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Seasonal Pantry: Spring foods are better with butter

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“In every country where I have traveled I have never failed to obtain fresh-churned butter,” Alexandre Dumas writes in his “Great Dictionary of Cuisine” (1873).

“Wherever I went,” he continues, “I procured cow's, camel's, mare's or ewe's milk. I filled a bottle with it three quarters full, stoppered it and fastened it to my horse's neck. My horse did the rest. When I arrived at my destination, I unstoppered the bottle, and there was a piece of butter as large as my fist.”

At its most basic, butter is the result of simply agitating milk, which is to say, butter happens naturally.

It is an essential ingredient year round. For something so simple, it does a lot of heavy lifting in the kitchen and at the table, from transferring heat and facilitating browning to creating delicate textures and extraordinary flavors.

Butter, especially butter from the milk of grass-fed animals, is one of the healthiest foods and healthiest fats there is. It is full of essential nutrients, some that we get only from butter or other similar fats such as whole milk, whole milk yogurt and cheese. If you need studies to be convinced, peruse the website of the Weston A. Price Foundation, www.westonaprice.org.

Jacques Pépin, beloved French chef and television personality, loves to chide Americans about this fear of butter.

“Americans!” he has exclaimed on the set of his PBS series. “You are terrified of using a tiny bit of butter, but you'll pour olive oil over everything.”

I love how he responds when asked to describe the best meal he's ever eaten, a question that has no truly honest response.

“I love very good bread with great butter,” he says, adding that if you include a piece of saucisson (a French dry cured sausage), it is even better.

Come spring, butter should be one of your best culinary friends. Nothing else flatters such a broad range of spring foods, letting their delicacy blossom and enhancing both their tastes and textures. In the summer, extra virgin olive oil is every bit as crucial and perhaps more so; but now, when the first of the year's harvest is unfolding, butter is often better.

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