Traditionally, the beginning of spring is marked on a calendar date, but many believe in other signs of a new season. Some watch for the first crocuses and tulips. Others await opening day at Fenway Park. Still others believe spring arrives only after Formaggio Kitchen fires up the grill and begins the sidewalk barbecue season.
But for me, spring officially arrives with locally grown vegetables, farm fresh eggs and wildly foraged edibles from hearty New England soil. (Though I certainly won’t turn down BBQ for lunch on Saturdays.)
At Formaggio Kitchen, we work with as many local farms as possible to bring in a wide variety of produce. Although spring is arriving decidedly late this year, we’ve already received a bounty of fresh vegetables from some of our favorite farmers.
Both harvested wildly in Massachusetts, ramps and fiddleheads are among the first crops to appear. Ramps, a member of the Allium family (along with onions, garlic, and shallots) are celebrated in much of Appalachia and New England. This sweet little bulb can be sautéed, quickly grilled, or even pickled. Commonly fried with potatoes and bacon, ramps also pair wonderfully with mussels, pasta, or eggs.
Like ramps, fiddleheads are not cultivated, yet grow wild in wet areas in the Northeast. Resembling the curled end of a stringed instrument, fiddleheads are a fascinating addition to the shop. The best way to enjoy this delicacy is to roast or sauté it in butter or olive oil, with lemon, herbs, or even chili peppers. Serve with a roast chicken and a glass of rosé for a memorable dinner.
It is difficult to find herbs as beautiful as those that grow in New England. Rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage are all coming into season in the next few months. For now, Allen Farms in Westport is bringing in locally grown chives that have the blossoms still attached, making them an excellent garnish for any dish. Use these chives with eggs, potatoes and cheese or create a chive pesto to serve over pasta.
Asparagus, fondly known as the true manifest of spring, is one of our most popular vegetables in May and June. Locally grown asparagus is an entirely different animal than asparagus found out of season. One of the fastest growing crops, asparagus requires harvesting every 24 to 48 hours, during which it can sprout up to 10 inches in length. New England grown, freshly harvested asparagus will have tender stalks, tightly closed tips with deep purple tones. It is among the most flavorful, yet delicate spring offerings. Steamed, sautéed or roasted, asparagus will have a nutty, earthy flavor. Try grilling the stalks with fish for dinner, or top with a poached egg and Hollandaise for an elegant breakfast.
Last but not least, the humble radish. Part of the Brassicaceae family, the radish is a small but punchy root vegetable. A cool season crop, it only requires three to six weeks from seedling to harvest in rich, fertile soil. The radish has a lovely crispness is followed by a spicy finish, making this plant a great addition to salads. In Europe, they are commonly sliced thin and served on top of rustic bread with butter and fleur de sel - alongside white wine or rosé, of course. The delicate flavor and assortment of (romantically named) varieties (Early Scarlet Globe, Cherry Belle, Fresh Breakfast and White Icicle) makes this one of my favorite spring crops.
As the early persistent rain yields to summer sun and warmth, Formaggio Kitchen will expect to see more and more fruits and vegetables from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and even Maine. Up next will be peas and beans, followed closely by the strawberries. But, until then, I for one will take the time to enjoy these remarkable spring vegetables, for it will be another year before they gracefully arrive in the fields again.
Emily Shannon is a cooking enthusiast and works in the produce department and as a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.