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Originally published April 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 4, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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A fresh taste of spring

The season of spring and the celebration of Easter reflect each other with symbols of renewal and growth. This is a time to reconnect to...

Seattle Times Food staff

The season of spring and the celebration of Easter reflect each other with symbols of renewal and growth. This is a time to reconnect to the earth with the first stalks of tender local green asparagus, tart rhubarb and sweet, tiny new potatoes. They're the quintessential flavors of the season, perfect for Easter dishes and spring parties.

Asparagus

Predicting when the first local crop will arrive in stores isn't easy. It takes warm weather on the eastern side of the state, along with the availability of workers to cut the asparagus, notes Alan Schreiber of the Washington Asparagus Commission.

Some farmers are already bringing in a little of their crop, although not enough to ship yet, reports Schreiber; he doesn't expect it to arrive in local stores until about April 15.

When preparing asparagus, bend each spear gently and it will snap off at its toughest point. If the asparagus is muddy, soak it in several changes of cold, lightly salted water, agitating the water a little to loosen the grit. The newly harvested asparagus cooks quickly, so begin checking for tenderness a few minutes before the time set in the recipe.

Flavor pairings: pistachios; morels, spring greens, new potatoes, shallots; chervil, chives, lemon thyme, rosemary, sage; nutmeg, black pepper; crabmeat, eggs, pancetta; garlic, ginger; lemon, orange; mustard, olive oil, soy sauce, vinaigrettes; Parmesan, taleggio

Rhubarb

Stores should begin seeing field-grown rhubarb from Sumner and the Puyallup Valley this week.

Choose rhubarb stalks that are the brightest red without soft spots or bruising. Trim ends and discard leaves, then store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator up to four days.

Flavor pairings: berries, especially strawberries; citrus fruit, especially oranges; plums; brandy; brown sugar; butter, cream, sour cream; cinnamon, ginger, black and pink peppercorns, star anise; lavender

New potatoes

Also known as creamers or baby potatoes, these tiny balls are about 1-½ inches in diameter, with cream or crimson skins so thin and delicate there's no need for peeling. Although the term "new potatoes" is sometimes used to describe all small, waxy potatoes, it's the immature potatoes harvested in the spring and early summer that are the real thing.

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Baby potatoes are more perishable than other potatoes, so refrigerate and use within a few days after buying.

Flavor pairings: basil, chervil, chives, dill, fennel, lemon thyme and thyme, lovage, mint, savory, sorrel; cayenne, cumin, nutmeg, paprika; cream, butter; olive oil, mustard; garlic, leeks; smoked salmon

CeCe Sullivan: csullivan@seattletimes.com

Resources: "Culinary Artistry" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page; "The Herbfarm Cookbook" by Jerry Traunfeld; "The Cook's Thesaurus."

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