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Seasonal Spotlight: Shining a Light on Underappreciated Spring Vegetables

June 27, 2024

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Seasonal Spotlight: Shining a Light on Underappreciated Spring Vegetables

A Celebration of Spring’s Verdant Gifts

Nothing says spring in the kitchen like bright green veggies of the season. This means something different for each person depending on where one lives, since fresh spring vegetable medleys reflect the local terrain, growing season, and food culture.

For me in New York City, I can see spring in the markets when veggies cover the stall tables in all shades of green – from the pale green of artichokes and spring onions to the kelly green of asparagus and ramps to the darker forest greens of swiss chard and spring kale varieties. Mushrooms vary depending on the season, and morels are a classic spring funghi — though many are imported from the Pacific Northwest and they can be difficult to find here in the Northeast and expensive when you do find them. But they’re so delicious!

In reality, a good spring vegetable medley is comprised of whatever you love and whatever you can find locally, so don’t let any set idea of what this medley “should” be get in the way of putting together a personalized killer mix as an accompaniment to any main course or AS the main course. I love throwing a great veggie medley on top of a soft polenta made with generous lashings of whole milk and grated grana padano or pecorino romano cheese.

Spring’s Verdant Offerings

So for tasty dinners this May and early June, try taking a cue from the farmers market and make a simple sauté of spring veggies – mostly green with some mushrooms in there for good measure. The mix is a celebration of the verdant offerings from the garden and the earthy flavors that spring from the shaded floors of forests and fields as the days grow longer.

In the large photo at the top of this post, I sauteed some spring garlic in olive oil and added asparagus, freshly cleaned and sliced artichoke hearts, zucchini, ramps, and shiitake mushrooms. All they need is a sprinkling of sea salt and they work with just about anything you can serve alongside them for lunch or dinner. Or toss with fresh pasta, pile on top of polenta, or stir into a risotto. Most important is enjoying the veggies of the season at their peak.

According to SometimesICrave.com, “If ever there was a time for making and enjoying soups, it’s in the first few months of the calendar year. Winter post-holidays in particular calls for meditative cooking, low-and-slow dishes that eke out all of the nutrients from bones, vegetables, tubers, and aromatics.” So for the next few months, I’ll be highlighting all of the soup and stew dishes, the multi-step baking projects, and the read-the-Sunday-Times-in-your-fluffiest-socks kind of cooking that I find comforting when the mercury dips below any temp that might tempt a sane person to venture outdoors.

A Spiced Celebration of Spring Veggies

The recipe I was looking for something more tasty than a simple straightforward vegetable soup. The spices are vaguely Indian in flavor, though this is no traditional dish that I know of — even though if not pureed, this might be a vegetarian stew inspired by an Indian chana-gobi (chickpea-cauliflower) curry.

I sautéed the broccoli and then the cauliflower in a large rondeau pot to the point of getting a bit of caramelization on the florets. Then I cooked a base of sautéed onions, garlic, ginger, and spices, added some chopped fresh tomatoes, and then returned the broccoli and cauliflower to the pot along with vegetable stock and the cooked chickpeas. Then you just let time and the stove work their magic.

Note that I used two Indian spices that are likely not in everyone’s pantry – amchoor and tamarind powders – which give the soup notes of fruity-sourness that amps up the interesting flavors here. They’re not necessary, and you could substitute a little tamarind paste or concentrate or even a bit of lime zest if you like.

At the end of the cooking process, I added a touch of coconut milk and used an immersion blender to blend half of the soup for a mix of textures and to leave it a little bit chunky in a mostly creamy pureed soup with no cream, of course. You can puree it all if you prefer a velvety-smooth soup or puree very little of it if you like more of a vegetable stew feel to the dish. Here, the taste is what shines through.

My advice? Serve with a crusty piece or two of toasted bread — best are the darker multigrain sourdough or brown bread varieties. There’s so much good bread out there these days, or make your own. I toast mine and drizzle it liberally with great Italian olive oil. It goes with everything and makes this soup an utterly satisfying winter meal.

Eviva la primavera! Long live spring.

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