My first recollection of vegetable aversion was raw broccoli florets (sans ranch dip) that my mom served with almond butter on flaxseed bread. No one dared trade sack lunches, as others ripped open their Cool Ranch Doritos with delight. Years later, the anticipation of spring and the array of vegetables that sprout up at farmers markets ignite a kind of frenzy in which I crave anything fresh, crunchy and green.
Many today consider themselves “locavores” and support local farmers. Others go a step further and grow their own, while high-end restaurants, such as Atera and Per Se in New York City, hire foragers who sleuth recherché produce. Chef Camilo Kohn, formerly of Atera and currently at Omar’s in NYC, believes there’s something more to eating fresh produce when carefully selected. “Having that relationship with the farmer, who’s essentially your guide, and how one treats and cooks produce is a way for people to identify their surroundings,” explains Kohn. “It’s a sense of respect for the land that makes the end result taste more satisfying.”
Whether cooking an impressive dinner or packing a sack lunch for your own child, here’s a list of vibrant and exceptional produce found exclusively in the spring.
• Green Garlic: Whereas mature garlic fully forms into segments emitting a pungent and spicy profile, young garlic is delicate and sweet. Resembling a spring onion with red streaks around the bulb, green garlic can be used to perfume frittatas and accent aioli. Unlike fully formed garlic, green garlic must be stored in the refrigerator.
• Fava Beans: Favas, an old-world shell bean, are creamy, sweet and encapsulated in bright green, slightly furry pods. Smaller, pale skinned pods indicate youth and can be lightly sautéed or even consumed raw. Late season favas, with a deepened hue suggesting starchier beans, are often reserved for purées. Favas have two layers—both must be hand peeled. Though laborious, favas are delicious tossed with pecorino cheese, olive oil and fresh mint.
• Ramps: With a strong garlic aroma and sweet onion flavor, ramps have become a popular culinary ingredient. Resembling the bulb of a spring onion, it grows leafy tops, which can be sautéed or grilled in its entirety and paired with delicate egg dishes or savory Romesco sauce. Because ramps are strictly foraged, its truncated season of only six weeks turns this wild onion into a prized item at the farmer’s market.
• Pea Shoots: Though English peas get lauded for their sweet juicy kernels, people often forget that the actual vines and the pod itself are edible and just as sweet. Young pea shoots should be incredibly tender to the touch and taste great tossed raw in a creamy crab salad.
• Cardoons: If celery and artichoke procreated, they’d name it Cardoon. Resembling a prickly, prehistoric plant, cardoons are a “distant cousin of the artichoke” writes Alice Waters in her Chez Panisse Vegetable cookbook. Hollow stalks are fibrous, so choose small, firm stems with resilient leaves. Juicy, sweet and nutty, cardoon stalks are delicious lightly battered and fried.