Go green: Restraint is key to showcasing fleeting produce of spring

The arrival of spring green vegetables in the farmers market casts off any last remnants of winter. Boxed in between bossy brassicas and sassy summer vegetables, spring vegetables are demure, more subtle. They appear stealth-like on the scene for a brief window, a bright spot of verdant life after a dreary winter, a quick burst of youthful green — and then they disappear.

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Well, very little fully disappears with our worldwide agriculture systems, but if you want ingredients to taste their absolute best, you need to eat in season as close to the harvest locale as possible. Building your menus around seasonal produce is a healthy way to support local agriculture, nourish the body, and eat well on a budget.

After months of “rooting around,” spring is a time to indulge in delicate, light produce. The most successful celebration of spring green vegetables lies with heightened simplicity. My approach is to do as little as possible to really good ingredients and not mess them up by over-complicating them with a kitchen sink of different flavors.

ExploreUsher in spring with these veggie-centric recipes

Restraint is key to showcasing these fleeting spring favorites. You simply won’t believe how luscious a member of the lowly onion family can be until you taste it chilled and bathed in vinaigrette or that, given the limited number of ingredients in the fava bean recipe, you will be able to taste the citrus undertones in the sage. Cooking crisp sugar snap peas is a waste of heat when they are so sweet and tender; try them instead raw in a leafless salad. Asparagus and mushrooms belong under the heading “what grows together, goes together” and further seal their marriage under a blanket of creamy, cheesy eggs.

Go green — and simple — with Chilled Classic Leeks Vinaigrette pungent with Dijon mustard; Fava Bean Toasts, truly a labor of love; bright and crisp Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Pecans and Mint; and celebrate the springtime duo of asparagus and mushrooms with an Asparagus, Mushroom and Sausage Gratin.

Virginia Willis is an Atlanta-based Food Network Kitchen chef, James Beard Award-winning food writer and author of seven cookbooks. Follow her at virginiawillis.com.

RECIPES

Mindful simplicity is the secret to celebrating the season’s produce. Streamlined technique and a short list of ingredients reveal crispy, silky, creamy and toothsome textures that allow spring vegetables to shine.

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Chilled Classic Leeks Vinaigrette

This French bistro favorite is easy to make. Make a double batch to have extra on hand for lunch on a hot day. Make sure to save the green leafy stems for stock.

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Sugar Snap Pea Salad with Pecans and Mint

The undoubted star of this show are the peas. You can toast your pecans if you wish, but I love that I can toss this together in an instant and prefer the undertone of green in the untoasted pecan.

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Fava Bean Toasts

Fava beans are one of those spring vegetables that evoke great feelings. They indicate some level of urban sophistication, if only by a psychological thriller. Fava beans are grassy, rich, and need to shine on their own. They are also a ton of work to get any quantity — hence, a manageable amount of green buttery goodness paired with lemony sage as seen with these toasts is the perfect celebration.

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Asparagus, Mushroom and Sausage Gratin

This is one of those dishes that could be breakfast, lunch or dinner. Baked in the skillet, it’s a one-dish wonder, or transfer it to a separate casserole and it becomes brunch-worthy. Serve it with a salad and it becomes a complete meal.

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