For chefs and food lovers, spring is an exciting time filled with fresh flavor and the return of cherished ingredients that capture the essence of this season of renewal. Here in Yountville, several nearby culinary gardens kept by some of the Napa Valley’s most beloved restaurants grant us a window into the progress of spring and summer crops as we move about the town. Just like our legendary chef neighbors, here are a few of our favorite spring ingredients that we have been so happy to see in our kitchen again:
Another sure sign of the season are big piles of bright green peas at the farmer’s market. English peas, also known as garden or shelling peas, make a wonderful addition to a wide variety of dishes with their vivid color and sweet flavor. Always look for young peas whose pods are not too tough and then use them as soon as possible as the peas will convert their sugar into starch over time.
These tender beans capture the delicate flavor of spring and bring a welcome splash of vibrant green to the plate. Found in large, thick-skinned pods, the beans can be a bit labor intensive but are always worth it. Once shelled, the individual beans should be blanched in boiling water then plunged into an ice bath to make the final outer layer easy to remove before enjoying whole or pureed.
These small, freshly dug potatoes are literally ‘new’ in the sense that they are the first of the year’s harvest. Their thin skins and lush flavor make them perfect on their own or wonderful for adding depth to spring dishes. They possess a freshness that cannot be found in potatoes from later in the season and also an earthy quality that is an ideal counterbalance to the sweet and delicate flavor of other favorite spring ingredients.
Asparagus is part of the sad fraternity of much maligned vegetables that are disliked by some people simply because they have never had them when properly prepared, but well-made asparagus is an absolute treasure of the season. The fleeting nature of peak asparagus reflects spring’s quick passage, and like many other ingredients of the season they benefit from speedy use. Asparagus spears can be blanched until just tender or roasted until crispy on the outside and soft within, offering a variety of textures. For those of us here in the Napa Valley, it is our good fortune to enjoy fresh and delicious asparagus grown in the nearby Sacramento River Delta, but wherever you are peak asparagus should be available for a few fleeting weeks each spring.
Feeling inspired? Here’s a recipe paired with a Mira selection that you can try at home: