Produce Picks for Spring
Ahhhhhh…we’ve thawed. Spring has finally pushed past the last of winter, and a new crop of fruits and vegetables is just coming into season. (Those in warmer southern regions might even be seeing the first yields from your home garden!) Tender, light, hydrating…spring produce naturally helps ease us out of our winter hibernation.
In-season fruits and vegetables offer enhanced health benefits, including boosted vitamin content, and taste significantly better when picked at the peak of freshness. And since in-season also tends to mean local, the environmental impact is minimized.
Below, we’ll continue our exploration of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and give you tips on how best to prepare and eat them. Seasonal availability varies by region—for example, in warmer areas the seasons start sooner and last longer—so expect some overlap between seasons.
Tender spring produce complements leafy green salads, flavorful sauces and lighter soups. During this season of renewal and transition, combine these new produce options with some of the winter holdovers, and you can also start to work in more produce with a spring-to-summer cycle. Preparation is half the fun, so grab your CHICAGO CUTLERY® BELMONT™ 6.75" SANTOKU KNIFE for slicing through large, softer veggies like artichokes and asparagus. Always keep a CHICAGO CUTLERY® DESIGNPRO™ 3.75" PARING KNIFE handy for smaller produce like strawberries.
Some of the top springtime picks include:
Bite right into a ripe one, slice into sections to add to salads, or chop for a tangy cereal topping. They’re an easy option for homemade preserves.
Steam or boil for about 45 minutes, then peel one leaf at a time and dip the fleshy portion into your favorite sauce. Rejoice when you reach the deliciously tender heart. Combine with feta cheese and kalamata olives for a savory pasta or pizza.
Add fresh handfuls to salads for a peppery kick, use in recipes like you would with spinach, or as a garnish on pizzas and pastas. Wonderful when drizzled with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, and topped with freshly shaved Parmesan.
Toss whole asparagus spears with olive oil and seasonings, then lightly sauté. Top with pine nuts and Parmesan or gremolata (a combination of parsley, garlic and lemon peel). Try adding to a salad, stir-fry or pasta. Also easy to roast or grill.
Fresh morel mushrooms are succulent, savory and notoriously hard to find in the wild, so be sure to grab them when you see them in your local grocery store. Sauté in butter and season with salt and pepper to enjoy their flavor to the fullest. For an even more decadent treat, dip them in beaten egg, lightly dredge in flour and fry up a batch. (But never eat them raw!)
Tender and versatile. Scrub gently, remove any eyes and slice in half or quarters. Gently boil just until tender, then serve with melted butter and freshly chopped herbs. Or toss with olive oil and your favorite seasonings and roast in the oven.
Pop open fresh pods and add peas to pastas and salads, or eat on their own. Snow peas are delicious whole or sliced into bite-size diagonals.
Although always available these days, spring-into-summer strawberries up the flavor quotient big time. Options are endess: Eat raw, slice for use in salads, use as a sweet breakfast topping, toss a pile into your smoothie or freeze for later use.
PICK ANYTIME, INCLUDING SPRING
Choose year-round produce to complement seasonal spring cuisine. Great options include:
A showy member of the cabbage family, bok choy has a mild flavor and a tender texture. Look for firm, white stalks and brightly colored leaves. Chop or shred to add to soups or stir-fries, and enjoy baby bok choy whole by steaming or sautéing.
Although most flavorful during cooler months, fresh cabbage is available anytime. Heads should feel heavy for their size, and the leaves should be tightly closed and attached to the stem. Chop or shred for coleslaw and salads, use as a wrap for meats and other fillings, or go fermented, as in sauerkraut or Korean kimchi.
Like all root vegetables, carrots love cooler weather, but they are also a favorite early crop in spring and summer. The cooking possibilities are nearly endless: Liven up soups, salads or baked goods. Serve roasted, steamed, mashed or raw. Or juice a handful and sip a mega-dose of sweet nutrition.
One of the oldest cultivated plants in history, garlic is used for its strong aroma and flavor as well as its healing properties. As a member of the lily family—along with leeks, onions and chives—garlic is used to boost the aromatic quality of a dish. Chop or mince cloves and sauté to add pep to soups, pasta, dressings and sauces, or roast whole bulbs for a sweetly mellowed soft spread.
Alliums like onions and garlic, leeks produce a cylinder of bundled leaves instead of a pronounced bulb. The tender white and light green portions are sweet and delicate…slice and add to frittatas or quiches, or complement the flavor of salmon and whitefish. Select the inner stalks to add punch to soups and stocks, and pair any and all parts with potatoes for creamy gratins.
Although we tend to think of romaine and iceberg first, the other four main groups (butterhead, Chinese lettuce, loose leaf and summer crisp) have spawned many tasty and colorful varieties. Lettuce leaves are typically eaten raw and cold in salads, but look to other cuisines (like Asian) to experiment with cooked and steamed leaves.
One of the oldest vegetables, onions are consumed year-round all over the world. Seasonal late-winter/spring onions are milder than those harvested in summer/fall, yet zippier and sweeter than green onions (scallions). Chop, slice, roast, braise, grill…the onion is as versatile as it gets.
The zesty taproot is the most popular part for cooking and eating, but the leaves and stems can be prepared like other leafy greens. Spring and summer varieties include the white-tipped French Breakfast radish and the Easter Egg radish, which comes in several different colors. In fall and winter, look for the spicier black radish as well as daikon, commonly used in Asian cuisine. Add a little zip to salads, fish tacos or roast beef. You may want to try this French favorite: A fresh slice of white country bread slathered with herbed butter and topped with sliced radishes and a sprinkle of sea salt. Wow!
A mild member of the allium family, scallions are also called green or spring onions. Both the long green shoots and the tender white bulbs can be eaten raw or cooked. Chop and sprinkle over salads or grilled meats; sauté and toss in pasta or soup; or simply salt lightly and eat as is.
Light and flavorful spring produce adds refreshing variety to meals, especially after the heartier fare of winter. Whether you’re experimenting with new recipes or just snacking on your favorite fruits and veggies, perk up your palate with some of these fresh spring picks.
YOUR TURN: What’s your favorite spring produce? How do you prepare it?