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Purple Onion

To clean asparagus, rinse the spears under cold running water to remove any grit. Then, snap off the bottom inch or so using your fingers. The stems will naturally break where the tough, woody part ends.

Rhubarb and asparagus come into season now.

I don’t know about you, but just seeing “First Day of Spring” on my calendar lifts my spirits. I know we will most likely still see some chilly days ahead, but the coldest days are behind us. And, even if my calendar didn’t remind me of the new season, the produce at The Purple Onion would be sure signs of it!

This is the time of year when asparagus, carrots, morels and spring onions start to come in. Strawberries, rhubarb and cherries make their way into the market as well. Soon, the outdoor market will be up and running and we’ll really be busy at the Capitol Market.

This is a great time of year to start transitioning menus from those comforting cold-weather recipes to lighter fare and recipes that make the most of the fresh products that are starting to come in daily.

Asparagus and rhubarb are two of the early spring favorites at The Purple Onion. Both are versatile vegetables that offer home cooks options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Wait! you say. Asparagus is a vegetable but rhubarb is a fruit!

Nope, technically, it’s a vegetable. But in 1947, a New York court actually made the distinction that rhubarb is a fruit. The reason? Rhubarb is most often cooked as a fruit in the United States.

Regardless of which it is, rhubarb is a long, stalky plant that looks a bit like celery and only the stalks are edible. It can range in color from light green or light pink to deep red. There may be a subtle difference in sweetness from one color to another, but rhubarb’s color doesn’t indicate either its freshness or its taste.

When you buy rhubarb, look for firm, crisp stalks that are blemish free. If the leaves are attached, make sure they appear fresh and not wilted. Remember this, though: The leaves are toxic — so pitch them! When you get your rhubarb home, store it unwashed in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Rhubarb is tart and stringy, so it’s not often eaten raw. Many people think of strawberry rhubarb pie when they consider what to do with it. If pie crusts aren’t your thing or you’d like something a little simpler, try this quick and tasty strawberry rhubarb crisp. For a different spin on rhubarb, we suggest compote. Its tangy-sweet flavor is great on oatmeal or pancakes in the morning and served with pound cake for dessert. For a savory treat, make this quick rhubarb chutney, which is a change-of-pace appetizer when paired with toast and goat cheese or a different sauce for grilled chicken.

When you shop for asparagus, look for spears that are straight and have no dry, split or excessively woody stems. If you are wondering about the difference between thin or thick asparagus spears, it’s a matter of taste. Thin spears are more tender and sweet. Thicker stems are meatier and have a stronger asparagus flavor.

Once you get asparagus home, the best way to store it is to leave the rubber band around the bunch and trim an inch off the ends of the stalks. Stand the asparagus up straight in a glass or jar with an inch or two of water and make sure the ends are sitting in the water. Loosely cover the asparagus with a plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. Change the water if it gets cloudy.

To clean asparagus, rinse the spears under cold running water to remove any grit. Then, snap off the bottom inch or so using your fingers. The stems will naturally break where the tough, woody part ends. Dry the spears thoroughly. If you have thick asparagus and it seems to have a tough outer skin, you can peel the thin coating away with a vegetable peeler.

Asparagus can be steamed, poached or roasted. You can serve the stalks whole or cut them into smaller pieces, depending on your plans. It’s a versatile addition to your menu as well. Add chopped asparagus to a breakfast omelet that includes fresh, spring herbs like chives and parsley. And, maybe a little diced ham or bacon. Give it a whirl as an appetizer with other spring vegetables and the green hummus we suggest here. Made with fresh spinach, cilantro and lime, the hummus is a change-of-pace dipper that we think you’ll enjoy. For dinner, try the risotto with shrimp and spring vegetables.

Allan Hathaway is the owner of The Purple Onion and WV Marketplace at Charleston’s Capitol Market. For more information, visit the web pages at capitolmarket.net/merchants/purple-onion and capitolmarket.net/merchants/wv-marketplace; or call The Purple Onion at 304-342-4414 and WV Marketplace at 304-720-2244. Email Allan at purpleonionco@aol.com.

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