The older I get, the more I crave certainty, and the more miraculous the whole concept of springtime becomes to me. The dogwood in my front yard will flower, the thrushes will break into song at dawn, and, any day here in New York, the farmer’s market will be overflowing with peas, arugula, asparagus, leeks, fava beans, artichokes, ramps, rhubarbs and strawberries. Which brings me to the first of today’s burning questions….
“What fruits and vegetables are in season and exciting right now and how do I use them?” — Ever E. One
I plan to make all my old standbys — strawberry-rhubarb crisp, pizzas topped with asparagus, dramatic leeks every which way, and salads packed with arugula that has spice and bite and flavor. I also figured this was as good an excuse as any to enlist Jess Damuck, author of the inspired new cookbook Salad Freak, to make sure we are not wasting a minute of the bounty. Right now, she is all about peas: “They have a fresh flavor that embodies the season to me,” she says. “I love giving sugar snap peas a quick char in a really hot pan with just a little oil, salt, and pepper to serve along side a piece of fish or chicken. I love eating snow peas raw and cut into thin slivers tossed with radishes, lemon juice and zest, and whatever herbs I have on hand. Shelling peas just need a quick blanching and can be piled on top of crusty bread with ricotta and mint and a drizzle of really good olive oil and salt.” How good does that sound? As for the rest of the lot: “Rhubarb ginger jam; asparagus frittatas; asparagus ribbons piled on top of pizza with burrata and a tangle of the spiciest baby arugula; young spinach blended into the greenest pesto-ish sauce for an easy weeknight pasta dish.” I am in, thank you, Jess!
“Your fave cookware, please?” @metscaefer
Recently, my husband held up our deep skillet and turned it upside down to reveal what I will call “patina” but others might identify as the kind of deep scorch that no TikTok magical tutorial could ever hope to address. “You think it’s time we replaced this?” he asked, and he might as well have been asking, “Should we replace the family dog?” because the All-Clad 3-quart deep skillet was on our 1997 wedding registry, and maybe it’s not the prettiest, shiniest young thing anymore (relatable!), but boy does it earn its keep come dinnertime and boy am I attached to it. I feel this way about most of my cookware, and almost all of the pots and pans I reach for are at least a decade and a half old (usually two) and show no signs of slowing down. Some were expensive — like the All-Clad and my prized Le Creuset Dutch Oven, also a wedding gift — but if we’re talking quality and cost per use here, there’s no question they are worth the investment. Happily, two members of my workhorse family that live on the stovetop (literally! I use them every day!) were pretty reasonable: my Lodge 10-inch cast-iron pan (I sometimes wish it were 12 inches), which will cost you about twenty bucks, and the iconic Dansk Købenstyle 4-quart casserole, the one whose lid doubles as a trivet. To be fair, the casserole can go for upwards of $130, but you can almost always find a like-new one for half the price on ebay, which is where I scored mine. That was more than 15 years ago and do I have to even say it? I love that thing like family.
“I want to up my spice game! Where should I begin with new spices?” – @patsgab
The first thing you should do is make sure your old spices are up to snuff — or maybe I should say up to sniff? “Step one: take out all your spices and place them on a table,” says Lior Lev Sercarz, owner of New York chefs’ spice heaven La Boîte and author of Mastering Spice. “Smell and taste each of them. No smell or taste? Trash ’em. You can’t do magic with bad spices.” He also suggests that you regard spices as an important ingredient, as opposed to an afterthought. “You should spend equal amounts of time buying them as you do for produce or proteins,” he says. “And buy an unfamiliar spice every time you go shopping.” Start with a familiar dish, like grilled meat, or stir into onions and garlic. La Boîte is also an unbelievable resource. Many of the single spices and spice blends you select will suggest recipes and creative ways to use them. Sour Lime Chicken Wings with Sour Lime Seasoning, anyone?
Thank you for these questions! As always, feel free to comment with other burning qs below…
P.S. More burning questions and 12 pieces of kitchen gear I can’t live without.
(Photo by Christine Han. Illustrated background by Abbey Lossing.)