Enjoy Spring Cooking with Fresh Finds at NJ Farmers’ Markets

April 16, 2012

I really enjoy spring cooking. It beats spring cleaning, and the fresh flavors of ramps, asparagus, tiny potatoes and tangy rhubarb offer a nice light palate after the heavy, robust dishes that dominate winter. New Jersey has hundreds of Farmers’ Markets offering everything from honey to local crafts, and loads of veggies and fruit. Now if your kids are anything like mine, the beauty of a local farmer’s market is as much about the cookie selection as it is about the ‘what’s this’ when examining the kohlrabi. These mixed feelings extend to dinners during which they laboriously extract every speck of green from their plates, but the following recipes for homemade pizzas, simple chicken dishes, and salads often help temper the finicky-ness. Of course, there’s always the option of putting them to bed and making your own beautiful dinner, eaten in peace, with no dropped forks or ketchup. Now, that’s a blissful spring meal!

Chicken with Asparagus & Pistachios

This Asian-inspired dish has something for everyone. Wonderfully flavored chicken, which can be removed from the nearby vegetables for any picky eaters, and lots of flavor from the asparagus, pistachios and hot sauce for those of you who don’t mind your foods touching. The oyster sauce has a great savory richness, and I add a splash of soy at the end because I like to watch my blood pressure climb. I see no reason why thisĀ  couldn’t be made with broccoli, which is also a spring staple. From recipe.com.


A friend of mine who is a wonderful home cook, gave me this recipe for her pizza dough that is so simple, and so delicious, that I haven’t bought dough from the store since. (Just don’t forget the salt. I’ve done that thrice and have had to write SALT in purple magic marker on my recipe so I don’t have any more senior moments.)

This recipe will make four small pizzas or two large ones.

Combine in bowl:

3 1/4 cups bread flour

1 cup whole wheat flour (Any combo of flours works fine, really.)

2 1/4 tsp of yeast or one packet (I use quick-rise yeast.)

1 1/2 tsp salt (SALT!)

In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together:

2-3 tsp honey

1 3/4 cup hot water

2 tbsp olive oil

Slowly pour wet ingredients into dry, kneading for several minutes. Lightly coat with olive oil. Allow dough to rise for an hour (or more) in a warm place. Preheat oven to 475. On a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil, push, roll, or toss if your brave, into shape. Add your toppings. Place the whole thing including parchment or aluminum foil, into the oven and cook on a preheated stone or baking sheet for 12 minutes or until brown and bubbly.

This dough is wonderful piled with fresh mozzarella, parmesan and thin spears of asparagus. Use pesto as your base instead of red sauce, or skip the sauce altogether for something more tart like. Pizzas are also a great chance for kids to help in the kitchen and try new things. Go to the farmer’s market together, let them pick what they want on their pizza and then they can help chop and top, while also experimenting with new flavors. Everything tastes great if you add enough cheese!

Asparagus and Morels

I once had the opportunity to eat Jean George’s famous morels with asparagus and it was quite transformative. More so even than sitting at the kitchen table listening to my daughter belch as loud as she can, if you can believe that. I’ve never been able to recreate them, but here’s a simple take on the classic pairing of asparagus and morels from mushroom-appreciation.com.

Ramps with Eggs

Ramps are basically wild leeks. (So I guess regular leeks are very square and buttoned up. Who knew?) They have a wonderful mild, garlicky, onion-y thing going on, and they are only available for about 38 seconds at the farmer’s market. They are delicious wilted or crispy and pair nicely with an egg. Herbivoracious is assuming you have risotto lying around, which I think is a good excuse to make risotto. This is a great recipe. Lots of salty, creamy goodness. Serious Eats takes it to the bacon-level, and I’ll be rising to the occasion for brunch on Sunday. If you don’t make it in time for the ramps, try it with scallions or leeks and let us know in the comments, how it works out.

Potato Salads

I can’t resist all the happy piles of potatoes at the markets, and I’m a big fan of this potato saladfrom Smitten Kitchen, which is light and a great side dish (or entree — yum), but we’ve talked a lot about asparagus, so here’s an alternative from cookwithwhatyouhave.com that takes advantage of all the herbs that are available right now. It’s a modern spin on the classic mayo based potato salads, and the capers add a great bite. Get your kids involved and see what veggies they would add, or chop everything separately and let them assemble salad bar style.

Rhubarb Upside Cake

I love upside down cakes. All of ’em. They remind me of getting pineapple upside down cake at Lexington Market in Baltimore when I was a little girl. I like the oozy gooey topping and the tender cake beneath it, or above it, depending on your perspective. Rhubarb is oft maligned, but really quite delish, and in season though June. This cake is a kid pleaser and a great spring dessert, from her royal highness the NYTimes.

One to grow on…

Strawberry Cake

It’s not quite strawberry time, but it will be soon and whether you are picking your own, or snapping some of the little jeweled beauties up at the farmer’s market, this cake is so, so easy. I love the layers of flavor, and the subtle sweetness. The strawberries are the star and you really get to enjoy their flavor, unlike with the flavorless, mammoth ‘strawberries’ I bought at the grocery store this week that look like something from a 50’s sci-fi movie.

I top with fresh whip cream and some candied lemon peel if I’m feeling extra ambitious. Also, a bit of lemon zest in the batter adds a nice fresh bite. From the goddess of easy, breezy and delicious Smitten Kitchen.

To find the Farmer’s Market in your area, along with recipes, and a list of what’s in season, search here. Happy cooking!


photo credit: Muffet via photopin cc