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April 25, 2013

Know Your Spring Produce

Despite their sci-fi looks, fiddlehead ferns are the young, unfurled shoot of an actual fern.

Only available for three weeks in May, they are foraged in the wild (not farmed) and taste of asparagus and artichoke. Look for bright, tightly coiled ferns and remove any dirt by swishing them in a bowl with cold water and rubbing off excess dirt with your fingers. Cook them immediately (they’ll only keep for two days in the fridge) and use them like asparagus in pesto, risotto, tossed with buttered linguine or sautéed with other spring goodies like morels.

A more popular vegetable, asparagus is best when it’s fresh from February through June. Although green is the most common, white and purple asparagus are a good option as well. White asparagus, are grown underground to prevent the color from setting in. The tips of the white asparagus are tasty and sweet while the stem can be woodsy and need to be discarded. On the other hand the purple asparagus look and taste good, but they do lose their purple coloring in cooking.


When buying asparagus, look for firm, bright green stalks with tight tips. I recommend buying them on the day you’d like to prepare them.  If you do need to store them, wrap them with a humid paper towel and set them in a container with a bit of water, and they should remain fresh for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Using a potato peeler, peel the lower 2/3 of the stem, then cut off the tough lower stem–usually about one inch. When I find myself in Italy in the Spring, I love to go foraging for wild asparagus; they are much thinner than regular asparagus and have a more pronounced bitter taste, which I love.

I like to make Asparagus and Eggs for Brunch, Asparagus Fritters, or a fresh Asparagus Salad.

Last but not least: spring peas.There is, among some cooks, a phobia about overcooking peas. To many people, peas must stay bright green and intact, little bullets running around the plate as you chase after them with a fork. Well, I love my fresh peas “smothered” until they are olive green in color, when their sweetness and flavors have really concentrated, and they begin to break down and cling together. (I do not mean peas that are overcooked in lots of water, or steamed till they are gray-green, watery, and tasting of tobacco!)

Peas are delicious in just about any dish; different pasta dishes, soups, with fish, and delicious when mixed with other vegetables as a side. I also love a puree made of fresh peas, with some olive oil it makes a great spread for the bread instead of butter. Some of my favorite recipes include this one for bucatini, and this one for chicken.

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