Late Spring Vegetables (May through early June)
Artichokes (1st season)
- Artichokes really only thrive in California along the coast, but they do transport well, and that one state manages to provide the rest of us with a good supply of them during most of the spring and fall.
- The artichoke is related to the thistle plant. If it were left on the plant, it would expand into a showy purple flower.
- Spring artichokes are bright green. Later in the year, during their second peak season, they may be a little bronzed or tarnished-looking. This is caused by exposure to light frost and doesn't affect the flavor.
- Very small, new artichokes are found mostly in the spring. These can be sautéed and eaten whole, because the choke hasn't yet developed.
- Expect the fresh, delicate flavor of artichokes to be paired with light sauces: lemon juice, butter, hollandaise. It is often served stuffed and baked with a covering of buttery herbed bread crumbs. The hearts are popular additions to salads
and make a subtle, creamy pasta sauce.
Arugula (late spring through late summer)
- A peppery green, arugula is associated with Italian cooking, although it has been gaining popularity here for several years.
- It goes by several names in addition to arugula, among them "rocket" and "rucola."
- Because they are grown in very sandy soil, arugula leaves must be washed well before use; the bunches sold in markets are almost always quite gritty.
- Look for arugula both in salads and cooked. It is a popular addition to pastas, risottos and stews, or it can be simply sautéed and served as a side dish.
- An old-world vegetable, asparagus was considered a delicacy by the ancient Romans.
- Asparagus is best eaten as soon as possible after it is harvested. Once cut, it loses its sweetness relatively quickly and becomes fibrous along the stem. Look for straight, thin, brightly colored stalks with compact tips.
- In Europe, growers keep asparagus stalks from turning green by covering them with earth as they grow. This prevents chlorophyll from forming in the stalks and gives the white asparagus an especially delicate -- some say bland -- taste. This
treatment of asparagus is almost never found in the United States.
- Asparagus is usually paired with subtle sauces like hollandaise or vinaigrettes, so that the flavor of this extremely seasonal vegetable is not overpowered. Look for it also in creamy spring soups, Asian stir-fries and sautés.
Beets (And Beet Greens) (late spring through late summer)
- Although these root vegetables may be found in markets year-round, spring beets are tiny, tender and altogether exceptional.
- In addition to the vivid purple color that is associated with beets, recent years have seen new strains of the vegetable. Now there are golden and scarlet beets, as well as all sorts of striped, streaked, mottled and multicolored variants.
- The paler varieties of beets tend to be milder in flavor because they don't contain the pigment betacyanin, which gives traditional beets their color and also carries with it a distinctive flavor.
- Smaller beets will be tenderer, less woody, than larger ones. As with all root vegetables, cut off the greens immediately because they continue to draw moisture and nutrients from the roots. The beet greens, steamed or sautéed, are a
delicacy in themselves.
- Look for beets as the central ingredient in borscht; they may also be pickled, steamed or roasted. They are popular ingredients in salads and served by themselves. Their flavor mingles well with many others, among them with mint, orange,
coriander, horseradish and balsamic vinegar.
Belgian Endive and Other Chicories
- Belgian endive, curly endive, escarole and radicchio are all members of the chicory family, and, if grown according to the proper techniques, most will produce the root that can be used as a coffee additive.
- They are quite varied in appearance, however: radicchio has ruby red and white-veined leaves that resemble head lettuce. Belgian endive, which is grown in the dark to inhibit the development of chlorophyll, has spear-shaped, whitish leaves just
barely tinged with the palest green. Curly endive -- also known as frisee -- has delicate, lacy leaves. And escarole has broad, loose leaves with a milder flavor than the others.
- Chicories are available throughout the winter and make assertively flavored salad greens. As salad, chicories -- Belgian endive especially -- are often found in combination with pears, gorgonzola cheese, and sometimes bacon (or lardons).
Chicories can also be served braised or sautéed, or added to soup.
Broccoli Rabe (late spring through late summer)
- In spite of the name, broccoli rabe -- also known as rapini -- is a closer relative of turnips than of broccoli and the taste is not unlike turnip greens.
- Whether sautéed in soups or tossed with pasta, this slightly bitter vegetable is rarely prepared without garlic. Other good flavor pairings include cream, Parmesan cheese and olive oil.
Chard (late spring through late summer)
- Chard is related to the beet, but has been developed to direct its energy into producing lush, dark green leaves veined with red or bright white instead of roots.
- Chard is very perishable, so it is rarely shipped to distant markets and must instead be provided by local farmers.
- Some people prefer to tear the stalks from the chard leaves and cook them separately.
