Growing vegetables at home is the cheapest way to incorporate fresh, seasonal ingredients into a diet -- for just the cost of the seeds -- but it's not practical for everyone. Shopping at a local farmers market for many consumers is the best alternative and also provides a sense of what's in season. In springtime, produce that is scarce and expensive at other times of the year, such as artichokes and asparagus, is suddenly abundant, affordable, and at the height of its flavor. These 20 recipes take advantage of the bounty of spring to help you eat healthfully, deliciously, and inexpensively.
20 Recipes That Celebrate the Bounty of Cheap Spring Produce
Frozen peas are delicious anytime of year, but the firm yet tender snap and sweetness of fresh peas are a springtime specialty. One of the simplest and most elegant ways to enjoy fresh peas is in risotto full of creamy Parmesan cheese and Arborio rice. A recipe from Nourished Kitchen features other gems from a fully loaded farmers market to really capture the season on a plate. Make substitutions and additions based on the local offerings.
Spring onions, a beloved cross between scallions and fully matured onions, are mild and flavor-packed at the same time. They make a delicious side dish when pan-roasted with white wine and butter. Feature spring onions as an appetizer by charring them on a grill with a little olive oil, seasoning liberally with lemon, salt, and pepper, and serving over toasted and garlic-rubbed sourdough crostini with a drizzle of olive oil.
Artichokes have long been considered an aphrodisiac in the culinary world, and while they take a bit of work to prepare and eat, their unique flavor proves well worth the effort. Simple grilled artichokes are a delicacy and an inexpensive homemade dish -- when purchased at the height of season. Get your fill in the spring and avoid paying restaurant prices for imported or out-of-season artichokes.
A classic vichyssoise epitomizes the indulgence of spring, combining leeks, potatoes, and cream to make a heavenly light yet rich soup. Leeks become plentiful all at once, driving down the price significantly during harvest time. Look for smaller leeks to get the sweetest and most concentrated flavor.
Garlic scapes are the tops of young garlic bulbs, which shoot out of the ground while the bulbs are maturing. They are tender, with the texture of bendy green beans, and have a mild and earthy garlic flavor. They can add tasty bulk to a stir-fry, but a garlic scape pesto posted on Allrecipes really makes the most of an abundant harvest. Consider adding sunflower seeds for a more traditional texture. Pesto freezes well, so you can enjoy the flavor of spring anytime of year.
Precooked and vacuum-sealed beets just don't compare to the sweetness and tenderness of fresh spring beets. It's easy to go classic and toss steamed beets with vinaigrette-dressed lettuce and goat cheese, or simply roast with salt and pepper and enjoy as a side dish. To enjoy the earthy side of beets, julienne them raw along with jicama and toss with lemon juice, olive oil, and queso fresco for a fresh and crunchy salad.
Paying $3 for a bunch of fresh herbs just to have them wilt or spoil in the fridge is a problem familiar to many cooks. Fresh market herbs are perky and at peak ripeness in spring, which means they offer more flavor and shelf life. Try dressing up rice by combining 2 cups of cooked rice with a full cup of chopped leafy herbs such as parsley, basil, and tarragon; the juice of one lemon; and a few grinds of black pepper. This bright and bold side dish enhances the natural flavor of chicken and fish.
The juicy stalks that resemble red celery usually are destined for pies or preserves. If you've had your fill of rhubarb pie and are up to your neck in rhubarb jam, mix it up with a rhubarb cake posted on Allrecipes. This sweet-tart dessert is delicious at tea time and breakfast, as well.
Pre-bagged lettuce is the unfortunate default for many consumers year-round. When lettuce is in its prime, it's crispy, vibrant, and sweet, rather than vaguely bitter and fibrous. Toss heads of fresh lettuce with a simple dressing of 3 parts vinegar, 2 parts olive oil, and 1 part mustard and enjoy at every meal as long as fresh greens are available.
Radishes have a tendency to sit in the fridge until they become soft and wrinkly for want of purpose. Store the little bulbs in water to keep them firm and hydrated longer. Crisp and refreshing with a hint of sweet spiciness, they are delicious without much fuss, chopped into salads or enjoyed with butter and salt. For something more novel, Martha Stewart suggests tossing radishes and avocado with oil, lemon, salt, and pepper to make a tasty sandwich filling.
The culinary world has embraced ramps, or early onion shoots, as a desirable springtime special. Enjoy ramps on the cheap by buying them at the farmers market and preparing at home. Use the savings to buy a ball of fresh burrata (an Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream) and drape generously with pan-roasted ramps, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Green, leafy bok choy is available in mini or "baby" form and larger varieties. Its mild flavor makes it ideal for dishes with rich sauces and for picky vegetable eaters. Despite the subtle and almost watery flavor, it packs a nutritional punch, offering significant amounts of bioavailable calcium and vitamin A (especially helpful for vegans). Try it in an Asian-inspired seitan and bok choy stir-fry from Wake Up and Eat.
Spring offerings largely feature green vegetables rather than fruits, but apricots are an exception for most of the country. While it's almost impossible to find sweet, juicy apricots the rest of the year, they are plentiful in season. Beyond enjoying them raw, broil them for a Martha Stewart recipe that combines fresh apricots with creamy ricotta and crunchy pistachios in a sweet-tart dish.
Many people have unpleasant associations with fava beans, probably from trying to enjoy the subpar frozen and canned varieties. Those who have been initiated into the pleasures of fresh fava beans know that a world of spectacularly sweet, earthy flavor is packed into every bite. To enhance the natural creaminess of fava beans, toss them into a bacon-laced ricotta pasta made with a recipe from The Kitchn.
Asparagus is a quintessential spring vegetable, and pizza is a welcoming canvas for seasonal ingredients. A combination of pungent garlic, chives, and savory cheese provides a layered backdrop for the natural sweetness of fresh asparagus in a spring pizza recipe from Eating Well. A quick burst of high heat ensures the asparagus retains some of its crispness.
This Georgian spinach and walnut dip is best to make when spinach is plentiful. It is quite dense and packs a lot of green leafy goodness into small portions. The base of fresh and mature spinach pulls flavor from a few supporting spices such as garlic, coriander, and parsley. Walnuts can be pricey, but the traditional recipe works just as well with inexpensive pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
With so many delicious plants ready to be harvested in the spring, it's easy to create a salad that features the entire greenmarket spectrum. A Smitten Kitchen recipe uses seasonal new potatoes for the bulk, with other aromatic supporters such as onions, peas, and radishes. Veggies such as peas and asparagus are easily interchangeable with whatever the local market has on offer.
With seasonal ingredients, sometimes the best flavors emerge from simplicity. A five-ingredient recipe from Mario Batali features two of the brightest flavors of spring: sweet peas and refreshing mint. This makes an excellent side dish or can even be enjoyed as a light lunch alongside garlicky crostini.
With the Italian word for spring in the name, perhaps no other dish comes to mind quite so readily this time of year. The best part about a recipe from the food blog Simply Recipes is its adaptability. This dish can be made with any pasta shape, ripe vegetables, and cheeses. Enjoy pasta primavera as a satisfying meal or side dish. It is also delicious at room temperature, which makes it excellent for daytime parties, potlucks, and leftovers.