Spring cleaning isn't just for your closet — refresh your diet with these 4 delicious in-season ingredients.
In early fall, the abundance of squash and other root vegetables has us waxing poetic about the cozy times ahead, but by March, our enthusiasm has — understandably —waned. Thankfully, the arrival of spring produce heralds warmer weather to come and offers up a host of new mouthwatering meals to bring to the table.
Here, we share four vegetables to add to your ingredients list for spring and how to shop for, store and cook with each one.
Rhubarb grows in vibrant pink stalks and is famous for its very tart flavour, making it the perfect companion to balance out sweetness in desserts, but it can also be used in savoury applications, such as chutney.
In Canada, rhubarb is harvested using traditional methods in late April or early May, but it’s also grown in dark, indoor conditions that produce what we call "forced" rhubarb. Forced rhubarb is actually sweeter than its outdoor-grown counterpart, and as a bonus, it can be harvested as early as February, meaning you get to enjoy your pie even earlier than usual.
When choosing rhubarb, you want to pick crisp, firm stalks (similar to selecting celery); a vibrant hue is nice for visuals, but the colour of rhubarb isn’t correlated to its flavour.
It’s best stored in the fridge for use within a few days, but for longer-term storage, slice and freeze your rhubarb in a single layer, then transfer it to a resealable bag or container. Be sure to discard the leaves before cooking, as they are toxic.
There’s no bad way to enjoy rhubarb, but it’s particularly lovely when latticed over a coffee cake, caramelized in a tarte tatin, swirled into cheesecake brownies, layered into a gingery fool or studded onto a croissant bread pudding.
Asparagus spears come in all shapes and sizes: different varieties can be thick or pencil-thin, green or purple. There's even all-white asparagus, which is made from growing the vegetable entirely underground and depriving it of the chlorophyll that would otherwise turn it green.
Asparagus season begins around early May, lasting just over a month or so. During that time, individual spears can grow 6-7 inches in a day, and need multiple harvests in a single week. It's naturally high in folic acid, potassium, thiamine and B6.
Choose firm spears; to maximize their freshness, store them upright in the refrigerator, in a glass or shallow bowl filled with a couple inches of water. Before cooking asparagus, ensure that you have trimmed and discarded the tough, woodsy parts of the stem.
These springy stalks are wonderfully versatile in savoury dishes and are as good in breakfast crȇpes in the morning as they are as a hearty side at night. Asparagus is also terrific grilled on pizza, whirled into soup, raw and shaved in salad and as the ultimate topping in pasta primavera.
Morel mushrooms have a pitted, hollow cone-shaped cap and a rich, nutty flavour that makes them the perfect accompaniment for browned butter, roasted meats or any number of savoury dishes.
Morels are one of the varieties of mushrooms that can’t be produced commercially, meaning they can only be found in the wild. As a result, their growth season varies each year but generally takes place between late March and early May. Since they have a few toxic look-alikes, we recommend leaving the foraging to the experts and instead buying morels from your local farmers’ market or specialty food store. You can also find them dehydrated year-round.
Like other mushrooms, you should clean morels with a brush, as immersing them in the water will make them soggy. Unlike creminis or button mushrooms, which can be eaten raw, morels should always be cooked.
These flavour-packed fungi don’t need much to make them delicious, but a little Calvados and cream never hurt. You can also use them instead of (or in addition to) the mushrooms called for in any of the following recipes: Pork with Mushroom Sauce, Speedy Beef Stroganoff, Chicken and Wild Mushroom Stew, Sauteed Mushroom Linguine, Mushroom and Sausage Gnocchi, or Squash and Barley Stuffing.
Fiddleheads are actually the tightly-curled tips of the ostrich fern and have a deeply vegetal taste that’s reminiscent of spinach or broccoli. They’re a source of omega-3 fatty acids, are a good source of fibre, to boot. They become available in early May, and are now being grown commercially in addition to harvested wild.
Before cooking with fiddleheads, you need to clean them and remove their papery husks. They also carry a health risk if consumed raw, so follow the Health Canada cooking guidelines and either boil them for a minimum of 15 minutes or steam them for 10-12 minutes. To enjoy fiddleheads year-round, transfer them (post-cooking) to an ice bath. Then allow them to dry, and freeze them in single layer for future use.
Fiddleheads make a great substitution for broccoli, spinach, green beans, asparagus and chard. Try them in this simple gnocchi or in this spring-celebration salad with peas, asparagus, and mint.