The garden, although still early in the season, is full of eating opportunities. Sunday was another busy day for me, between all the household chores that needed to done as well as a little bit of work at the bakery, so it was nice to come home and prepare dinner with Jill… and we looked to the garden for inspiration.
Since it’s asparagus season and I had a big bag full of the slender green vegetables from Walker’s Farm, I knew that asparagus would certainly be on the menu. I wasn’t sure of which direction to take it though, and was torn between either making asparagus risotto or making a breakfast dinner with asparagus and eggs. I asked Jill what she preferred, and I was pleased that she went in the breakfast dinner direction.
I had some nice local eggs that one of our guests at the bakery had brought us, as well as some challah bread from the bakery. The challah, since it is enriched with local egg yolks and vegetable oil and is a beatuful shade of saffron, makes, hands down, the best French toast in the world. That would be a great way to use the extra loaf that I had brought home. The brown and green eggs that were a gift would make a wonderful scramble. But what to put in the eggs?
I ventured outside to the modest little plot of land that I call my vegetable garden to see what Mother Nature had in mind for the brown eggs. Most of the time, she is the best judge of what to eat, and she does a superb time dictating my dietary habits throughout the seasons. I grabbed a basket and headed outside.
In the garden, I discovered plenty to eat, even though there was still a little chill in the late April air. The Swiss chard called me over first, its majestic green and yellow leaves standing straight up from the ground, the sunlight glistening through the tender green leaves and exposing the circulatory system that ran throughout the them. With scissors in hand, I snipped a few handfuls of the plant.
Behind the chard stood onions left over from last year. The dark green tops faded into a white/purple blend towards the ground, which hid slender fragrant red onions, still very small and shaped more like a scallion that the globes that they’ll become later in the year.
I gently tugged on several stalks, and the Earth easily released them to me, dirt still stubbornly clinging to the roots.
Of course, I knew that asparagus would be going into the eggs and I do have a few plants that give up some stalks for me every year.
I cut the spears, about a half dozen, that were ready to harvest and placed them in my basket with the onions and chard. Several parsley plants were at the base of the asparagus row, so I cut a small handful of the tight bunches of herbs. Fresh parsley is one of my favorite herbs to grow and it tastes infinitely better the dried stuff one can buy at the store. Fresh parsley adds loads of flavors and gives the dishes it is put into a ‘fresh’ and ‘green’ characteristic, one that I knew would be perfect for my eggs.
Towards the back of the garden, I saw the rhubarb plant that I planted a few years ago. It is always one of the first plants to grow in the spring, and its enormous leaves beckoned me over. I did have a quart of fresh strawberries that I got from my organic berry farmer outside of Bridgeton (she gets a jump on the season every year by growing a few rows under tunnels), and I thought that a quick rhubarb/strawberry compote would be the perfect spring topping for the French toast I would soon be making. My mouth watered at the mere idea!
Back inside, all the veggies and herbs were rinsed and cleaned under cold water. Jill got to work preparing the French toast, cracking those beautiful eggs into a bowl and adding organic milk and raw sugar until the right custard proportion was achieved. The challah was sliced, soaked and pan-fried in one of our trusty cast-iron pans.
I started frying some bacon in the cast iron, and soon the kitchen filled with the salty smell of crispy bacon. On the back of the stove, the halved strawberries went into a pot with the chopped rhubarb, a dab of butter and a spoonful of molasses. I brought that mixture to a boil, and within a few minutes it became a luscious, complex but oh-so-simple topping for the French toast.
With a little bacon fat in the bottom of another cast-iron pan, I sautéed the onion, and while that cooked through, I chopped up the chard, parsley, and asparagus spears. They went into the pan and cooked for another minute or two. Jill had cracked a few eggs into a bowl, added a splash of milk and some salt and pepper, and I poured that over the veggies with a sizzle. After some loving stirring, the eggs were soft and gorgeous, with yellows and whites, broken up by various sizes and shapes of green permeating the pan. The eggs went into a bowl, and some goat cheese that I had bought last week joined them on the table. What a wonderful combination that turned out to be… the tart creamy cheese, combined with the veggies and eggs proved to be a winning combination.
The table was set, juice was poured, and we ate. I ate my fair share of French toast, the sweet/tart compote making it that much more delectable. The salty bacon and creamy, fresh eggs filled my belly, as well as my soul. There’s nothing like the taste of spring in southern New Jersey. It’s the taste of here and now, the taste of fresh local foods to come… the taste of finally being through the winter that I’ll never forget.