green, but with tender ones such as spinach, arugula or chard, no blanching is necessary. Just add them, raw, right to the garlic in the skillet.
1 pound kale
Good extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
8 ounces ziti or penne (or any short macaroni)
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1. Bring a large kettle of water to boil and salt it very generously. Gather kale into a bunch and, with a large knife, slice into ½-inch ribbons. Discard the stems. Add kale to boiling water, press it down until fully submerged, and cook just until it wilts, less than 1 minute. Remove with tongs or slotted spoon, press out excess moisture and set aside.
2. Film a wide (12-inch) skillet with olive oil. Add red pepper flakes and garlic, and cook over medium heat until garlic just colors. Add kale and saute until it is heated through, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat.
3. Boil pasta in kale-cooking water until it is just short of tender. With a large slotted spoon, transfer it to the skillet, turn up the heat and cook pasta and kale together, adding a bit of pasta-cooking water if extra moisture is needed. Add a few grindings of pepper and taste for salt. Turn off the heat and add a few glugs of olive oil and about ½ cup of cheese. Toss again. Serve with additional cheese. Makes 4 servings.
Grilled scallions with romesco sauce
Romesco is a thick red pepper-almond-tomato sauce from Tarragona in Spain. It is made in endless variations. I based this one on a couple of recipes from Spanish-American chef José Andrés. It's great on any grilled vegetable -- or meat or sandwich or piece of toast, for that matter.
4 small vine-ripened or plum tomatoes
1 large red bell pepper
1 large head garlic
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup blanched almonds
1 1/2-inch-thick sliced country bread (or 2 slices baguette)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon pimenton (Spanish paprika)
11/2 teaspoons salt
1 bunch scallions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatoes, pepper and whole head of garlic on a sheet pan lined with parchment and roast until the vegetable skins split and begin to char, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
2. While vegetables cook, pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into a small saute pan and, over low heat, cook almonds until they turn golden, about 5 minutes. Remove almonds, turn heat up to medium, and toast bread until golden, about a minute on each side. Set almonds and bread aside.
3. When vegetables are cool enough to handle, remove the tomato skins and place tomatoes in blender. Peel off pepper skin, split pepper open and remove seeds, then place pepper in blender. Cut head of garlic through its equator and squeeze cloves directly into blender. Add almonds, bread, vinegar, pimenton and salt to blender and pulse to blend. With blender running, add remaining olive oil until mixture thickens and emulsifies. Don't overblend; it should remain a bit coarse. You will have about 2 cups.
4. Trim the root ends and ragged green tops from the scallions. Place on a hot grill or grill pan and cook until they are tender and nicely charred. Serve with romesco sauce. Makes 4 servings.