NEVER TOO MUCH JUNE
“There’s never too much June,” my mother would declare this time of year. No kidding. After a long, cold spring (on May 28, Climate Central tweeted there had been more daily record lows by that date than in all of 2012), kitchen and market gardeners are racing to catch up to the calendar. And, at last, there is something ripening every time you turn around.
Take sugar snap peas, for instance. The plump, edible pods occupy such a small window of opportunity, you’d better act fast: Once the heat sets in, say good-bye until next year. You don’t have to do much to sugar snaps in the kitchen, but you do need to string them beforehand. Nick the stem end of each pod with a paring knife or finger nail, then zip the fibrous string down along the pod’s inner curve. It’s a good idea to remove the filament along the outer curve, too; it’s thinner, but can be surprisingly tough.
The other evening, I brought a bowl of the (rinsed) peas to the table for stringing; Sam sat down to help, and we ended up eating them out of hand for a first course. There were just enough left to add color, crunch, and freshness to a cobbled-together farro salad. Sugar snaps are also lovely stir-fried with very young pea shoots, garlic, and ginger, or simply sautéed in a little water and butter. By the time the water is evaporated—three minutes, say—the snaps are just tender.
A ready supple of fresh green herbs at the Union Square Greenmarket means that we concoct salad dressings as we need them throughout the week. Recently, I’ve been enamored of garlic chives; those and a dab of shiro (white) miso or Asian fish sauce turn a basic vinaigrette into something I could eat on cornflakes. Nancy Baggett wrote in to say she stuffed handfuls of garlic chives into vinegar, which sounds like the ultimate garlicky-oniony condiment to me. I keep meaning to infuse vinegar with the blossoms of garden-variety chives, but all I ever really do is put a bouquet of them in a small silver vase.
Common thyme, Thymus vulgaris, is probably the herb I rely on the most. A sheet pan of salt-and-peppered chicken thighs almost never goes into our oven without a scattering of thyme sprigs, and if you start off a seat-of-the-pants stew by gently cooking carrot, onion, celery, a bay leaf, and fresh thyme, you can’t go too far wrong. And for a quick weeknight meal, I like to roughly chop the leaves and toss them with other tender herbs, good olive oil, and shallots in a bowl, then stir in hot cooked pasta (don’t drain too thoroughly).
When thyme is in bloom, it’s particularly sweet, and I’m always reminded of the honey I first tasted in Haute Provence. There, I also learned to chop the thyme and its flowers, along with savory and marjoram, then work that heady blend into some olive oil and pour the whole business over fresh goat cheese. It’s happy to sit there and marinate while you slice some good bread and open a bottle of wine.
One of my go-to vegetables for the past couple of weeks has been green, or spring, onions. Keith Stewart and other farmers plant sets of the baby alliums in the soil as soon as it can be worked; those itty-bitties grow faster than onions planted from seed, and are ready for market in early June.
The chopped bulbs are delicious when sautéed and heaped on a steak or burger, or added to a frittata. This year, though, I’ve been roasting them whole, and I feel like I’ve discovered an entirely new vegetable. They are staggeringly simple to prepare: Whack off the root end and a few inches of the lanky tops. Discard any battered leaves and peel off the tough outer layer or two from the bulbs. Toss with olive oil, season with salt, and roast at 400° (turn them once, if you think about it) until caramelized and tender but still juicy, about 20 minutes.
Given the rain and lingering cool weather, the strawberries—one of the most fragile of fruits—are better than they have any right to be. The ones above, from Stokes Farm, had gotten just enough sunny warmth to scent the air, and their flavor was surprisingly full and rich. I ate the pint I bought on the way home.
There is never too much June.