spring

Icebergs & Flip Flops: Spring in MN

 
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April in Minnesota is comic. Stubborn icebergs of snow along city boulevards we soon walk over wearing flip flops. Suddenly it is warm, very warm. But only after a historic blizzard swathed two weeks ago, we find ourselves propelled into the spirit of summer.

I sat surprised in the warmth of the new sun on our front porch, watching passers-by skipping and smiling along in their release from our brand of winter prison. I felt it too, I admit. Cold beer in hand, dusted-off sandals, a warm and familiar wind disarranging my hair.

Suddenly I am skipping a couple of months, April and May, the dead-zone period in Minnesota when local produce is painfully absent. Strawberries are conjured in the imagination, rhubarb is there too. Something cold to beat back the teasingly warm sun. And there it came to me: a fruity granita. The grown-up slushy, with pureed fruit, a simple syrup, and maybe some booze, or herbs or ginger. Yes, this should resuscitate, if even for a moment or a single warm day in Minnesota in April.

Try out this refreshing and palate-cleansing treat. Not at all difficult to make, but it does need a bit of your attention while it freezes: make this when you’re around for an afternoon (particularly a warm afternoon), and include the kids in the process.

Rhubarb & Strawberry Granita

Serves about 4

MARKET LIST

1 cup water
½ cup granulated or fine sugar
½ pound rhubarb stalks
2-3 cups strawberries
1 lemon

 

Simple Syrup

A simple syrup is the result of boiling water and sugar together to create a sweet base for many a cocktail and in this case, for a refreshing dessert. In a heavy, medium saucepan combine 1 cup water and ½ cup granulated or fine sugar over high heat, and bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn down the heat to medium-low, and allow the sugar to dissolve; about 2 minutes. Stir in ½ pound rhubarb stalks (trimmed and coarsely chopped). Simmer until the rhubarb is tender, about 5-10 minutes. Then set aside to cool slightly.

Blend and Scrape

Meanwhile, chop 2-3 cups strawberries. Add the strawberries and the rhubarb mixture (all contents from the saucepan) to a blender. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon. Puree until smooth, and then transfer to a baking dish (9-inch is ideal). Cover with plastic wrap and freeze. Using the tines of a fork, stir every 30 minutes, scraping edges and breaking up any ice chunks. (This practice ensures that your granita doesn’t just freeze into a solid block, but is loose and flaky.) Do this for 2 ½- 4 hours, or until it is finally frozen and slushy.

To serve, scoop into small serving dishes, wine glasses, or shot glasses. The granita can be kept frozen for up to a week, but it is best eaten with a few days of making it.

 

NOTES & VARIATIONS

  • Experiment with additions to this granita. For instance, rhubarb pairs well with ginger, citrus fruit, honey, maple syrup, mint, raspberries, and if you want to add a touch of booze, consider brandy, vodka, or Grand Marnier. Also, if you have orange blossom or rose water on hand (we’ve used it in recipes past), add a teaspoon of either of those into the blender to accentuate flavors. 

Stripped Down

 
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A piece of writing in a mainstream food publication struck me as truthful this week. It asks the question, are we losing our appreciation for subtle, delicate flavors in the current sea of flavors that are bright and bold? We are inundated with spicy, salty, sweet condiments but more than that, there is such competition to arouse our palates by food manufacturers for instance, and restaurant chefs. We’re growing accustomed to flair, and are increasingly hypnotized by variety. With that, it is getting more difficult to appreciate naturally delicate, or pure and or old-fashioned flavors.  A stalk of spring-grown asparagus grilled or blanched without dressings or a slice of just-picked cucumber or melon can resonate on the tongue and remind us just how delicious unadulterated food can be. 

Spring is the right season for considering this. It is the season for stripping down food to its essentials, for simplifying, and moving away from the multi-layered and rich flavors of winter. Lightly dress an arugula and cress salad, poach a chicken breast, make a clean and brothy pea and ham soup or a hard-boiled egg just dusted with black pepper. This is the way to approach spring eating, but even outside of spring it’s a good exercise in simplifying and noticing. Seasonal foods are wonderful at giving us this opportunity since they are already at their peak in flavor (and nutrition) and need little or no dressing up. In spring we look for greens of all kinds, asparagus, ramps and green garlic and spring onions and chives, and radishes for instance; look for those in your local market and see how they qualify as fast-food, in the best possible way.