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Asparagus Pesto Linguine. credit Courtesy Gigi Hudson Valley

The Tastes of Spring

Spring 2013   

While January usually kicks off "diet season," the arrival of spring provides an ideal opportunity to think about a healthier lifestyle. Finally we’re moving far beyond the sweets and treats of the holidays, followed by the braised meats and hearty stews of oh-so-cold January, and the "I give up" sentiment of February.

Yes, it’s definitely time to put away the stew pot and pull out the sauté pan or even the grill! The lighter and colorful harvest of spring looks so tasty and refreshing. I’m filling my shopping bags with fava beans, peas, asparagus, mushrooms and tender ramps along with spring lettuces, spinach, baby beets, slim baby carrots and green onions. A sauté of a combination of all with garlic, olive oil and parsley provides a "trifolata" that sings the season. Alternatively, I’ll single out an ingredient like Swiss chard, kale or even some spicier mustard leaves; after a quick sauté I’ll serve the greens piled onto crusty bread topped with a fried egg. So delicious.

credit Mary Anne McLean

Like many that enjoy our dynamic food scene in the Hudson Valley, I’m a strong proponent of eating locally. The reasons are many—while flavor tops the list, health merits and community connection follow right behind. As a registered dietitian, I’m often asked whether eating locally grown food is more nutritious than eating conventional food. Well, it depends. Research has shown that produce picked at its peak has its highest possible nutrient content and certainly its highest level of antioxidants. Once picked, the quality of fresh produce gradually starts to degrade. My commonsense tells me that when I eat a freshly picked perfectly ripe apple, fewer nutrients are lost to oxidation than an apple sitting on a freight car in Washington State.

But really, I favor local food choices because fruits and vegetables picked at their peak of ripeness just taste so much better. That isn’t a surprise. After all, they have not endured long transit times from farm to table, they haven’t stopped off at processing plants to be sorted and then reshipped, they haven’t been gassed with ethylene to prompt an artificial ripeness, and they don’t come from farms whose production methods I know nothing about. In contrast, when I get asparagus from Grieg Farm adjacent to Gigi Market & Café, I know they’ve been just plucked from the ground and the intensity of flavor blows away anything a supermarket can offer. It all adds up to my personal eating equation: local + seasonal = healthy. Furthermore, community support of smaller local farms encourages them to be adventurous and grow myriad varieties of vegetables and fruit, much more than I’ll ever find in the industrial food market. It’s this diverse cornucopia that, for me, makes cooking more interesting and eating more pleasurable.

Many local kids fully understand the good fortune of this exceptional place we call home. I just recently acquired 501c3 nonprofit status for SEED (Smart Eating Every Day), an after-school nutrition education program. Focus groups led last year in Red Hook elementary, middle and high schools clearly showed that our youth are knowledgeable and proud of their agricultural region and feel they are blessed to live in a this mecca of quality ingredients.

This is clearly a reflection of our agricultural gifts and the commitment of so many. I say: let our kids lead the way to a healthier future.

The Gigi Team and I try to share the pleasures of seasonal and local flavors with our customers every day. Recently we started a new "build your own" Skizza™ and salad option at Gigi Trattoria where you choose among local lettuces and vegetables and add on locally raised turkey breast and/or local artisanal cheeses and cured meats. This is an extension of the work I’ve done for years with a popular food outfit in New York City called "Just Salad." While we don’t have a Just Salad branch in the Hudson Valley (yet!), our Gigi "build your own" menu is one more way of helping our neighbors eat locally, tastily, seasonally and, of course, healthily.


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