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What’s in Season?

By Barbara Kobsar

Produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.

February

Hear that familiar “snap” coming from the kitchen? It means the new crop of California asparagus has arrived. Asparagus breaks naturally between its tender and tougher portions, so it needs only a quick bend to snap it in two. Hold the spear close to the bottom for less waste, and if you don’t want to discard the tough lower portions, use them (in moderation) in vegetable stock. The tender upper portion is ready to rinse and enjoy raw or cooked. Chop and use in omelets, pasta, or quiche, or steam by one of two methods: Tie in loose bundles and set upright in a non-aluminum pot filled with 3 to 4 inches of boiling water, or lay spears loosely in a wide, shallow pot in an inch of water. Cover and simmer gently 1 to 2 minutes for the pencil-thin spears and about 4 minutes for the large ones. Thickness of the spears is a matter of preference and has little bearing on quality or tenderness. You’ll find the thinnest spears at the end of the growing season.

March

“Nice and easy” describes garlic in the spring. Before the heads of garlic form, farmers sometimes harvest what they call “green garlic” as a way of thinning the crop to give room for heads to mature. But green garlic has become popular in its own right. It lends a delightfully mild garlic taste to omelets, risottos, and dressings. Now is also the time to find spring onions, which are very young onions harvested before the bulb develops. (They are not to be confused with scallions or green onions, which do not develop bulbs.) Trim the roots off the end of the stalk and remove any damaged greens—the rest is completely edible. If you’re lucky to find bunches of ramps, be sure to give them a try. Ramps look like small scallions and have one or two distinctive flat, broad leaves that add garlicky hints to soups, potato dishes, and egg dishes.

April

Artichoke Month is a good time to appreciate the artichoke, both because it’s extremely labor intensive to harvest and because April is the height of its three-month-long peak season. (A secondary season peaks in October.) Virtually 100{94d79dd6af1e87a94e700e4c297236468333f22e27ed5757b44711974a9a4b91} of all commercial artichoke production happens in California. Growing is centered in Monterey County, where the Green Globe artichoke reigns supreme in the self-proclaimed “Artichoke Capital of the World,” Castroville. Nationally, the artichoke would be considered a minor crop compared to corn, wheat, and rice, but in Monterey County, it has warranted its own festival since Marilyn Monroe was crowned the first official California Artichoke Queen in 1948. Choose medium to large size artichokes if you’re ready to deal with that fuzzy “choke” at the heart, or reach for the baby or dwarf sizes, which only need the stem and a few outer leaves trimmed off before sautéing or grilling. ♦

Spring Asparagus Frittata with Spring Onions and Green Garlic

Recipe by Barbara Kobsar
Illustration by Caroline Gould

Serves 4

1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 spring onion, trimmed and chopped
1 green garlic, trimmed and chopped
½ pound fresh asparagus, trimmed, cleaned, and cut into
1-inch pieces
6 eggs
1 tablespoon water
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325°. 

Melt butter and olive oil in an oven-safe 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and asparagus. Cook and toss occasionally for about 5 minutes. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and water. Pour into skillet, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven. Bake 10 to 15 minutes until eggs are set. Top with Parmesan cheese and place under broiler until cheese is lightly browned. 

Garlic goes through a lot of changes as it grows from a small green sprout into the fat, papery-white bulb we bring home to our pantries. Immature “green garlic” might show up at your farmers’ market when farmers are thinning the rows, and that’s when they also bring the young onions called “spring onions.” The two can look a lot alike, but bring the bunch up to your nose and you’ll know which is the garlic by the familiar aroma.

Veteran journalist Barbara Kobsar has authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. You’ll find her each week at the Walnut Creek Farmers’ Market selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.

Berkeley-based illustrator and musician Caroline H. Gould is a transplant from Brooklyn, New York. She is especially fond of illustrating desserts. carolinehgould.com

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