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Finally fresh: Ditch canned and frozen for seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables

Finally fresh: Ditch canned and frozen for seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables

Only $5 for 5 months

The coronavirus can’t stop strawberries, and just try keeping spring onions 6 feet apart.

Whether you’ve turned your home into a homestead over the past couple of months with a robust backyard garden or you venture out to local farm stands that buzz these days, fresh fruits and vegetables are now on the scene. We’ve been relying on our canned goods and frozen foods so much lately that getting out into the sunshine to pick some perfect produce does our bodies more good than we know.

Except for that cold spell we had about a week ago, things are looking up temperaturewise, and that means our meals now can happily feature fresh spring salads, simple sides and light, easy dressings to cover them all.

Given the state of our snacking habits, we could all use a few more fresh things on our plates. Am I right?

That was a rhetorical question.

I love this food season. Strawberries are here, and so are lots of other fresh produce, such as greens, asparagus and beets. It also means that ripe tomatoes, summer corn and zucchini overload aren’t far behind. We can’t linger yet at farmers markets like we want to, but even just the quick pit stop at a nearby produce stand last week was enough to rejuvenate my senses.

That, and the local strawberries I bought. That first bite of a rather large, bright-red berry made me weak in the knees. It was sweet as candy, so I ate a few more and then made a strawberry tomato bruschetta that’s as pretty as it is tasty.

There’s almost no way to mess this up — unless you leave your carton too close to the edge of the counter where large nosy canines can swipe your berries. A close call narrowly averted.

The bruschetta takes just minutes and starts with strawberries, tomatoes, olive oil, salt and fresh basil. A dash of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of black pepper — don’t leave it out; that extra kick is worth it — and you’ve got a light lunch, a perfect accompaniment for cocktails on the deck, or an easy side dish. I slathered a sliced and toasted baguette with smooth mascarpone cheese before adding the strawberry mixture, and I also tried the mixture with tangy goat cheese.

I can’t decide which I like better, so use what you like. Melted brie would also be amazing.

Another market find was a lovely bunch of spring onions. Raw and fragrant, they’re perfect for salads and as garnishes, which is how we usually use them. But I was looking for ways to show them off and keep them whole. A puff pastry tart was just the answer. If you’re not familiar with puff pastry, it’s time to get acquainted. The store-bought varieties are usually found in the frozen aisles, near items such as frozen cakes and whipped topping. They’re easy to work with and are a blank slate for both sweet and savory meals, and I’ve used them to make everything from caramel apple pastries to these spring onion tarts.

These tarts have three layers: the pastry bottom, a bed of smooth ricotta cheese mixed with salty Parmesan and fontina cheeses and chives, and then the onions on top, which I roasted first.

Like other underappreciated vegetables — namely beets, radishes and cauliflower — roasting the onions brings out their earthy sweetness and reduces their pungency. You could eat these right out of the oven. The finished tart is drizzled with a bit of honey. It’s also attractive enough to hold its own for spring soirees, whenever those happen again.

Lastly, I made a plate of food that takes its cue from spring itself.

Asparagus arugula salad with lemon dressing could be a colorful side or a meal unto itself. It’s the sort of thing that comes to mind when I hear the term “clean eating.” Simple roasted vegetables, fresh greens and hard-boiled eggs are topped with a light, lemony yogurt-based dressing.

Asparagus and arugula are in season now, so grab some bunches. The hard-boiled eggs could serve as your protein if you’re making this a meal, though this could go right next to grilled pork chops or chicken next time you throw dinner on the grill.

I think it’s safe to say we’re all ready for a change. If that change is nothing more than the weather, which brings us the likes of juicy berries and ripe produce, I’ll gladly take it.

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