6 Recipes to Celebrate Spring's First Crops

By Kate Rogers / Photography By Kate Rogers | Last Updated March 23, 2018
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fresh radishes
A GROUP OF FRESHLY PICKED RADISHES AWAIT THEIR FATE WHILE A LONELY LEMON IS FORCED TO WATCH FROM A DISTANCE.

Exploring the Lighter Side of Fresh
 

After a long season of seemingly endless winter squashes and hearty leafy greens, the first pops of color at the farmers’ market each spring inspire hope and nostalgia for favorite seasonal recipes. The vivid colors hint at the bounty to unfold over the next few months as options turn from lean to abundant.

If winter’s challenge is finding a new use for the same squash, spring’s challenge is to keep pace with and embrace each addition to the farmers’ market table with an open hand. A slow trickle at first, soon the flood of new items each week borders on overwhelming.

But first, even before the ground begins to thaw, the warmer days and frosty nights bring maple syrup, as the freezing and thawing cycles set the sap running. Maple syrup is perfect this time of year, as it can be cozy and warm in a deeply spiced cake or it can add nuance to bright, pungent flavors such as ginger and soy.

These brighter flavors pair well with lighter fare—asparagus and radishes—that appear on plates as the snow mounds shrink and the deep frost loosens its grip on the soil.

Early spring is fickle, though, as cold mornings give way to warm, sunny afternoons that slip away as the sun and mercury sink together when night falls. These days invite warm, hearty meals that incorporate bright, fresh vegetables. Risotto answers the call beautifully, simultaneously warming the kitchen and embracing barely cooked vegetables such as shell peas.

After a long season of au gratin casseroles, slow cooker stews, and thick soups bubbling away on the stove all day, faster meals offer a welcome change of pace. As the temperature climbs, quicker, lighter meals, such as a pasta with greens, allow for more time spent outside, catching the last rays of each day’s sunshine. Stirring tender greens into a pot of creamy pasta also satisfies the urge to blend comfort with the fresh and vibrant.

Simple preparations also suit the delicate, fleeting flavors that characterize this time of year: ramps, fiddleheads, nettles, and morels. Other ephemeral foods, such as rhubarb and garlic scapes, however, shine in recipes that tame and temper their strong flavors, finding just the right ingredients to balance their assertive personalities. These are the ingredients that entice cookbooks off the shelf, in search of the perfect recipe to showcase the week’s market find.

By the time late spring sidles in, the tables at the market are piled high and the challenge becomes tempering enthusiasm to avoid bringing home more lush, brightly colored fruits and vegetables than can be consumed before freshness wanes. Thinking realistically about how many meals will be cooked at home that week is helpful to counter this impulse to overbuy.

When temptation proves irresistible, planning to use delicate, perishable items like lettuces and berries first and saving heartier foods such as peas and radishes for later in the week stretches the abundance of the market until next week’s colorful heaps of fruits and vegetables beckon. 

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