As we enter the heart of Spring, signs of the season are sprouting up all around us. The Vernal equinox is symbolic of new beginnings and fresh starts, and the same goes for farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. In these early days of growing season, the earth thaws, the longer days of sunshine return, and we can celebrate with the first brave sprouts to emerge. It's best to pay a visit to your local farmer's market to find the produce that's truly in it's peak season in your area. But here is a short and certainly not conclusive list of 3 of Spring's greatest hits.
ARTICHOKESDid you know artichokes are actually flowers? The artichokes are still buds when you see them at the farmers market, with the leaves encasing the fuzzy center, the 'choke,' and the meaty core, or the 'heart.' Generally, the choke is too fibrous to eat, but the heart is, and many see the few bites of the artichoke heart as the reward after peeling back all the leaves! The artichoke plant is a member of the thistle family and thrive in Mediterranean climates. California produces almost all of the US-grown artichokes, and peak production season is March–May. They're high in phenolic compounds, which mean lots of antioxidants (similar to extra virgin olive oil!).
HOW TO BUY
- Choose artichokes that feel heavy when picked up – the heavier they are, the more moisture they've probably retained and the meatier they'll be.
- Give the artichoke a gentle squeeze – if it squeaks, it's fresh.
- Remember that an artichoke is a bud! You want the leaves to be tight and compact in to the center. If the artichoke looks like it's on its way to flowering, it may be on the older side.
HOW TO COOK THEMThere are three main ways that people may choose to prepare artichokes: baking, steaming, or boiling. Whichever method you choose, wash the artichoke first, then trim the spiky end off the leaves and slice off the top. Rub any open cuts on the leaves with a half a lemon to reduce browning. Then, working from the outside-in, loosen and spread out the leaves. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and squeeze in the juice from your half lemon. (If you'd like, you can also add fresh herbs or a few cloves of garlic between the leaves.) From here, choose your preferred cooking method:
- Bake: Wrap each artichoke in foil and bake at 425°F for about 1 hour.
- Boil: At the artichokes to a large pot with enough water to cover them. Add a few generous pinches of salt, pepper, and the rind from the lemon. Cover the pot and bring to a medium boil, boiling gently for about 20 minutes, until a knife easily pierces the base. Hold upside down to drain excess water before serving.
- Steam: Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a large pot, cover, and steam artichokes in a steamer basket for about 20 minutes. Be careful not to uncover the pot too often – you want the artichokes to retain as much moisture as possible.
LEEKSLeeks are in the alium family, same as garlic and onions. Their versatility in both comforting soups and fresh Spring vegetable dishes make them great for this transitional time. While recipes often call for one the white and light green parts of the plant, the darker greens can be cooked to tenderize or added to stocks and broths. In order to clean them, we recommend chopping the parts you're going to eat into rings and dunk and swish around in cold water in order to get off all the dirt that can get stuck in between the stalks. (If you are preparing the leeks whole, run them under cold water, trying to separate the stalks enough to clean.) When buying leeks, look for unblemished, firm stalks with bright green leaves. Leeks with dark green tops or rounded bottoms could mean that they're overgrown, old, or both. Smaller, younger leeks will be more tender and mild.
HOW TO COOK THEMLeeks offer a nice amount of sweet onion flavor without overwhelming other ingredients, so they're well-suited for recipes both where they're the main ingredient or paired with other subtle ingredients. Here are some of our favorite leek-inclusive recipes:
ASPARAGUSAsparagus is one of those quintessential Spring vegetables. Seeing it at the farmers markets and grocery stores is a sure sign that warmer days are just around the corner! Asparagus lies dormant for the winter, and when the ground defrosts, the edible spears are pushed upwards, growing at a rate of 6 inches or more per day! So the harvest begins swiftly once they emerge. And furthermore, asparagus is loaded with antioxidants and nutrients, including fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, and chromium. You may notice that asparagus is sold is various thicknesses, from thin and delicate to thick and stalky. But size isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality or flavor. Thick asparagus is simply more mature, like the difference between baby zucchinis and more mature ones. Instead, pay attention to color – bright green or violet-tinged spears with firm (not limp) stems are best. When the bunch is squeezed, squeakier spears indicate freshness.
HOW TO COOK ASPARAGUSAsparagus is hard to do wrong! Shave raw asparagus into ribbons for a salad, roast it in the oven, grill it, sauté with it, or simply blanch it and serve with extra virgin olive oil and flaky sea salt. Other recipes that have our stamp of approval:
- Asparagus and Prosciutto Crostini
- One Skillet Steak with Spring Vegetables
- Lemony Roasted Asparagus Soup
OTHER FAVORITESOf course, they are many many other fruits and vegetables that come into season in the Spring! Other seasonal produce we love includes:
- meyer lemons
- snow peas
- morel mushrooms
- vidalia onions
- fava beans
- dandelion greens