After a long, hard winter, one of my favorite days comes when the Farmer’s Markets open for the season. Here in Boston that’s not until late May, and okay, maybe the bulk of product in the first few weeks is made up of greens, last winter’s potatoes, and baked goods, but there’s something thrilling about walking around on a beautiful day and poking into the little tents, chatting with the folks who grew (or baked) the food you’re about to enjoy.
Even at this early point in the season, there are some treasures to be found. Some of them, in fact, are ONLY available in early spring, so it’s important to get them while the getting’s good. One such treat is green garlic. Green garlic is garlic plucked in its infancy, before the bulb differentiates into its separate cloves, and before it reaches full potency. It’s the kinder, gentler garlic.
In addition, because the top of the garlic hasn’t yet gotten all papery and woody, you can use quite a bit more of it – right up to the green bits, just like a leek.
Another gem of early Spring is pea tendrils –
Also known as pea shoots, these are the tips of pea plants. They’re tender and have a sweet pea flavor, but since they’re made up of the stem and leaf of the plant are cooked more like a green.
I recently picked up both of these goodies at the Farmer’s Market, along with some cultivated shiitakes.
Native to China, but named for the shii trees on which they’re cultivated in Japan, these big, beautiful mushrooms are a great source of iron and antioxidants, as well as a natural source of umami. Because of this last quality they’re wonderfully meaty, and cooked they even have a similar texture.
Gathering all of these pieces together I decided to make a meal that would be a celebration of spring! In an added bonus, it was all locally sourced and vegetarian. While I continue to happily eat meat, it’s good to take a break once in while. (This could easily be made vegan, although mine wasn’t since I utilized that trusty standby, butter. Just stick with oil, however, and it’s animal-free!)
I started by sauteing the mushrooms in oil, salt, and a bit of white wine. Eventually I threw in the garlic, but I didn’t want it in there while the mushrooms were exuding their water. We were going for pan-fried, not boiled, after all.
When all that was good and browned, I threw in the pea tendrils. They’re thin and tender and only take a few minutes to cook, so it was important to put them in last to avoid crisping them beyond recognition.
While all of that was going I also made a pot of instant polenta. I’m the first to admit that instant isn’t ideal – it tends to clump up if you don’t pour it very, very slowly, and the texture isn’t as creamy. However, if you’re hoping to eat your dinner sometime the same evening that you make it, it’s an acceptable alternative.
Finally, I pulled it all together!
I paired it, as you can see, with a wonderfully dry rosé. I avoided pink wines for a long time, thinking that they all had to be sticky sweet, ala white zinfandel, but I was pleased to be proven wrong on that point last year and I’ve really come to enjoy them as spring/summer wine. The best ones have more going on than a white, but are lighter and more chill-friendly than red. Perfect for hot weather!
I’m pleased to report that this meal was everything I hoped it would be. Chopped as small as they were the mushrooms became delightfully chewy and savory, while the greens retained their tenderness even after wilting. I realized later that this had many of the hallmarks of my fall farmer’s market meal – vegetarian, mushroom-intense, and with a starchy base – but I’m happy at how different they were as well. Each is appropriate to its season – perfect bookmarks on the farmer’s market experience. What are your favorite farmer’s market or spring finds?