How To Cook Spring’s Fresh Produce
Food editor Kristen Eppich dishes on how to cook with spring vegetables.
I recently wandered through the beautiful new Pusateri’s Food Hall at Saks Fifth Avenue in Toronto and found myself drawn to the vibrant produce on display. It made me realize that despite the flurries outside, the calendar says spring…and so does my palette. Here are five of my favorite spring vegetables as well as some tips on how prepare them.
Fava Beans: Buy fava beans when they first hit the markets, while their pods are still crisp and firm – when the pods brown, it causes the beans to lose flavor. Here’s how to prepare them: Crack open the pods and remove the beans. Compost the pods as they aren’t really edible. Bring a small pot of water to a simmer, drop in beans and blanch for two minutes. Remove to an ice bath and drain once cool. Make a small slit in one end of the bean and slip off the outer skin to reveal the tender, edible inner bean.
Asparagus: The Canadian asparagus season is very short, running from late April (weather depending) until early June. When it’s locally grown and super fresh, I mean ‘picked-that-morning-fresh’, my favorite way to eat it is raw or briefly blanched. With local asparagus, it’s a myth that thicker stalks are more fibrous and less sweet than their skinny counterparts, so don’t judge a stalk by its girth.
Radishes: Much more vibrant than the boring grocery store variety, fresh local radishes come in a wide variety or colors and flavors that you can’t get the rest of the year – and they deserve more attention than a plain old chef salad. They’re great pickled, salted or for a quick and easy snack, dip some radishes in fresh butter and sprinkle with Kosher salt. Yum.
Artichokes: Fresh artichokes can seem intimidating to cook with, but they’re worth a little bit of TLC. If you aren’t interested in too much labor, you can steam or blanch the artichoke whole, then dip the leaves in butter and bite off the tender portion. If you’re feeling a little more committed, cut off the top third of the artichoke and trim off all of the tough leaves (there will be a lot of discard). Peel off the tough outer portion of the stem as well. Finally, scoop out the fuzzy portion in the center of the heart and discard. From here you can grill it whole, or slice it and sauté it in olive oil with any flavoring you desire.
Rhubarb: Rhubarb is my kind of plant – it asks little of you and yet always bears fruit. We used to have a little cottage and I’d be amazed every year when we returned in the spring to find faithful rhubarb in the corner of the yard. Canada has the perfect climate for a rhubarb plant: cold winters and a warm summers. When harvesting or purchasing, look for thick stalks that are a minimum of 10 inches long to get optimal flavor. Enjoy the stalks, but be sure to remove and discard the toxic leaves.