The Hit List: Early Spring Vegetables

Unprofessional Cookery

Its April in the northeast!  A truly wonderful time of year.  We’ve entered the days of a confusing amalgam of sunshine, budding trees and the threat of one last blizzard.  Ahhhh…

With the ushering in of the “waiting for the other shoe to drop” weather brings relief and excitement to many fellow New Yorkers.  For this breath abating weather also marks the point where (thank the lord!) the farmer’s markets start getting good.  No more cold storage apples!  Finally, more than boring microgreens!  The hills are alive with the sound of saute pans!

I felt like there should have been a boldly orchestrated musical crescendo there.  Anyways, moving on…

As I was saying, April typically marks when seasonal eating kicks off with a vengeance.  Before you know it, you won’t be able to swing a dead cat in certain restaurant circles without hitting ramps on the menu.  Any menu.  Fiddleheads will be sitting, squat and beautiful, somewhere on your dinner plate.  Foragers will be making it rain miner’s lettuce oér greater Manhattan.  Glorious!

So what should you look for now, to beat the rush of culinary splendor?  To give you the official right to roll your eyes just so and say “Nettles.  That’s so last week.”…?  Well I’ll tell you!  Here’s a few ideas on what to keep your eyes out for in the coming weeks so that you can plan your next culinary piece de resistance.  Bon Appetit.

The Hit List: Early Spring Vegetables

Dandelion Greens. Considered a scourge by many a yard owner, early spring marks prime time for this delicious little pesky plant.  Although the entire dandelion plant is edible (yes, even the flowers!), when they’re new the leaves are the best part.  Not too bitter and plentiful in quantity, dandelion greens can be eaten in salads or sautéed much like how you would treat spinach.

Fennel.  Like licorice?  Like vegetables?  Boom.  As it turns out, fennel is an invasive plant, so early spring is a perfect time to harvest the young bulbs before they have a chance to take over a garden.  While fennel is still immature, the stalks are not nearly as fibrous as the full size mamma jamma’s, so all the evidence can be eaten.  Grill them!  Grate them!  Slice them to bits!  Lay waste to this piquant vegetable!

Fiddlehead Ferns. These are my personal favorite.  I stalk fiddlehead vendors like the paparazzi.  These tight little disks are the immature fronds of a rather large fern, and yet it produces such tasty offspring.  The fiddlehead tastes and has the mouthfeel of a green bean, ushering in some midsummer delight.  Personally, I like to eat them raw as I’m waiting for my saute pan to heat for them, its an acquired taste.

Miner’s Lettuce.  Looks like a ginko leaf, tastes like a grass clipping.  Kind of.  A really, really good grass clipping.  These are some salad greens with some heft!

Morel Mushrooms.  What a fungi.  Bored of shiitakes?  Over criminis?  Welcome the morel.  These little guys pop up usually after the first rains of the season.  Although they can be dried for future use, the morel is a wonderful morsel fried in copious amounts of butter.  Quite the accoutrement.

Nettles.  Nettles!  The most defensive substitute for spinach anywhere!  The nettle grows in two cycles annually, first in the spring and then in the early fall.  The stalks are usually what cause people to itch, but the leaves are wonderfully tasty.  If you miss them now, you’ll get a second go around here in a few months.  Hang tight.

Ramps. In Appalachia, ramps are considered a weed akin to the dandelion on the side of the road.  In New York City, these things are elevated to a godlike stature.  The ramp is a wild leek, no more, no less.  They’re about the size of a scallion and have a distinct oniony flavor that works so well in almost everything it touches.  Ramp butter, ramp pizza, pickled ramps, ramp omelets, the list is infinite and they’re well worth a try.  If you can find them.

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