Welcome, spring! After a cold winter, nothing is more welcome than the first signs of the season: bright green shoots poking through the soil, buzzing bumblebees, and—my favorite, naturally—new produce! Having grown up in The Garden State and after many years in New York’s Hudson Valley, I consider myself a farm stand enthusiast. Each visit…
Welcome, spring! After a cold winter, nothing is more welcome than the first signs of the season: bright green shoots poking through the soil, buzzing bumblebees, and—my favorite, naturally—new produce! Having grown up in The Garden State and after many years in New York’s Hudson Valley, I consider myself a farm stand enthusiast. Each visit is a surprise—finding early berries or unexpected artichokes can change a food-lover’s weekend plans. My idea of a perfect day is cruising around with the windows down, my dog in the backseat, eyes peeled for a roadside stall bursting with produce and potential. When we think of spring, the first thing that comes to mind is asparagus. From shades of green to purple, asparagus will be the guest of honor at our tables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Pillowy frittatas, chilled salads, and brunch-worthy gnocchis will make them the star of the dish, but most of the time, my asparagus take a quick trip to the grill for a light char around the edges. In the interest of honesty, only half will make it to the dinner table… the rest plucked from the platter as a chef’s treat. As far as I’m concerned, you cannot cook too much asparagus. Soon, your farm stands will be brimming with flavorful aromatic ingredients, like leeks, spring onions, chives, and, if you’re lucky, ramps. Ramps are a wild-grown member of the allium family, found by eagle-eyed foragers in the forests of the northeastern United States. They are a small shoot with big flavors, and you might enjoy them sautéed like leeks, pulsed into a pesto, or pickled on a cheese plate. Creamy fava beans are a labor of love, but they are a special seasonal treat that I can’t get enough of alongside spring lamb, puréed into a smooth spread or dip, or tossed with tender veggies and rich lobster for a luxurious pasta. If you’ve never worked with fava beans, don’t stress. Preparing them is simple and worth every second. If I like fava beans, I love fresh spring shelling peas! This time of year, I am tossing peas into every soup, pasta, and salad I make for little bursts of savory sweetness. If you can find them pre-shelled, all the better, because then they just need a quick blanch in salted water, and you can store them in the refrigerator for the week. For me, the best is Risi e Bisi, or Italian-style Rice and Peas, a childhood favorite that comes together quickly for the ultimate comfort food. If you’ve had enough chlorophyl, you’re in luck, because any minute now, we’ll start to see fruit! Strawberries first, then rhubarb! I am a serial fruit over-buyer, and so my first stop is generally to the pick-your-own strawberry fields for more berries than I could ever eat, which turn into a big batch of simple strawberry jam. I use a hot water bath to can mine for the year ahead, but you can also freeze it if that’s not for you. I use jars of jam as social currency for the year, passing them out to everyone I love. Of course, it can’t all be jam, and most of the strawberries get eaten fresh. While I love a pie, strawberries are my favorite fruit to “crisp,” with a topping full of cinnamon, cardamom, and a pinch of salt. The very best friend of strawberries is rhubarb, and if you haven’t cooked with it, this is your sign to try it this year. People are wary of rhubarb because there are rumors that it is poisonous! It’s good to be wary, but as long as you don’t eat the leaves of the rhubarb plant—which almost never make it to the market for obvious reasons—you’re safe! Rhubarb is a stalk that looks just like celery except in shades of red and pink (though sometimes green), but it couldn’t take more different. Not at all sweet, rhubarb is as tart as tart can be—and that’s why it’s so perfect alongside a sweet little strawberry. When cooked together, the berries sweeten the rhubarb, creating the iconic sweet/tart duo that is a strawberry-rhubarb. Anywhere you use strawberries, you can add some diced rhubarb. But be sure you cook it through, because otherwise it can be stringy and tough. Of course, rhubarb doesn’t need a buddy and can stand alone whether it’s sweet or savory. These little Rhubarb Mini-Muffins are my favorite little grab-and-go breakfast, studded with jammy and tart rhubarb pieces, and a classic rhubarb tart is very simple—and very French! I love mine topped with a dollop of lightly sweetened crème fraiche. If you don’t have access to farm stands, consider a fun road trip to your nearest farming region. Explore the surrounding communities to see where your food is grown, and you may even find CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) that deliver to your area. Don’t forget your dog!
Laura Monroe '12, DISH Editor
Copyright © 2022 The Culinary Institute of America