Ah, spring! It is a time when the earth seems to wake up ready to start a new year of growing. In recipes, too, flavors explode and color shines when fresh spring vegetables or herbs are the key ingredients. To enjoy using—and eating—this produce, it's important to know how to select and store these favorite spring vegetables. In addition, vegetables can typically be prepared using a variety of basic methods. Here are some of my favorites, with some suggestions for simply cooking spring vegetables or incorporating them into recipes:
How to Select: Artichokes should be a darker green color with tightly packed leaves and clean stems. There should be no signs of blackening or bruising. Typically, artichokes are best from April to June.
How to Store: Store artichokes in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper drawer or the coldest part of the refrigerator for up to a week. They should be kept moist and cold to prevent wilting.
How to Cook: The flavor of an artichoke begins to diminish once it is cut from the stalk. For optimum freshness, consider cooking as soon after picking as possible. Artichokes can be served whole with the leaves intact or the leaves can be trimmed to expose the heart, or center, of the artichoke.
How to Select: Look for firm, closed tips and freshly cut ends. The season for fresh asparagus is April to June.
How to Store: Keep asparagus in a plastic bag with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel. It is best eaten within 3 to 5 days.
How to Cook: Before cooking, rinse to remove any sand from the tips and snap off the tough, woody end of each stalk before cooking. It is not necessary to peel them. Steam asparagus for 5 to 7 minutes. The time depends on the size of the spears. Asparagus can also be roasted or grilled for great flavor.
How to Select: Choose brightly colored herbs that are not wilted or dried. Avoid any leaves that are yellowed or black.
How to Store: Fresh herbs are typically delicate to handle, so handle them with care. Wrap herbs loosely in a paper towel and keep them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Basil stems can be placed in a glass of water covered with a plastic bag and kept refrigerated.
How to Cook: Consider tearing or cutting the herbs to release flavors. Add heartier herbs, such as bay leaf or rosemary, at the beginning or middle of the cooking time. More delicate herbs, such as cilantro, parsley and tarragon, should be added toward the end of the cooking time.
How to Select : Choose leaves that are crisp and evenly colored and show no signs of wilting or discoloration. For color and optimal flavor, select a mix of several varieties.
How to Store: Keep unwashed greens in an open plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for up to 4 days. It is best, however, to use the greens within 2 days if possible. Excess moisture on the leaves can promote bacteria. Keep lettuce away from apples and pears, which emit a gas that can brown leaves.
How to Use: Leaf lettuce is typically an ingredient in salads, sandwiches or appetizers.
Green Garden Peas
How to Select: Peas are a classic kid favorite vegetable and an easy addition to recipes. Look for brightly colored pods with no dry scarring. The pods should not be so filled out that you can see the shape of the peas inside the pods. Snap one in half—it should be crisp and juicy when broken. English or garden pea varieties are shelled and only the peas are eaten.
How to Store: Keep unwashed peas in an open plastic food bag in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator for up to 4 days. They are best, however, eaten the day they are picked and shelled. Wash the peas just before cooking.
How to Cook: Peas are often boiled or steamed to soften them and bring out the natural sweetness. When cooked, transfer them to cold water immediately to keep them crisp and bright green. Serve them with butter as a flavorful vegetable side dish or as an ingredient in a pasta recipe.
Early Season Baby New Potatoes
How to Select: The best way to identify new potatoes is to rub the potato’s skin—it should be delicate enough to scrape clean. Early season baby new potatoes can be found in markets in May.
How to Store: New potatoes can be stored at room temperature, but because they have not been cured, they won't last as long as regular potatoes—several days instead of several weeks. When refrigerated, the starch will begin to convert to sugar, so if they're chilled for very long, they'll taste sweet.
How to Cook: Steam new potatoes in a tightly closed pan until they are tender enough to be pierced with a knife, about 12 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, beat together 2 tablespoons softened (not melted) butter and some chopped shallots and herbs (parsley and tarragon are particularly good). When the potatoes are cooked, but before they cool, toss them with the herb butter and stir to coat well. Serve hot.
How to Select: Radishes should be firm and smooth with few or no cracks. Small radishes are usually milder and more crisp than larger ones.
How to Store: Remove the greens before storing in an open plastic food bag in the vegetable crisper drawer in the refrigerator. The greens tend to draw moisture out of the radishes when left on. Remove the band around the radishes before storing. Use radishes within 2 to 3 days.
How to Cook : Radishes are a versatile vegetable since they give color to salads but radishes can also be sautéed in butter for a flavorful side dish.
How to Select: Fresh green onions (scallions) should have crisp, bright green tops and firm white bases. They are available in the supermarket year-round but are at their best in the spring and summer.
How to Store: Keep green onions unwashed and in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The greens should be used as soon as possible and the white bulb used within 2 weeks. Trim the root ends just before using.
How to Cook: Green onions can be cooked whole, similar to the way you would cook a leek. They can also be chopped or sliced and used in salads or soups.
With the best spring vegetables, properly stored, you can create wonderful side dishes, salads or main dishes. Here are just a few recipes that highlight the vegetables of the spring season:
Steamed Vegetables with Herb Stir-Ins
Warm Thai Basil Noodles
Spring Mango Salad Toss
Spring Vegetables with Lemon Dill Butter
Grilled Vegetables with Basil Mayonnaise
Enjoy the best that the season has to offer – and let us know how you’re using spring veggies in fun, fresh ways!