May began with a week of firsts for Twice as Tasty. I had my first experience baking in a real woodfired pizza oven during a Grilled Sourdough Pizza workshop, and I taught my first Fine Dining: Front Country workshop for Outsiety. In both classes, I was able to share first cuttings freshly snipped from the garden. This week, I also baked the first stalks of rhubarb into a dessert to share with friends.
My first cuttings are almost always from perennials pushing up through the ground year after year. You probably think little of these plants when you see them in a produce section: they’re not showy, or colorful, or supersized. But when they’re the first edibles to pop through your garden soil, on their own time and with no effort on your part, they’re gems. And my favorite ways to eat them are so simple that you don’t even need a recipe.
I spend a lot of time sharing recipes and specific techniques for making and preserving food. But at home many of my meals come together spontaneously from what’s at hand—particularly during the growing season. Whether you’re growing at home or selecting from local farms, you’ll enjoy the freshest flavors with the simplest preparations. Here are some of my first-cut edibles and how I like to prepare them.
The first time I take my scissors into the garden each spring, I’m cutting alliums. Walking onions are first off the mark. These curious plants, sometimes called topsetting onions or Egyptian onions, will set clusters of new bulbs at the top of the stalks later in the season; they eventually become so top heavy that they fall over and set roots, literally walking their way across the garden bed. When they sprout, they’re like flavorful scallion greens. They’re quickly followed by other early spring alliums: chives, garlic chives, and heads of garlic missed during last season’s harvest. If you give any of these a trim, they’ll happily keep growing.
In spring, I cut off a few allium leaves and then snip them into tiny pieces to top almost any dish: breakfast eggs, lunchtime salads, and baked or mashed potatoes, rice, couscous, and pasta at dinner. You can also blend them into a smoothie or stir them into some mustard, yogurt, or other spread for a sandwich or as a dip for fruit, vegetables, or crackers.
Delicate chives are best uncooked, but garlic chives and the leaves from bulb garlic can hold up to a little cooking or marinade without getting overly soggy. For a simple salmon meal, mix thinly sliced onion leaves with some rice vinegar, sesame oil, and lemon juice, and then drizzle it over the cooked fish. If pulling whole young garlic or onions, cut them in 4-inch lengths and then slice them thinly lengthwise; toss with a bit of sesame oil, sesame seeds, and smoked paprika and serve alongside grilled halibut or sole. They can also be roasted with a little olive oil at 425°F for about 10 minutes or so.
Herbs and Greens
Sorrel is my springtime basil. Its lemony tang is a surprise, because it doesn’t have the forward scent of citrus fruit. This semihardy perennial is not as delicate as basil, and larger leaves have a texture closer to spinach. But in early spring, its first baby leaves are soft enough that you can place them whole on crackers spread with warmed goat cheese for a delicious snack. Sorrel is the advance party for returning perennial herbs like oregano and mint, and, if I’m lucky, for self-seeding greens like arugula, orach, spinach, and leaf lettuce.
You can use early herbs and baby greens in the same ways you would use basil later in the season. Just keep in mind that a little lemony sorrel and spicy arugula can go a long way. Throw a handful, slivered or torn when they get large and coarse, onto Sourdough Pizza just pulled from the oven or into freshly cooked noodles with some butter and Dry-Salted Feta. Fold them into an omelet for breakfast or some Fresh Yogurt for a refreshing dip or dinnertime sauce. And sliver them as a topping for everything from Roasted Garlic Soup to Red Beans and Rice to Spanish Shrimp in Garlic Oil.
When most people think of early spring perennial vegetables, they think of asparagus. There’s always something exciting about seeing their first pointy tips poke through the soil. Setting up an asparagus bed takes some work and patience, but the long-term yield is worth it: once they’re established, they just go. You also solve the problem of overly tough spears by growing your own. The woodiest asparagus spears aren’t necessarily the largest—they’re the oldest. So pick asparagus just before you plan to use it for the tenderest spears.
I use short early spring spears almost like a garnish, waiting for full harvests to serve Grilled Asparagus as a side dish and to preserve its bright flavor. It’s another delicious pizza topping when sautéed or roasted. It also makes a quick fresh salad or fish topping when shaved into strips with a peeler and dressed like julienned young garlic or onions. It can be added to the final 2–4 minutes of boiling pasta and tossed with a little sorrel or arugula. And honestly, I snap the earliest stalks and put them right in my mouth as a garden snack.
I’m a rhubarb fiend. From breakfasts to drinks to sweets, I can’t get enough. I’ve always cooked rhubarb in some way, but it’s really just the leaves that are toxic, so I could turn it into a garden snack like asparagus. Still, although I love it’s natural tartness, even I find a little sweetness necessary to enjoy rhubarb.
Growing up, my mom regularly made rhubarb sauce, just cooking it until soft with enough water to keep it from sticking and enough sugar to cut the tartness. I’ll eat this straight up, like applesauce, but it’s also a delicious topper for ice cream, stirred into hot breakfast cereal, or drizzled over a quick bread. Carnivores might like the sweet-tart flavor over pork; I find it delicious with a firm grilled fish. For a salad, drizzle the rhubarb with honey and roast it for a few minutes instead.
Twice as Tasty
If you still crave recipes for your spring harvest, you’ll find plenty already on the blog, including these:
- Savory Herb Scones
- Herb Butter
- Herb Infusions
- Arugula–Asparagus Salad
- Rhubarb Crisp
- Rhubarb–Huckleberry Galette
- Rhubarb–Rosemary Rum
All month, I’ll be posting more recipes that use what’s fresh from your early season garden. And if you missed last week’s post, be sure to check out some of the Twice as Tasty workshops that teach you to put your homegrown produce to use.
Like what you’ve learned? To learn more in a Twice as Tasty workshop—in your own kitchen, among friends, and with my personal help—click here. If you’re not yet a Twice as Tasty subscriber, get newsletters delivered straight to your inbox by clicking here.