By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Let winter's stores fill the gap

It’s the time of the hunger gap, and the time of using things up. Frozen berries, stored squash, overwintered leeks — all are left from the storing time of summer and fall, and we’re fortunate to have them. But it’s high time they got used now, as another growing season, and another storage season, are about to begin.

And really, it makes considerably more sense to eat this good food on hand, than to go out and procure more, but it does take a bit of remembering, and of thought and preparation time. This is the part I sometimes struggle with. The larder looks leaner than it really is, and chores are beckoning.

With winter fading and spring blossoming, I’m spending less time in the kitchen and more time planting seeds. This is great for getting seeds started, but less so for getting meals prepared, which is why a lot of melted cheese on toast has been standing in for meals — although there was one very tasty asparagus quiche ... about a week ago.

Time for a cooking break. Time to bring back winter, in the form of food — baked squash halves, pumpkin soup, applesauce muffins — and blend it with spring: stewed rhubarb over vanilla custard, bolting kale sauteed in olive oil with green onions and served under a fried egg, sorrel and potato omelets.

Time to figure out what to do with pints of frozen blackberries and blueberries that doesn’t involve cups of sugar. I don’t do smoothies much, and besides, it’s too chilly for them to sound appealing. Though a warm blackberry cobbler does sound tasty. Apple-filled crepes with blackberry sauce may be another option; there are jars of apple filling to use up. Blueberry pancakes certainly ought to be carefully considered.

With few greens in the garden and an (over)abundance of dandelions, it’s time to review recipes for dandelion greens, and try roasting the roots for herbal tea. It’s time to harvest the leeks to slice thinly and roast, and then sprinkle over everything in sight.

Time to exercise a bit of imagination in the kitchen: sauteed dandelion greens, perhaps, with hollandaise sauce, roasted leeks and fried eggs.

Or mixed greens and garlic over polenta — the poverty food of my aunt’s childhood, always delicious, now modern. Come to think of it, her mother would also have been happily harvesting those dandelions for her marvelous soup of rich chicken broth, tiny marble-sized meatballs and greens — escarole, chicory, dandelion, what-have-you. I remember when I was 6 or 7 her taking me with her to scour the sheep pasture for wild greens. There was a woman who could make fantastic meals out of anything. I’d hate to hear her comments on the subject of serving melted cheese on toast.

Perhaps a pumpkin curry should find its way onto the menu, or chapatis, with, yes, dandelion greens, in lieu of mustard greens. Mustard greens would make a lovely spring treat, but the slugs seem to have eaten all the starts I planted. Why don’t they eat the dandelions instead?

At any rate, it’s clear enough that, if the garden emphatically lacks summer’s rich abundance, there’s enough out there, and in the pantry, to make a rich variety of delicious meals. Just add time and a pinch of my grandmother’s inspiration, and stir.

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