Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Robiola Crostini with Pine Nuts, Honey & Sea Salt
Spring is here in New York. Well allegedly. The sun is a little higher and the crocuses are out, though the wind off the Hudson still verges on arctic at times. There are always a couple of weeks at the end of winter where the world feels uncertain, faltering, reluctant. Not quite sure it can rev itself up again for the big push.
Possibly I’m projecting.
At any rate, ready or not, come spring must, and when it does, it will be inevitably glorious. But every year there is a lesson I have to learn anew. Just when spring fever finally takes hold, and just when cold weather lovers like me start to yearn in earnest for the warmth and ease they didn’t know they missed, horror will strike. Though we are suddenly, urgently hungry for them, new crops will be nowhere to be found. For an age.
Spring has to get underway before crops can start to grow out in the field, and it takes a good while of course for any crop to be ready for harvest. When eager forays to the farmer’s market begin to feel like a waiting game, it’s best for our poor, snowed-under morales if we can look beneath the surface for signs of hope. Small changes will be in evidence, I promise.
Take milk. As soon as there is even a scattering of green shoots for livestock to graze on, their milk starts to taste floral, sweeter, greener. You will actually notice a darker cream line if you’re lucky enough to buy your spring milk unhomogenized. It’ll be a little longer before we’ll start to taste the difference in cheeses, but they’ll be sweeter, grassier, and more herbal too.
The younger cheeses of northern Italy make a magnificent celebration of spring. There’s the late May/early June pecorino dolce in Tuscany, the Friulian formaggi di malga or mountain cheeses, and the softer, taleggio-type cheeses of Lombardy – all much loved ways to mark the return of growing season.
This dish is a mainstay at my house – one it's good to have on hand as soon as the early season cheeses hit the market. It’s traditionally prepared with robiola lombardia, which is aged in caves in the Valsassina. The full, nutty, fruit-tinged cheese is served in the traditional way – on crostini with a drizzle of honey, sharp, brightly-flavored sea salt, and a scattering of richly-toasted pignoli. There is truly no recipe necessary.
Beth Bischoff, a photographer friend of mine whom I’ve worked with for years, took the top picture at a dinner party I gave in my roof garden, back when I had a roof garden. Which was a long time ago, so you can tell this has been a spring favorite of mine for quite a while.
So long winter.