Kitchen Shrink: Spring's Green Fling

Spring is busting out with seasonal jewels as baby sprouts, delicate tendrils and fragrant leaves blanket the fresh warm earth. Mother Nature’s throwing a coming out party, and you’re all invited. Here’s what’s on the menu.

Wake up and Smell the Stinky Roses

Tender spring garlic without the one-two punch of “culinary” garlic has arrived, but only for a short season—so grab it while it’s good and plenty. Also called green garlic, this immature version of common garlic, botanically known as Allium sativum has not yet divided into recognizable cloves, resembling scallions with a violet-hued bulb and long, flimsy bright green stalks. The young garlic has many boons over its more mature sibling: it doesn’t have to be peeled, its delicate flavor with divine nutty notes complements dishes without overpowering them, and can be enjoyed raw without the collateral damage of bad breath. Slice thinly in potato and green salads, brothy soups, and red sauces, or as a topping to jazz up pizzas and bruschettas.

Shoot the Breeze

The young leaves of any variety of pea plants are harvested as shoots, elevated to the label of “microgreens” by chefs and gourmets. A fresh grassy flavor of green peas with sweet peppery nuances adds a zip to leafy salads, sandwiches, burgers and stir-fries, subtly announcing the arrival of spring to the taste buds.

Some Hot Tips

Delicate asparagus spears are actually the new shoots that appear in the springtime. The caviar of the vegetable world asparagus is cultivated in Technicolors of jade green, deep purple and a creamy shade of white (the albino phenotype), adding a pop of color and burst of sophisticated earthiness to everything from prima vera pastas and risottos to frittatas and crepes. Wrap grilled, trimmed stalks in prosciutto, turkey bacon or puff pastry. Steam and smother in hollandaise, marinate in balsamic vinegar and olive oil and add to an antipasto platter, or munch raw with crudités dips.

As healthful as it is delicious asparagus is packed with folic acid to ward off anemia, potassium for fluid balance, fiber to keep the constitution humming, Vitamins A and C to boost eye health and the immune system, and thiamin for quick energy. Asparagus is one of the few foods Miss Manners permits to be eaten with the fingers, and along with its sensual shape, creates a seductive culinary experience.

Ooh la la! – France’s Heavenly Herb

Chervil is to the French cuisine as salt and black pepper is to the American one. This indispensable spring herb resembles a wispy, feathery parsley sprig with distinct notes of anise. Like a poem on the palate, chervil dials up fish, egg dishes and potatoes, makes a delectable substitute for basil in pesto dishes, and enlivens vinaigrette dressings and sauces.

This super herb with a mother lode of minerals including, potassium, calcium, iron, selenium and magnesium, along with Vitamins A, C and D has been credited with curing gum disease and hiccups, along with seasonal allergy symptoms and achy, creaky joints. Chervil’s detoxifying properties have been found to help erase fine lines, wrinkles and dark age spots resulting in a glowing, youthful complexion. Vive la France!

Turn Over a New Leaf

Crisp, pleasantly bitter endive (pronounced on-deeve) from chicory plants has three common varieties—curly, escarole and Belgian. Curly endive also called frisee is best known for its characteristic bushy head of lacy, vibrant green leaves that add a crunch, tang and interesting texture to salads of all manners. The greener the leaves, the more intense the bitterness.

The broad-leafed escarole has tough, dark green outer leaves best chopped and sautéed in soups, stews and other hearty dishes, while the milder inner leaves add a crispy zip to sandwiches and salads. Belgian endive bulbs reminiscent of miniature rockets with stiff pale yellow leaves are more delicately flavored than the other two relatives. The individual leaves can be enjoyed raw like crackers or chips for dipping, or stuffed with quinoa or rice and roasted as a side dish for chicken or fish.

Cook’s tip: To temper some of the bitterness, soak leaves in a cold water bath for an hour.

Now kick off the season with this simple and savory spring garlic toast that’ll take your breath away.

Spring Garlic Toast

1 small Italian or French baguette, sliced ¼-inch thick2 spring garlic stalks, curly top trimmed, green portion removed, purple bulb thinly sliced4 tablespoons each, extra virgin olive oil and unsalted butter (melted)Sea salt to taste1-tablespoon chervil, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.Place baguette slices on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, single-file.

In a glass bowl, blend oil, butter, garlic and salt. Slather on both sides of bread. Bake until golden, turning once. Sprinkle with chopped herbs.

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