Raw, Blanched or Pureed: How Chefs Like Their Favorite Spring Vegetables
Everyone loves spring for its greenery, new life and, more importantly, warmer temps. What chefs appreciate most, however, is the abundance of fresh produce. Here are some of their favorite recipes for spring’s first vegetables.
Italian cooks have been abiding by the seasons for centuries — millennia, actually — and Modena native Simone Bonelli, executive chef of New York City’s La Pecora Bianca and vet of Italy’s three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana, is no exception. “There is really only one vegetable that I cannot wait to spot at the market every year, and it’s fava beans,” he says. His favorite seasonal dish, stewed rabbit with fava beans, taggiasca olives and marjoram, is an homage to his grandma, who grew heaps of the legume in a section of her garden throughout her life.
Sourcing his produce from local markets and the restaurant’s own eight-garden bed, Michael Fiorelli of Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach, Calif., is keenly aware of the emergence of new produce. Like Bonelli, he also most looks forward to early spring favas, preparing them in a way that blends California freshness with Italian inspiration.
“Because they are so tender, I like to leave them alone to really preserve their delicate flavor, and toss them raw into a salad with black grapes, smoked almonds, Burrata cheese, lemon and olive oil,” he says. “With spring produce sometimes the best technique is no technique at all.”
Growing up in Germany, Wolfgang Birk had a spring routine that revolved around farm work and reaping its rewards (i.e., eating). He and his brothers used to help pick the cabbage from the gardens and clean the leaves. A neighbor who smoked his own pork was generous with the proceeds, which went into the mix.
To this day, Birk, now the executive chef at Area 31 and Lilt Lounge at the Epic Hotel in Miami, re-creates his mother’s recipe for creamy savoy cabbage with smoked pork belly. “The trick is that you blanch the leaves and grind them up in a meat grinder, which gives the special consistency of the dish,” he says. It’s then cooked with “strong clear chicken stock, dry white wine, creme fraiche and crispy lardons of pork belly.”
When designing the evening’s menu at Cress on Oak Creek in Sedona, Ariz., Executive Chef Rochelle Daniel regularly forages the creekside property for daily ingredients. So it’s no surprise that she has several favorite spring veggies, including berries, morels, citrus, asparagus and ramps.
Describing ramps as a “cross between a garlic and a scallion,” Daniel likes to use them in a white wine cream sauce that goes well with pasta, asparagus, fish, and gnocchi with peas. “Almost any dish,” she adds. “Ramps are so delicious.”
English Peas and Morels
When the snow starts to melt in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Kevin Humphreys, executive chef of Spur at Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa, craves a mix of earthy and sweet. “Spring, to me, means morels and peas,” he says. “My go-to dish in the spring is veal stuffed with a morel-English pea puree, caraway spiced carrots, warm speck vinaigrette.”