One of the early signs of spring is a broader array of produce at the local farmers market. (Or even just the opening of the local market. Many take a break during winter months.)
Peak season foods are often at their cheapest, as well as their most flavorful. Spring can have a lot of variation, so it’s worth checking your local farmers market weekly and talking to farmers about what’s coming in.
“Artichokes always start in spring, but was there a freeze that made them not quite as bright?” asks Chef Ben DeVries of Luella in San Francisco.
“Are the fiddle heads crunchy or was there too much rain and the skins are soft? That [knowledge] for me is the main benefit of visiting the markets as a chef,” he says.
“In addition to market newbies, look for cold-weather remnants that were wintered in the ground or held over in root cellars — like potatoes, kale, and turnips,” says Brian Scheehser, executive chef at Trellis Restaurant in Kirkland, Wash.
“Those things are really wonderful to buy,” he says, “and they’re often more flavorful.”
Between the winter holdovers and spring fare, here are nine fresh picks to consider:
“The greens are just glorious this time of year,” says Kristine Kidd, the author of Weeknight Gluten Free.
Her picks include baby broccoli rabe, baby lettuce, red chard and mustard greens. Beyond salads, sauté with onion and chili flakes until tender, adding a little water to help tougher greens wilt.
“Then you can make little nests of the greens and put an egg in to fry there,” Kidd says. Greens also work well added in the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking in a favorite soup or stew, or mixed into pasta sauces at the last minute.
The flavor is subtler than regular garlic. “In particular, try it in risotto and soups,” says DeVries.
The obvious solution: shave fresh radishes over a salad. But Scheehser says they work just as well cooked.
“You can boil a radish and it’ll taste like a turnip,” he says. Or lightly sauté slices with a little butter, salt and pepper.
“Avocados, surprisingly, are actually better in the winter than the summer months,” says Kidd. Beyond guacamole, one of Kidd’s favorite recipes features scallops and an orange-avocado-basil salsa.
Strawberries can be a late-spring find in some areas, but other places have some now.
“They are starting to turn delicious and sweet already,” says Kidd. “Of course, now is rhubarb season, and strawberries stewed with rhubarb is a traditional spring delicacy.”
For simpler options, strawberries are always a classic addition to smoothies or sliced over Greek yogurt.
It’s a winter staple, but “shoppers will find kale that made it through colder months is often sweeter,” says Scheehser.
Try it simply sautéed, or baked into chips. You might also use kale leaves in place of pasta for lasagna. “It’ll add nice color and flavor, and they hold up well,” he says.
This veggie “has a short and glorious season,” Kidd says. Boil and then drizzle with olive oil and lemon.
“Or make a frittata,” she suggests. “Blanch, chop, and then put in a skillet with beaten eggs and Parmesan.”
It’s time to ditch the dried herbs in your spice rack. “Markets are likely to have a good selection, including parsley, rosemary and thyme,” Scheehser says.
“In the spring, turnips are more tender, more delicate, and a little sweeter,” Kidd says. (The greens are great, too.)
“Try braising turnips,” she says. “Add olive oil, butter, and enough broth to barely cover them, and then cook until the turnips are tender and the broth has reduced to a glaze.”
For variation, braise the turnips with chicken and other root vegetables.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.