March 3, 2018
Glorious Spring Produce
from Chef Mary Locke
Chefs who work with farm-to-table menus also tend to live and breathe with the seasons. And while root vegetables and winter’s brussels sprouts are wonderful, by late March or early April our thoughts are turning to spring produce.
As an avid home gardener who lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York, I’m always especially excited for spring to come. Searching through seed catalogs and planning the coming season’s garden keeps me going through the cold winter’s nights, and I’m already thinking ahead to what I’ll be cooking.
Peas – One of the earliest harbingers of spring in the Northeast are English peas, and I love figuring out new ways to enjoy them. In addition to serving them as a delicate, vivid green side dish, peas can be used in a variety of interesting ways. The beautiful curly tendrils can be added to salads or quickly sautéed in butter or olive oil. The peas themselves can also be used in sauces like Rouille or pesto, and more mature peas can be used in hummus and korma .
Tender Lettuces – The first butter lettuce and arugula of spring are a perfect break from the sturdy chicories and kale that dominate salads in cold weather. I love to serve varieties like bibb and little gem in a fresh salad with a light, lemony dressing, garnished with thinly sliced radishes and the Japanese hakurei turnip for color and crunch. Finely slivered almonds or raw pepitas are also delicious in this kind of salad, along with fresh herbs like chervil and dill.
Asparagus – Although this popular and versatile vegetable is now available year ‘round from different parts of the country, to me asparagus has always signaled spring. The first tender shoots are wonderful simply steamed or sautéed and dressed with flavored butter and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds; try cutting the stalks into two-inch lengths on the bias for a pretty presentation. And save tougher stems and peelings for a seasonal asparagus soup, garnished with fresh crabmeat and a drizzle of red pepper oil.
• According to Datassential, seasonal vegetables are on 13.6% of U.S. menus, representing four-year growth of nearly 20%
Fresh Herbs – Take advantage of abundant fresh spring herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, Italian parsley, chervil, chives, mint and tarragon by chopping them into softened butter to create a quick “sauce” for fish, grilled or roast chicken, rice or new potatoes, or whisking them into vinaigrettes and light broths. Avocado toast and open-faced tartine sandwiches are another place to use beautiful fresh herbs with abundance.
Crudité – I love the fact that this ‘70s cocktail party favorite has become trendy again, and spring produce is perfect for showcasing with a dip for a shareable, healthy appetizer or small plate. Select vegetables for color as well as flavor and texture: batons of differently colored heirloom carrots, sugar snap peas, tender asparagus tips, multicolored radishes (including gorgeous watermelon radishes) and cherry or grape tomatoes. Try serving them in a lettuce-lined basket or on crushed ice in a glass bowl for a dramatic presentation that will show up on Instagram (a good place to look for ideas, by the way). The dip can be relatively simple, such as housemade Ranch or Green Goddess dressing, herbed cheese or maybe that spring pea hummus!
Rhubarb – Spring is a little early for most fruits, but rhubarb pies and crisps—with or without strawberries—are right on time. But rhubarb can also be used in distinctive savory applications like relish, chutney or salsa, which is great with proteins or on a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich. I’ve made a sweet-and-sour variation of the Italian caponata with rhubarb, raisins and capers, and the stalks can also be roasted like asparagus, with olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper.
• A Chef’s Seasonal Crudites Platter can be adapted to change with the produce that’s available, and feature a rotating variety of interesting dips, such as Whipped Garden Ricotta or Red Curry Yogurt Dip.
• Highlight fresh spring herbs with this Dill Sauce or Lemon Tarragon Lobster Salad.
• Use Minor’s Sautéed Vegetable Base Mirepoix when you want the delicate flavor of fresh spring vegetables to shine through.