ColumnThe Green Plate’s tips for getting the most out of spring vegetables.
After a winter of eating roots, tubers, and sturdy greens, the reward of spring is about to hit your table. Seize the season with five of The Green Plate’s favorite spring shoots.
Asparagus: one of the season’s most versatile vegetables.
Side dish: Toss whole spears in olive oil and salt and roast in a single layer at 400 degrees for about five minutes until just tender. Enjoy as is or embellish with a squeeze of lemon or a shaving of Parmesan.
Pasta: For an easy pasta dish, cut the roasted asparagus into bite-sized pieces and toss with cooked fettuccine. Add some fresh ricotta, chopped herbs, and freshly ground pepper.
Salads: Steamed asparagus makes a satisfying base in a spring salad. Toss with radishes, young potatoes and a bold vinaigrette. Or arrange on a plate with greens, hard-cooked egg, beets, and avocado.
Fava Beans: these double-shelled darlings of restaurant menus can be buggers to prepare but are worth the effort.
Preparation: Remove them from their pods and blanch the beans in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain and squeeze them gently until the bright green beans pop out of their filmy white second skins.
Side Dish: sauté the tender green beans with shallots and a little pancetta, if you’re so inclined, and serve them as a side dish.
Pasta or Risotto: Add them to a pasta dish or vegetarian risotto.
Artichokes: I like the medium to small ones since they lack the fuzzy choke.
You can always steam or boil the large ones whole, pull off the leaves and scrape the meat off with your teeth, but there are so many other ways to enjoy them. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use the smaller ones:
To Prepare: Cut off the top of the artichoke about 1/3 of the way down, beginning at the bottom. Grasp the leaves and pull them off using a downward motion until you reach the tender, light green inner leaves. Depending on size, quarter, half, or leave whole.
Braise them in the oven or on top of the stove with a little olive oil, water, wine, or lemon juice and some fresh herbs, until tender. Or, toss with olive oil and salt and roast at 400 degrees in a single layer until brown and crispy. Once cooked, artichokes can be enjoyed as a side dish, or dipped in aioli as a snack. You can also use them to top pizzas, toss with pastas, or stir into risotto.
English Peas: nothing says spring like the snappy, grassy flavor of a fresh, raw, green pea.
To Prepare: Simply shell them by the dozen and eat them raw. Or, blanch for 30 seconds and toss into a traditional potato salad, sauté with baby carrots for a side dish, add to pasta or rice, or puree with garlic and herbs into a dip.
Green Garlic: Have you ever noticed that by springtime the garlic in the stores is sprouted and acrid tasting? Thank goodness for fresh, green garlic.
Usually found in farmers’ markets, green garlic is like garlic’s more elegant cousin. It’s mild, yet pungent, fresh and fragrant, and great to use just as you would regular garlic. It’s also wonderful chopped up and pounded into a paste, which you can add to homemade mayo, vinaigrette, or in a fresh herb pesto. Its delicate flavor will not overpower.
The best thing about these spring treats: you can mix and match them. They have special affinities for one another. For example, asparagus or artichokes and green garlic pair well in dishes. Peas and asparagus do too. Have fun!
This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.