We’re in the interlude between winter and spring right now; by the calendar, we’re into spring, but the local vegetable offerings would seem to indicate otherwise. Strawberries, asparagus, and ramps are on the horizon; tomatoes and corn seem much further afield. There is one jar of home-canned tomatoes from Summer 2010 left in the pantry.
Though it seems far away, spring’s yield will be here in the blink of an eye, and we write this guide so that we–and you–are in good shape to make the best of all the veggies as they arrive, first in a trickle, then in an onslaught. Here are some of our favorite spring fruits and veggies, in approximate order of their arrival.
What are the spring vegetables you await most eagerly? How do you prepare them?
Dandelion Greens. Whereas some our favorite spring vegetables are sweet, dandelion greens are refreshingly bitter, almost like tonic. They may not be for everyone, but we love the way they taste, and we think you can practically feel their detox doing good on your body. Prepare them simply by boiling them and topping with lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper, or stir fry them with garlic. You can also incorporate a handful into this indulgent, springy version of carbonara–Crispy Spaghetti Carbonara with Dandelion Greens and Pecorino.
Ramps. Ramps are delicate and onion-y, like mellow scallions or extra-sweet leeks, and they’re also known as wild leeks. Like the beginning of spring, they’re meek, hardly robust, so make the most of their gentle flavor in the simplest of spring dishes. They appear in mid- to late-April in the northeast. Use them in recipes in place of scallions or leeks, especially this Olive Oil Crepe with Leeks (here, Ramps) and Eggs. The Splendid Table has a brilliant simple pasta recipe for ramps here. Also try scrambling softened ramps into eggs, in any breakfast scramble, or in this Lemony Smoked Salmon Scramble.
Rhubarb. Rhubarb, the first official fruit, is so sour and unapproachable that, well, we have hardly ever cooked with one. But lots of people like them, all around the blogosphere. Last year, we salivated over these Rhubarb Curd Shortbread on Not Derby Pie. Check out these jars of Rhubarb Rosemary Honey Preserves on Mrs Wheelbarrow’s blog (she’s a wiz at canning). Sprouted Kitchen recently posted about this fantastic-looking, refreshing Rhubarb Sorbet. If you really want to get on board, Food52 is organizing a rhubarb group project in which Food52ers get together and preserve rhubarb together.
Radish. There are radishes available all winter, but when the spring varieties arrive, we go right for them. French Breakfast are a particular favorite–they’re elongated, reddish-pink, and they go bad super quickly. Spicy, crisp, and bright, all spring radishes are a wondrous addition to green salads and sandwiches, from tuna fish and chicken salad to Spicy Crunchy Hummus Wraps. Don’t throw out the greens, either–you can incorporate them into this Radish-Leaf Almond Pesto for pasta.
Greens. In addition to dandelion greens, we’ll all start to see all kinds of baby greens around the market, or in gardens if you’ve got them. We relish eating these greens raw and simply dressed. We’ll throw handfuls into stir fries and stews, and we’ll make pesto out of pretty much anything we find.
Asparagus. The very first asparagus of the season are so tender and delicious, it’s best to gently steam them and simply toss them with a splash of olive oil and some good vinegar, salt, and pepper. One step beyond is this dish–Asparagus with Tarragon Vinaigrette. Once you’re past the first infatuation, you can mix up your preparations a bit. We make Puff-Pastry Wrapped Asparagus as fancy finger food, use them in sautés on top of arepas or pasta, and roast them as dinner party side dishes. Don’t miss these Asparagus Spears with Burrata and Prosciutto.
Artichoke. By winter’s end, we’ve grown used to artichokes from a jar or the freezer. They’re fine for certain things, but they don’t hold a candele to freshly steamed artichokes and the ritual of eating them–leaf by leaf, dipped in melted butter. To fancy it up, Phoebe serves Artichokes with Caper-Scallion Mayo, the perfect spring lunch for one.
Strawberries. Just the scent of a really ripe strawberry, still a little warm from the sun, is enough to make us swoon. We like the little ones, the ones that are such a dark pinkish red they’ll stain your fingers and your shirt. When you’re done stuffing your face with plain raw berries, you can start dipping them in cream. Next up, slice and sugar ‘em and serve them with Pound Cake and Creme Anglaise. Last year, we made a simple syrup of basil and lemon zest and marinated strawberries in that (add some basil to the syrup we make for Homemade Lemonade–recipe here). Then we piled them on biscuits–these Toasted Pecan Scones make a nice replacement for traditional biscuits–piled on cream, and had shortbread.