Fresh Ideas for a Southern Spring

freshIdeas

BY VIRGINIA WILLIS
PHOTOS BY CAROLE TOPALIAN & DEREK TUBBS

Spring creeps sneakily into the South. It’s hard to plan what to wear, much less a menu. One day it’s blustery cold and the next warm and balmy.

Just when you think you can’t take yet one more day of flat, grey, soulless skies you might find yourself out walking, head down against the biting wind, and notice a flash of yellow, tightly wound daffodil buds thrusting through a ragged pile of fallen leaves.

Yes, we have four seasons in the Deep South, but the edges are blurred. It’s not as if the rivers begin to thaw or the ice breaks upstream. Spring tiptoes in, the flowers open slowly in a gentle cascade, first the bulbs—the buttercups, the tulips and the lilies. Then, the trees pick up the pace and open in an explosion of color—cherry blossom, dogwood and azalea. And, then, it seems, before we know it, spring has raced away and the heat of the Southern summer is full upon us. Spring is the shortest of the Southern seasons and perhaps, like a virtuoso on a whirlwind tour, spring is all the more special because of its limited engagement.

Yes, we have
four seasons in the
Deep South,
but the edges
are blurred.

By the time April comes around, the Atlanta food community is more than ready for the local farmers markets to open. The children at the Grant Park Farmers Market scamper around on the hillside, as families fill their baskets with fresh produce—arugula, asparagus, beets, mushrooms and radishes.

Here, I’m offering a blend of seasonal recipes for both overcast and sunny spring days. Although asparagus is a cool-weather perennial, it has adapted to all but the hottest Southern growing zones. Still, traditional Southern asparagus recipes often involve a familiar silver can and often the result is a high-sodium casserole. Try this Asparagus and Cucumber Salad for a fresh change of pace.

Radishes are more often seen on the salad bar, not in a skillet, but are indeed wonderful as Sautéed Radishes with Chives. The Mushroom Ragout is a wonderful first course for Sunday brunch or even a simple supper on one of the cooler nights. Search out the farm stands and local markets for wild chanterelles and morels for a real treat.

The Seven-Hour Lamb recipe, in particular, is perfect for a rainy weekend. Lamb has been associated with spring for centuries. Symbolizing the season of rebirth, the lamb on the table is not a newborn lamb, but one born in the late autumn and ready to be harvested in the spring. Now, that’s planning ahead. Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Virginia Willis is a chef and food writer based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her fans love her knack for giving classic French dishes a down-home Southern feel and reimagining homey Southern favorites en Française. For more about Virginia, visit virginiawillis.com

RECIPE

MUSHROOM RAGOUT WITH A POACHED YARD EGG

LIGHT ASPARAGUS AND CUCUMBER SALAD
WITH LEMON AND HERBS

SAUTÉED RADISHES WITH CHIVES

SEVEN-HOUR LEG OF LAMB PROVENCAL

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