- This mild-flavored green is Mediterranean in origin, and, as such, is usually combined with the corresponding ingredients: garlic, olive oil, tomatoes. Some people boil it, but sautéeing preserves the flavors, as well as the vitamins.
Fava Beans (late spring through late summer)
- Fava beans, also called broad beans, are one of many varieties of shell beans, which grow in tough-shelled pods and must be removed before use. They are also suitable for drying, and are usually purchased that way. However, in the spring, fresh
fava pods find their way to the market, and they will soon be followed by their relatives, the cranberry bean and the lima.
- Fresh fava beans cook quite quickly; a blanching of three or four minutes is usually plenty.
- A small proportion of people of Mediterranean extraction are susceptible to a disease known as favism, which can be triggered by eating raw fava beans or breathing the pollen of the flowers. These people should avoid favas altogether, or at
least be sure to eat the beans well-cooked.
- Look for fava beans in French, Italian, and Middle Eastern dishes. Egyptians traditionally breakfast on them, in the form of ful medammes. They might also be made into a creamy puree that is not unlike hummus. In Italy and France, the
freshest, tiniest fava beans are served raw with salt to whet the appetite before a meal. Among the flavors that are particularly complementary to fava beans are olive oil, lemon juice, thyme, rosemary and garlic.
Fennel (late spring through late summer)
- Every part of the fennel plant is edible and tastes just a bit like licorice. The seeds and leaves are most commonly used as a spice and an herb, respectively. The root is used as a vegetable, and has long been popular in Europe, although it
has only recently caught on here.
- Unlike many root vegetables, fennel is very good raw. In Italy, raw fennel sprinkled with lemon juice and olive oil is a popular antipasto.
- Look for fennel combined with chicken in salads or stews, grilled, or braised with herbs. Its light flavor is a good complement for fish, and when added to potatoes, it gives the starchy tubers a sprightlier flavor and texture.
- The new springtime growth of the ostrich fern, named because the coiled shoots look like the head of a violin, are a seasonal delicacy that has yet to be cultivated for sale on a large scale.
- Other types of fern shoots can be toxic, so fiddleheads should always be bought from reputable sellers or gathered under the supervision of someone who knows how to find them.
- Fiddleheads do not keep well and should be cooked the day they are bought.
- Look for fiddleheads raw in salads, and steamed, boiled or sautéed as a side dish.
Fresh Spring Herbs
- Chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme
Morels and Porcini Mushrooms (late spring through late summer)
- Morels have tall, conical caps that can be either pale or dark brown, depending on the variety. They have an almost smoky flavor.
- Porcini mushrooms, also known as edible boletus mushrooms and cèpes, have a very short spring season. They are large, umbrella-shaped wild mushrooms, with a meaty taste and texture.
- Sauté wild mushrooms with butter, garlic and an aromatic herb such as thyme, or stir into a cream sauce and serve over poultry, meat or toast. Porcinis are good grilled or broiled and drizzled with olive oil.
New Potatoes (late spring through late summer)
- New potatoes are literally not-quite-mature potatoes (though definitely not green ones. The green patches and sprouts on potatoes contain a toxic substance and should not be eaten). They may be found in markets in the spring and summer, where
they are sent immediately after they have been dug from the ground. Sometimes, especially in the off-season, mature potatoes of the waxy types are sold as "new potatoes," but -- be aware -- they are not.
- New potatoes are best steamed or boiled and served hot or tossed with a light dressing. There are very few herbs that do not complement the flavor: parsley, mint, rosemary, thyme, and chives are just a few of the more common pairings. They are
not appropriate for baking, mashing, or frying, for which the higher starch content of mature potatoes is needed.
Sweet Corn (late spring through late summer)
- There are many different varieties of corn, all members of the grass family, and all native to North America. While some kinds of corn have a very high starch content and are best suited for drying and then grinding into meal or using as
popcorn, sweet corn is especially tender and should be eaten as fresh as possible.
- It cannot be overemphasized that this freshness is of primary importance to true corn lovers. Few cookbooks fail to describe how, ideally, corn should be cooked by putting the water on to boil before running out to the garden, harvesting as
much corn as necessary for the meal, racing back (shucking on the way), and plunging it into the water. This is because as soon as the corn is cut from the stalk, it begins to convert its sugar into starch, which makes the corn comparitively bland and
- Many of the same purists scorn eating corn any other way than on the cob -- steamed, roasted or boiled, with butter and a little salt and pepper. Nevertheless, there are many fans of fresh corn succotash, corn chowder, corn fritters, corn bread
with fresh kernels baked in, and creamed corn. The flavor of corn goes especially well with red peppers and jalapenos, and its bright color makes it a favorite addition to summer salads.
