One of the great things about spring is that the food markets come alive. This has certainly been the case in Napa with the reopening of our wonderful farmers market. It is also true around the world.
I have recently had the opportunity to travel to a number of great European food cities and markets, and marveled at the fact that the asparagus, favas, peas, spring onions, spring garlic and strawberries figure just as prominently in those markets as in ours.
For these recent trips, the common theme was asparagus.
A trip to London is never complete without a visit to the Borough Market near London Bridge. The market is more than 1,000 years old but has kept up with the times and provides a stunning display of produce, artisanal products and dining opportunities. You can spend hours wandering and sampling.
I ended up at a lovely restaurant called Roast, which overlooks the market. First course: a delightful asparagus soup.
Next stop was Paris. I was staying near the Avenue des Ternes where there is a nice outdoor market. Locals do their daily shopping here, as at other street markets in Paris. Armed with their two-wheeled carts, they are able to find everything they need in two blocks. Especially prominent were big fat spears of white asparagus.
I actually ate asparagus three times during my visit to Paris: the first time with a mimosa sauce; the second with a decadent butter sauce; and finally with an even more decadent hollandaise sauce.
My final spring trip was to the Basque country. If you have not been to this part of the world and you have any interest in food, you need to put it on your list. San Sebastian has more Michelin stars per capita than any city in the world (or perhaps it is tied with Yountville).
The town has a wonderful tradition of pintxos, which are similar to tapas. At lunch and in the early evenings, people gather to eat these hand-held treats and to sip a small beer or a glass of wine. A typical pintxo is a slice of bread covered with anything from anchovies to marinated peppers to octopus to spring onions. Everyone is standing around the bar, chatting (loudly) and marveling at all the good eats. It is a photo opportunity not to be missed.
Bilbao has the Mercado de Ribera, a beautiful covered market on the banks of the river. It is reputed to be the largest covered market in Europe.
Basque cooks also do beef very well. At an asador (a steakhouse) I started my meal with white asparagus a la plancha (on the grill) with a brown butter sauce. Simple yet elegant.
Fortunately, I live in Napa and can go down to the Napa Farmers Market. For a little while longer, I can get fresh asparagus as good as any in Europe.
Asparagus in Sauce Mimosa
This recipe is adapted from the Los Angeles Times.
2 large eggs
2 pounds fat asparagus
2 Tbsp. minced parsley
1 Tbsp. minced mixed herbs (preferably a mix of chives, tarragon and chervil)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Put the eggs in a small saucepan, cover with cold water and set over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the water until they are cool enough to handle.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt to taste. Cut off the bottom 1 to 1½ inches of the asparagus. With a vegetable peeler, peel the asparagus stalks. Boil just until a knife slips in easily, 4 to 5 minutes. With tongs, transfer the asparagus to a pan of ice water to stop the cooking.
Peel the eggs and separate the whites and yolks. Chop them separately very fine, then combine in a mixing bowl. (Chopping them together smears the yolks.) Add the parsley, mixed herbs, lemon juice and vinegar and stir together. Stir in the olive oil. Add salt to taste.
Pat the asparagus dry and arrange on a platter. Spoon the dressing over the top. Serve at room temperature.
The Napa Farmers Market takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., May through October, in the parking lot of the South Napa Century Center, 195 Gasser Drive, Napa. The third Tuesday of every month is Seniors’ Day at the market, with some vendors offering discounts to shoppers 65 and older. Ask about participating vendors at the information booth. For market information and a schedule of upcoming events, visit NapaFarmersMarket.org or visit the market on Facebook.