What's In Season In Early June: Rhubarb, Strawberries, Garlic Scapes And Chamomile

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Finally, the greenmarkets have started showcasing the bounty of the land. On a recent jaunt to my local farmers' stands in NYC, a colorful display of crisp French radishes, rows and rows of tall green asparagus, pots of juicy red strawberries and curly emerald garlic scapes tumbled from the stalls, crying out, eat me, cook me, love me.

At this time of year it's easy to embrace the abundance of fresh produce, and everyone has their favorites. "You say June and I say peas, I love peas," says Gabrielle Langholtz, author of the recent cookbook The New Greenmarket Cookbook: Recipes and Tips from Today's Finest Chefs — and the Stories behind the Farms That Inspire Them. In her book, Langholtz spoke to greenmarket-loving chefs and the farmers who sell to them, creating a tome full of personal stories of tilling the land and recipes from famous cooks like José Andrés, April Bloomfield and Eric Ripert. While Langholtz loves peas, which we covered last month, we spoke to her about other bright and flavorful ingredients you can find right now, including tangy rhubarb, sweet strawberries, snappy garlic scapes and chamomile, a flower famously served at tea time.

Rhubarb: "One thing about rhubarb, because we put it in desserts, people think of it as a fruit and they mistakenly look for the redder stalks," says Langholtz, adding that this assessment proves acute when shopping for fruit. "But it's not a fruit it's a stem or stalk like celery, and some rhubarb comes out plain green and some has a rosy streak; it's not sweeter if it's pink." With that in mind, look for this long, greenish-pink stem in any color, just make sure it's firm and taut, a texture that will indicate the food has been harvested and stored well, hence, better for cooking. To prepare the vegetable, classically it gets whipped into a dessert, like in Pichet Ong's panna cotta with rhubarb-strawberry compote (recipe below) from Langholtz' book. You can also pickle it, pair it with fish, poach the stalks and serve it with it with lamb, or says, Langholtz, in some countries they eat it raw, like she does from time to time. "It's so juicy and tart," she says. "I like to gnaw on it when I am riding my bike."

Chamomile only for tea? Think again! Use the plant as a garnish or to impart an herbal, floral kick in food and drink.

Chamomile: Though most people regulate chamomile to a relaxing cup of tea, there are plenty of other ways to use the plant in food and drink, and right now you can find these flowers fresh in the greenmarket. As part of the daisy family, you can recognize this plant by its bright green leaves and tiny yellow bulbs that may or may not sport even smaller white petals on them. Because these flowers are edible, you can add them to all sorts of dishes as a garnish, or to impart an herby, floral kick. Throw handfuls of the plant into a summer salad, use it in simple syrup to spike lemonade or a gin cocktail, top off oatmeal, cook down with strawberries to make jam, or add chamomile to your baking repertoire in place of, or with, lavender. Try using chamomile as a bed for grilled fish or to decorate a plate of garden vegetables, and later, if you want, you can always boil it down into that soothing cup of tea.

Pichet Ong's Lemon Thyme Panna Cotta with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote and Lemon Thyme Shortbread Recipe

Reprinted with permission from The New Greenmarket Cookbook

Servings: 8

You can make just one or two of this recipe's three components — they're wonderful alone or in any combination — but each part is so simple, it's easy to make them all. Pastry Chef Pichet Ong's yogurt panna cotta is sublime, requiring so little work, you'll want to make it all year long as a creamy canvas for whatever berries you bring home.


Panna cotta

4 sprigs lemon thyme*

1 cup milk

1 1/2 cups cream

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 teaspoons powdered gelatin

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote

3 to 4 medium stalks rhubarb, trimmed and cut in to 1/4 inch pieces, about 2 cups

3 tablespoons sugar

1 vanilla bean, split, scrapped, and halved crosswise

1 tablespoon lemon juice, from about 1/2 of a lemon

1/2 cup sliced strawberries

Lemon Thyme Shortbread

2 tablespoons lemon thyme* leaves, picked from 1 small bunch

Zest of 1 lemon

11 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

*Variations: You can swap out the thyme for lavender, which is available May through July, for a flavor that's both fresh and floral.


For the panna cotta:

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the lemon thyme, milk, cream, sugar and salt over medium heat and bring just to a simmer.
  2. Remove from heat, cover and let steep at room temperature for about 1 hour. Remove and discard the thyme.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the gelatin with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Stir to combine and let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, return the milk mixture to a low simmer (do not boil) then add the gelatin mixture and stir well. As soon as the gelatin dissolves, remove from the heat. Whisk in the yogurt and divide into 8 glasses or 4-ounce ramekins. Refrigerate until set, at least 5 hours.

For the compote:

  1. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients except the strawberries in a small saucepan and let sit for 20 minutes to macerate. Cook over low heat until the rhubarb is soft, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Once cool, add the sliced strawberries.

For the lemon thyme shortbread:

  1. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and sprinkle lightly with sugar.
  2. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, blend together the lemon thyme leaves, lemon zest, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt just until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and mix until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a rectangle, about 1-inch thick, and cover with plastic wrap.
  3. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough into a large rectangle, about 1/2-inch thick.
  5. Using a knife, cut rectangular cookies about 3-1/2 inches long by 1 inch wide.
  6. Transfer cookies onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  8. Bake the chilled cookies until the edges turn golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. Garnish each panna cotta with 2 tablespoons of compote and serve alongside the shortbread.

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