Okra (late spring through late summer)
- Okra is a plant native to Africa, but it is used in India, Greece, the Middle East and the Caribbean. In the United States it is associated with the soul food of the South.
- Some people are put off by the slick texture of okra juice, which is the traditional thickener for gumbo. Sautéeing okra in butter before adding it to soups or stews diminishes the slipperiness.
- Okra is the seed pod of a type of hibiscus plant. It forms after the appearance of a flower so showy and bright yellow that ancient Arabs called okra plants "sun vessels." The leaves of the plant contain an irritant that causes many people to
develop a rash, so gardeners usually wear gloves to pick it.
- Be careful to use stainless steel when cooking okra. Iron or copper pots will turn the vegetable an unappetizing gray.
- Look for okra in lots of dishes from the American South: as an ingredient in gumbo, cut into bite-size pieces and deep-fried, and pickled. Okra curry is a popular Indian dish and bamiya, an Armenian stew, is flavored with okra and
Peas (green, sugar snap, snow)
- Green peas, snow peas, and their hybrid, the sugar snap pea, all arrive about the same time in the spring. All three types are sweet and tender and need very little cooking, if any.
- Because peas, like corn, contain lots of sugar which converts to starch after picking, it is best to buy them as fresh as possible and use them right away.
- Green peas are also known as English peas (which gives them the reputation of being mushy and overcooked) or -- in France -- petit pois. They must be removed from their fibrous pods before cooking.
- Snow peas and sugar snap peas, on the other hand, are eaten pod and all.
- Green peas are most traditionally served tossed with fresh mint, butter, or both, additions that also flatter sugar snap peas. Green peas are the basis of many pureed spring soups, with or without cream. And they are added to innumerable
casseroles a nd melanges. Peas are popular in India, where they may be found in vegetarian curries along with cauliflower and potatoes, as well as in pilafs. Sugar snap peas and snow peas, lightly sautéed, are often served by themselves. Snow peas
are especially common in Chinese dishes, where their crunch might be fortified with the addition of the different but equally spirited crunch of water chestnuts.
Scallions, Garlic Greens and Ramps (late spring through late summer)
- Scallions, or green onions, can be the greens of any variety of onion. They are simply harvested before the bulbs form underground.
- Likewise, the green tops of the familiar garlic bulb are often sold as garlic greens (or garlic chives).
- Ramps, which are a variety of wild leek, with an even milder, sweeter flavor, are available only in the spring.
- All three of these onion greens can be used either as herbs, or, more substantially, as vegetables.
- Early in the spring, when the oniony flavor is still mild in the greens, look for them sautéed and served by themselves as a side dish, perhaps to accompany salmon or pan-fried trout. Green onions of all kinds complement potatoes and
might be paired with them in soups, potato salads or gratins.
Tender Spring Salad Greens: Lettuce, Sorrel and Dandelion Greens (late spring through late summer)
- Although there are many different forms of lettuce, they are all derived from a plant native to the Mediterranean and Asia. Lettuces have been cultivated for over 5,000 years. They are primarily cool-weather plants and thrive best in the spring
- Lettuces can generally be divided into two types, head and leaf. Among the best known head lettuces are Boston and butter. Leaf lettuces include red- and greenleaf, oak leaf, lolla rosa, and lamb's lettuce.
- The ethylene gas given off by many ripening vegetables and fruits will cause lettuce to turn brown in the refrigerator. It is best to store it separately in a plastic bag placed in the coolest part of the refrigerator (but not cooler than 32
degrees, because freezing makes lettuce dark and mushy).
- Dandelion greens are particularly high in vitamin C, and although they may be found at local markets, they are also rarely in short supply in the wild. They can be harvested straight from your yard if you don't use lawn pesticides. The
smallest, softest dandelion greens make delicious spring salads; larger leaves can be cooked and served alone or added to soup.
- Sorrel, also called sour grass, is actually an herb, although it is used more as a vegetable. It is a member of the buckwheat family. Tart sorrel leaves go well in a salad while they are still very young, but they also make refreshing
warm-weather soups, add zest and bright color to sauces for fish, and complement the flavor of new spring potatoes.
- Watercress has a distinctive, peppery flavor and can often be found growing wild in running streams. Look for it sautéed at Asian restaurants and in soups as well as salads.
- Tiny young lettuce leaves make for delicate mesclun salads, best dressed with a very simple vinaigrette and a sprinkling of coarse salt.