For most of the spring our farmer's market doesn't offer much in the way of local produce. We usually have asparagus by this time but only just. There's spinach, arugula (although I have a feeling the stuff I buy is greenhouse grown but still, locally), a miscellaneous green or two, some herbs, and really, that's about it.
One thing that our farmer's market just started carrying this spring is mâche, a salad green I had read about in cookbooks, but had never seen until early, early this spring when I found them at the farmer's market.
Mâche's taste is pleasant and mild. Its leaves form little rosettes of soft, deep green and at my farmer's market they're sold with roots still attached which seems to be a common practice with mâche. One of mâche's virtues is that it grows in weather too cold for lettuce and other salad greens which is why they're among the small number of locally grown items available in Baltimore in April.
Most recipes I found for it suggest a simple, not too sharp vinaigrette. Mâche also seems to have an affinity for beets -- many of the recipes I found online were for salads that include beets. However, since I have no affinity for beets, I have not tried any of them. Susan Hermann Loomis in the French Farmhouse Cookbook (my current go-to book for French cooking matters) says to dress mâche with a vinaigrette made with shallots and says that shallots "enhance its delicacy."
Because of the little roots with soil still attached, mâche takes some effort to clean. All of its little roots need to be trimmed off and you have to make sure that no dirt has collected in the leaves. Susan Hermann Loomis says that the rule she learned while an apprentice at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine was to rinse it seven times. No less!
I'm just not that scrupulous nor is my attention span long enough to take me through seven rinsings. Besides I didn't come across the seven-times rule until I had prepared mâche several times using my method which is to trim the roots first, then wash it by filling a large bowl with water and swishing it about. I usually go through about three changes of water and when I stop finding grit in the bottom of the bowl, I deem it clean enough.
During the nor'easter we had a few weekends ago I made a meal for my parents of mâche dressed with olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt, pepper, and then sprinkled with the crumbled yolk of a hard-boiled egg. We ate it with Julia Child's leek and potato soup and together they made a good lunch for a day of torrential rain. Leek and potato soup is filling and warming, and the salad of mâche looked cheerful and spring-like with its dark green leaves and little bits of bright yellow egg yolk.
That evening back at home I used mâche again to make a salad from The Gourmet Cookbook which is a huge and wonderful cookbook -- and I'm amazed to see that new copies are only $12 on Amazon. That's an astonishingly good price for this very worthwhile book.
The salad recipe is originally from Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe fame. If you don't have mâche it would work with a butter lettuce. The raw asparagus is sweet and partners well with the salty sharpness of the parm.
Mâche with Raw Asparagus, Pistachios, and Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons shelled unsalted natural pistachios (green, not red!)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
6 fat asparagus spears (about 9 ounces), trimmed
6 cups mâche, cleaned and trimmed of roots
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (use a vegetable peeler to shave the cheese)
1. Warm the pistachios in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Watch them closely, nuts burn easily, shake the pan frequently, and take them off the heat when they become fragrant -- about two or three minutes.
2. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and salt to taste.
3. Cut the tips off the asparagus and reserve them for another use. Cut the asparagus spears on the diagonal in slices 1/8 inch thick.
4. Toss the mâche, asparagus, and pistachios with just enough vinaigrette to coat them. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the cheese on top.
Some more recipes for mâche on foodblogs:
A Veggie Venture's Mâche With Orange Cumin Dressing
Chocolate and Zucchini's Salade de Mâche, Endives, and Betteraves