Spotlight on Spring Produce

As consumers crave farm-to-table dishes and wholesome, fresh ingredients after the long winter season, incorporating spring produce onto your menu can put your operation one step ahead of the competition. Customers are hungry for the freshness of verdant peas, sour rhubarb, and earthy morels – highly anticipated springtime ingredients with peaks that have an incredibly short window, furthering their appeal. With the rise of vegetable-forward and vegetable-centric dishes, there is no time like the present to embrace spring’s bounty. Utilizing spring produce can significantly build your restaurant’s cuisine, personality, and brand story – especially if your establishment identifies with the farm-to-table movement. Emphasizing fresh seasonal produce also offers a golden opportunity for chefs to showcase their kitchen’s creativity, maximize checks, and build customer loyalty. Here’s a look at the season’s bumper crop:

Asparagus #097032

Asparagus is available year-round, but it’s sweetest in the spring. Make the most of its ripeness with different cooking techniques and applications. Asparagus comes in white, purple, and green varieties and can be blanched, boiled, deep-fried, roasted, simmered, steamed, chargrilled, or stir-fried. It can also be shaved to top salads, pizzas, or grain bowls. To showcase its freshness as a center of the plate item, offer an appetizer or small plate featuring asparagus tempura with blue cheese or sriracha mayo dipping sauce. Complementary ingredients include butter, cheeses, eggs, mushrooms, leeks, and lemons, as well as fresh herbs such as parsley, dill, and chervil.

Fiddlehead Ferns #097189

Just like its seasonal friends ramps and morels, fiddlehead ferns also have a short peak season. Their distinctive appearance attracts customers, especially in dishes such as pasta or rice bowls where their vibrant color stands out. Fiddlehead ferns should always be served cooked and can be blanched, boiled, sautéed, or steamed. Their crisp texture and fresh flavor pair well with butter, onions, and herbs and can be featured in risottos, salads, pastas, or stir-fries. Serve them as a stand-alone appetizer or side dish roasted and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and shaved Parmesan. Or, try fusing Asian-inspired flavors such as sesame oil and soy sauce with ferns for a robust, ethnic side.

Morels #901035

Often referred to as “the sacred mushroom,” morels have a short window of availability, May to June, adding intrigue and mystique to these highly coveted springtime jewels. Morels off er a great depth of nutty, earthy flavors to any dish and are best served fresh but can also be dried to utilize across the menu throughout the year. Before cooking, slice morels lengthwise and agitate in water to remove grit and dirt. The flavor of morels is highly prized, so simple preparations such as stewing, frying, or sautéing with butter are best. Give morels the spotlight by offering them as an appetizer stuff ed with creamy polenta or featuring them atop a puff pastry with decadent cream. Maximize their flavor by pairing with ramps, fiddlehead ferns, and peas in a spring pasta dish, or feature in a sauce to accompany steak.

Peas #097543

A sure sign of spring is the arrival of peas. While readily available frozen year-round, peas are at their peak in April and May. They lose flavor rapidly after harvest, so celebrate their delicate and sweet essence by simply steaming until tender and serve as a side or use in salads or as a garnish. They marry well with fresh herbs such as basil, mint, and marjoram, the smokiness and meatiness of bacon, and the unctuousness of cream and cheese. Keep the shells to create stock along with garlic, mint, and additional aromatics and utilize in soups and purées or in desserts such as crème fraîche cake drizzled with pea anglaise.

Radishes #097714

These vibrant, ruby-red gems full of flavor and crunch present a peppery taste and crisp, fresh texture. They can be steamed, sautéed, stir-fried, or served raw. Lightly salted radishes with softened butter is a classic French trio – showcase this traditional preparation on a toasted baguette appetizer. Radishes also pair well with the flavor profiles of butter, lemon, and herbs such as chives and parsley. Fermentation is trending, making pickled radishes a flavorful and intriguing offering. And don’t throw away the leaves – maximize their use in soups, salads, pesto, or as a garnish to boost flavor and reduce waste.

Ramps #097331

These wild onions also have a very short window with availability from April to June. Milder in flavor than scallions or leeks, ramps can take a dish from ordinary to exceptional. The is versatile vegetable can be incorporated into soups, risottos, sandwiches, creamy spreads, and pastas. They have a special affinity for cheese, fish, and potatoes. Ramps cook quickly and can be grilled, sautéed, or pickled for serving year-round. Serve pickled ramps with roasted or fried potatoes, roasted mushrooms, or on toast with burrata for unique flavor combinations.

Rhubarb #097721

Often used in sweet applications, this perennial plant is a versatile ingredient, equally adept to savory dishes. Extremely acidic, rhubarb requires plenty of sugar during the cooking process to balance its tartness. Rhubarb can be baked, puréed, sautéed, and stewed, adding an acidic component to center of the plate proteins. Try adding rhubarb to a Moroccan-inspired chicken tagine or serve rhubarb salsa in Mexican-inspired dishes. Flavors that work well with rhubarb include cinnamon, ginger, orange, and strawberry. Rhubarb’s peak season is late spring, but make sure to preserve some to utilize year-round in pies, tarts, and jams for fresh dessert offerings.

How to Menu

Raw Veggie Bowl

The key to a seasonal menu is making the time of year apparent. If you can’t tell what season it is by looking at your menu, adjustments must be made. One thing to keep in mind is that these are highly perishable products, so inventory control is important. Cross-utilize spring vegetables in dishes or components such as purées or condiments that can be used in multiple applications. You can also pair these vegetables with your staples and signatures. If you offer a New York strip, substitute the caramelized onions with ramps or serve it with a ramp compound butter, and refresh pasta dishes with the addition of fresh peas and asparagus.

One on-trend application is showcasing spring produce in a bowl. A platform for innovation, bowls hit on several major trends such as Asian and Latin flavor profiles and global mash-ups. Showcase the quality and freshness of prime produce in a raw vegetable bowl with julienned radishes, carrots, sliced snap peas, red and yellow beets, and avocado with ginger-cashew cream. Customers associate bowl builds with freshness and wellness, creating perfect opportunity to showcase the raw gems of the season in stunning items across your menu.