What's the thing in season right now you're excited about and why?
I'd say bronze fennel and Penn Cove mussels. The mussels are great right now and a sign that spring is here. Bronze fennel begins to appear all over the wakening gardens of Seattle as well. I love putting them together. A new favorite dish is a rare slice of roasted Fermin Ibérico de Bellota Presa pork with charred spring salad onions, Penn Cove mussels, and bronze fennel.
Penn Cove mussels are one of the best Pacific Northwest products: plump, delicious, and local. The bronze fennel is so good—I love it with mussels, English peas, roasted salad onions, and even beets.
Where do you get them?
We get the mussels directly from Penn Cove and the bronze fennel typically from our garden at Cafe Juanita, as well as from my home. For this spring, we are lucky it is growing behind our pop-up location in the tiny garden!
How do you choose the right ones?
For the mussels, you want a tightly closed shell with no cracks. In early springtime in Seattle, it's easy to find Penn Cove mussels. Toss out any that are cracked before cooking and pinch any open ones. If they close after being pinched, they are good—if not, toss. After cooking, discard any unopened shells before plating.
For bronze fennel, it grows easily from seed in a container or your garden. My preference is the smaller fronds and the most bronze, but it all tastes great. This plant tends to grow all over Seattle neighborhoods and on the edges of gardens.
How should people cook them?
I love to cook the mussels until they just open, cool them slightly, and remove all the meat from the shell. I strain the mussel nectar/cooking liquid and reduce it, then add butter to that sauce. I add the mussels back into that warm sauce just to warm them. Toss this with fresh cooked pasta with toasted breadcrumbs on top, or serve this sauce alongside roasted salmon or steelhead or roasted pork.
I love simply steamed mussels in the shell, but taking this extra step is easy and makes dinner come together quickly. It also seems especially decadent to enjoy mussels without all that work!
Will these items show up on your menu?
The Fermin Ibérico de Bellota Presa is on my tasting menu at the pop-up periodically in April. The bronze fennel will be used once English peas and fava beans arrive! The dish will feature burrata with English peas, bronze fennel, and lemon cracker.
The Kirkland location of Cafe Juanita (9702 NE 120th Pl, 425-823-1505) is temporarily closed for remodeling and is expected to reopen in July. The restaurant's pop-up location on Capitol Hill (926 12th Ave) will be open until at least the first week of June.