15 Ingredients We've Been Waiting to Cook All Winter
The days are getting longer, the landscape is turning greener, and the temperatures are rising. That means only one thing — that once again, spring is upon us. And with the return of the season will come all of the ingredients we've been waiting for all winter long. While not all of these ingredients will be available at your supermarket or local farmers' market right away, we hope you seize the opportunity to get out there and start getting some green on your plates anyway, because of course, spring only comes once a year.
Early spring is the best time for artichokes. Seek out specimens with tightly bunched leaves and avoid ones with purple tips, a sign of aging.
There are countless ways to use asparagus, and we won't bore you by attempting to list them all here. Suffice it to say that spring just wouldn't be spring without asparagus. Fun fact: According to Barbara Ann Kipfer, author of The Culinarian: A Kitchen Desk Reference, it is considered acceptable to eat asparagus with your hands as long as the pieces aren't too large or covered with sauce.
Come spring, dandelion greens start popping up everywhere like, well, weeds. If you've never had them before, they're fairly bitter, and go well with bold flavors. Pair them with ingredients like gorgonzola and pickled onions on grilled pizza, and toasted pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and anchovies in pasta.
If you really want to taste the essence of their flavor, though, blanch them briefly to cut down their bitterness, then sauté them. Dress simply with an extra-virgin olive oil that's big on fruitiness and mellow on bitterness and pepper, such as an early-harvest Aglandau from Provence, France.
This ancient bean is highly coveted at farmers' markets for its unique flavor. Use them on crostini, toss them into salads and pasta, and serve them simply dressed with a delicate, vegetal extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice to highlight their clean flavor.
Once shelled, they will oxidize fairly quickly and turn from bright green to pale yellow, so use within one day of shelling. In the pod, they will store in the refrigerator for one week.
This controversial vegetable has a distinctive nutty flavor that is best highlighted in egg and pasta dishes, or simply blanched and sautéed. To read more about the controversy, click here to see Fiddlehead Ferns: Friend or Foe?
In supermarkets and at farmers' markets across the country, you'll find two main types of fresh peas: edible pod peas, such as sugar snap peas and snow peas, which can be eaten in their entirety, and the English pea, also known as the garden pea, which must be shelled to be eaten.
Both are delicious, but the ones we've been waiting for all winter long are English peas. Get them from the farmers' market since they'll be fresher, sweeter, and less starchy than the ones in the store. If you've never had them before, you're definitely in for a surprise, because they're a far cry from those frozen peas you've been eating all winter. Shelling may seem like a lot of work, but once you've got a rhythm going, it's not too bad, and it's well worth the effort.
Though morel mushroom season varies by region, they typically emerge during spring. Their honeycomb appearance is unmistakable at farmers' markets, and they're delicious simply sautéed, simmered in cream, stirred into risottos with fresh peas or ramps, and tossed with pasta.
While there are different varieties of nettles, the one most familiar to cooks is probably the stinging nettle, which gets its name from the little hairs on the leaves that deliver a rather unpleasant surprise to anyone who brushes up against them while hiking or attempting to harvest them without gloves. When cooked, stinging nettles become safe to eat and are an excellent addition to soups, pasta dishes, and pizza.
Ramps, or wild leeks, are a springtime treat that have a sharper flavor than regular leeks. Compared to regular leeks, the leaves are delicate and desirable to eat; they can be consumed raw for their fresh, spicy flavor or blanched or sautéed briefly to mellow them out.
Field-grown rhubarb reaches its peak from April through June. Choose stalks that are free from blemishes and avoid ones that are starting to turn green. Rhubarb's tart flavor is often sweetened up in preparations like jam, pie, and ice cream.
A relative of rhubarb, sorrel is very bitter and extremely tart — sorrel is not a green to be taken lightly. Mellow it out with cream, purée into a soup, or serve with delicate fish. It's also delicious when used in egg dishes.
Its appearance at farmers' markets is one of the first signs that spring has arrived. Spring garlic is simply a young garlic plant, harvested before fully grown into "regular" garlic. It's sold with the shoots, which can be used together with the bulb after removing the outer layer. Its flavor is more delicate and sweeter than regular garlic, and spring garlic can be used pretty much anytime garlic is called for in a recipe. Try it with your favorite recipes and see what difference it makes.
Spring onions look like overgrown scallions, with a larger, rounded bulb at the base. Outside of the United States, the terms are used interchangeably, but if an American recipe specifies spring onions, it's probably referring to the vegetable with the larger bulb as opposed to the scallion. They are generally available in May and June. Use spring onions anywhere scallions are called for, and try roasting the bulbs on their own for a unique springtime treat.
Though thought of as a summer fruit, yet available practically year-round, it's natural to wonder what strawberries are doing on this list. It really depends on climate. In some regions, they're one of the first fruits to spring up (sorry, we just had to) after winter; in colder climates, just after summer starts; and elsewhere year-round. But even if they're grown in a place where they're available year-round, strawberries are at their best between April and June.
This delicate, peppery, bitter green is an interesting addition to salads and fantastic when puréed in soups. It also makes a wonderful garnish for grilled fish dishes when dressed simply with a little extra-virgin olive oil.
The days are getting longer, the landscape is turning greener, and the temperatures are rising. That means only one thing — that once again, spring is upon us. And with the return of the season will come all of the ingredients we've been waiting for all winter long.
We're talking about freshly shucked peas, crisp green asparagus, nutty fiddlehead ferns, and bitter, tart sorrel. We're thinking of everything from the simple to the elegant; from simple grilled artichokes to sublime spring risottos filled with morel mushrooms and classic strawberry-rhubarb pies.
We're talking about the return of grilling, for goodness' sake, and farmers' markets filled with more than just root vegetables, citrus, and apples. We're excited, because we're talking about the end of winter, at last. (Unless, that is, you happen to live somewhere winter does not exist, such as Hawaii.)
While not all of these ingredients will be available at your supermarket or local farmers' market right away, we hope you seize the opportunity to get out there and start getting some green on your plates anyway, because of course, spring only comes once a year.
Check out the slideshow above to find out what spring ingredients we're excited for.