Renew Your Menu
w/the Freshness of Spring Produce
What do unusual fruits, vegetables and afternoon naps have in common? Most children dislike them and adults look forward to them with pleasure. Springtime is in full swing, and your customers will be looking to sample the precious bounty that has been napping over the long winter. As the earth renews itself, such masterpieces as Morel mushrooms, watercress and tender baby lettuces make their perennial debut.
The seasonal delicacies our ancestors plucked in the wild will soon be available at local farmer's markets and from purveyors. From ramps to rhubarb, there are many trendy showoffs that can rejuvenate your spring appetizer, soup, salad, side dish, entrée and dessert fare. Read on for creative takes on produce for spring menu planning.
AN ADVENTURER'S OASIS,
Washington Island, WI
Washington Island is a pristine oasis in Lake Michigan, just off the tip of the Door County Peninsula. With about 650 year- round residents, winters here are long and lonely. However, Spring brings an abundance of wild edibles and tourists who want to eat them. Kate Kaniff is chef/proprietress of Fiddler's Green – An Adventurer's Oasis, and is said to turn out some of the best food on the island. "I really love hunting for Morels every spring," Kaniff said. "After a quick dip in water to evict any woodland creatures, I sauté them in butter and sprinkle with a little salt. I pick wild asparagus, and steam it for a few minutes. It's so tender." Kaniff relates that the island grows fiddle-head ferns and ramps in proliferation. "Islanders use the fern shoots in salads and ramps are used in everything from potato/ramp soup to ramp pesto."
[Editor's note: Ramps are perennial wild leeks with strong, garlicky odor and pronounced onion flavor.] Kaniff uses fresh spring rhubarb to make cherry/ rhubarb jam. Cherries are a major late spring crop in Door County, and Kaniff uses them in compotes and chutneys. "I was a commercial fisherman in Alaska, and I feature a Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon Wellington, for which cherry chutney is the perfect accompaniment."
Edina & Roseville, MN
Founders of Good Earth believe that we all have a direct connection with the planet. Seasonality and sustainability are big deals here. Good Earth is part of the Parasole Family of Restaurants, with nine different concepts. Parasole executive chef is Tim McKee, named the 2009 James Beard Best Midwest Chef.
Tuan Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, is corporate chef and culinary operations manager at Good Earth. "We change our menu four times a year, but specials each month highlight what's in season," he said. "This spring, we will feature watercress in salads and toss into stew at the end of the cooking process — just until it's slightly wilted. We also use watercress in our Roasted Beet Salad, which features red and yellow beets, sunflower sprouts, caramelized pecans and goat cheese, dressed with an orange vinaigrette. Broccoli rabe will appear in salads and in a stir-fry side dish. We will also use ramps to lend strong flavor to stir fries, and new English peas will be used in soups and purees."
The menu at Local 360 in downtown Seattle reads like a "Who's Who of Sustainability in the Pacific Northwest." Virtually everything (except for coffee, tea, lemons and limes) is sourced within a 360- mile radius of the city. "In terms of spring produce, we have foragers and harvesters who access produce that we cannot obtain any other time of year," said Executive Chef Stew Navarre.
One vegetable that only grows in the swampy wetlands of the Pacific coastal United States is Miner's Lettuce. It's similar to mache, and Local 360 uses it in salads and as a garnish. It can also be sautéed, and it's similar to spinach in flavor. [Editor's note: Miner's Lettuce [Claytonia Perfoliata] derived its name from the fact that Gold Rush miners ate it to benefit from its Vitamin C content, which warded off scurvy.]
"Our foragers also collect sea beans, which are an ocean succulent indigenous to coastal areas," said Chef Navarre. "They have a great salty flavor, and we serve them pickled, sautéed or raw. And, of course, I can't wait to get Morel mushrooms. We pipe a chicken mousse laced with bacon into larger Morels, then roast them. Smaller Morels are tossed into a tagliatelle pasta dish along with new English peas and house-made Mascarpone cheese."