My childhood was filled with snowy Easters, the ground washed out with dirty grey snow banks punctuated by brown splotches as taupe as a suburban housing development. We would collect barren branches at the start of Lent and put them in a vase, and by Easter tiny leaves would be peeping out from the buds. This was the only green to be seen. The only flowers were those in the colorful plastic wrapped pots we brought home from the grocery store.
This is my way of asking forgiveness if I prattle on and on about spring for the next couple of weeks. It’s a bit hard to think about much else right now. Spring in these parts can be a little in your face.
If appearances are anything to go by, the trees have hired the same decorator that did Barbie’s Dreamhouse. The cherries’ branches are waterfalls of tiny pink blossoms. The magnolias are bedecked with large drooping flowers as soft and swishy as ballerina skirts. I always find the pastel palate that industry breaks out for spring to be terribly cheesy, until spring actually rolls around. Then I remember that it’s just honest.
We’re still only on the cusp though.
The signs are materializing here and there, but much of the world is still bare and brown, the ground still cold, a hat still necessary when evening closes in. It’s the time of year for yearning, and for hope.
It’s never entirely clear to me whether it’s profound wisdom or folly, our tendency to hope in the face of so many things that would crush it. In spite of the apparent ridiculousness, we hold on to hope, and in a way, I think the ability to hope is itself hopeful. I think it’s part of why we have the celebrations we do at this time of year.
And at the same time, just to drive the point home, spring strides up to the podium to make an eloquent argument, coming down on the side of wisdom.
There’s a stoic side of me that’s still hanging on to winter though. A side of me that is not quite ready yet to let go and slide into the cascade of flowers and cricket chirps and easy living. And, this side has a point. As I said, it’s still hat weather much of the time.
This is also a good side to enlist in the cooking right now. The end of March and start of April can be a little trying for the culinary patience. The plant life is moving and stirring, but there isn’t much that’s ready for eating yet, so we’re left turning to the same storage fruits and vegetables that we’ve been working with since October. It’s hard to be quite as enamored now with my beloved roots as I was even just a month ago.
My stoic side firmly states that this is good for us, that the seasons know exactly what they’re doing, and work in a well rehearsed rhythm of pushing us to our limits with cycles of scarcity and abundance. Still, I’m on the lookout for new things to do with roots. Things that I haven’t tried yet.
With these tartines, I feel as though I’ve found it in spades.
In concept, they’re actually not a far cry from some of my well loved refrains of sweet potato and goat cheese on sandwiches. But, in practice they somehow feel worlds different. As fresh and new as spring itself. I don’t think I’ve ever actually paired parsnip and pear before, though as soon as I saw the duo, it felt as though the two were meant for each other. Perhaps I’m a little loony from the alignment of the full moon and several planets and all these holidays, but I swear it felt to me like cosmic destiny that pear and parsnip should meet in this sandwich.
Yup, I’m loony.
This tartine is the creation of Julianne Jones, who is the aproned, floury force behind the bakery Vergennes Laundry up in Vergennes, Vermont. And, its genius goes something like this: take slices of crusty bread, as thick as an easy reading novel, and slather them with milky white smears of creme fraiche. Go ahead, slather. As the tartines are baked this will melt into the bread saturating it with a buttery richness. It’s quite marvelous.
On top of this you layer thin, crisp slices of pear along with pencils of roasted parsnip. The parsnip is almost as sweet as the pear, but where the pear is crisp, the parsnip is tender and caramelized. And where the pear is pertly fresh, the parsnip sighs with warm cooked aromas of banana and clove.
Before sending them into the oven, you sprinkle blue cheese generously over the top of the tartines. This melts into a bubbling fondue that engulfs all the sweet elements in a salty, creamy flood. It’s hearty, and decadent, and all around ridiculously good.
My stoic side isn’t even sure we deserve to eat something this exciting while we wait for spring to hustle the rest of the way in here. Thankfully I only listen to my stoic side so much. And, while I hope for spring, I have pear and parsnip to tide me over.
- about 3-4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 4 thick slices of crusty country style bread
- 4 Tbs. creme fraiche
- 1-2 Bosc pears, cored and thinly sliced
- crumbled strong blue cheese like Fourme d’Ambert
- Preheat your oven to 400F. Toss the parsnip matchsticks with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast them until they are golden and tender, around 20-25 minutes. Set aside and let cool a bit.
- Spread your slices of bread with the creme fraiche. Then, layer pear slices and parsnip strips on each piece of bread. Finally, crumble blue cheese over the top of each.
- Crank the oven up to 450F. Put the tartines on a baking sheet. Then, pop them into the oven until the cheese is melted and the tartines are warmed, 5-7 minutes. Eat warm from the oven.