The signs of springs are all around us, from the birds chirping outside the windows to the sweet, forget-me-nots popping up in every nook and cranny of the garden.
For home cooks tired of roasting the same old root vegetables, the appearance of the first crop of spring vegetables in local fields and at the markets — the mildly pungent green garlic and spring onions, the grassy asparagus and plump, peppery radishes — signals the rebirth of a new planting cycle with an array of subtle flavors and aromas.
Asparagus was cultivated by ancient cultures, and the word itself derives from the Persian, meaning “sprout” or “shoot.” The green garlic and the spring onions are immature expressions of the allium family, so they’re mild versions of the adult versions. The crispy, spring radishes come in different sizes and colors, but their flavor always adds an instant zing to the table.
At Lynmar Estate in Sebastopol, Executive Chef David Frakes has been deep in research and development this winter, getting ready to roll out the first, multi-course lunch menu of spring. The elegant, three-course repasts paired with wine will launch on April 19 on the outdoor patio of the tasting room, overlooking the main garden, and will continue every Thursday through Sunday.
“It’s a menu that starts in spring and goes to fall, changing every two months,” Frakes said. “It’s designed to be an upscale, refined lunch ... we’re going to do 80 to 100 lunches a week.”
Meanwhile, the winery chef is busy dehydrating and pickling some of the early spring vegetables to use later in the season. And he’s starting to develop recipes to showcase the spring produce now sprouting in earnest from the winery’s four, large gardens planted to vegetables, herbs, berries and fruit.
“Spring is very fun and exciting for a chef, because you know what’s coming,” he said. “Things are starting to blossom, and you know you’ll have gardeners coming to the back door soon with tubs.”
The refrigerators in the Lynmar kitchen are already full of pickles, made from a colorful array of crispy vegetables ranging from carrots and cabbage to cauliflower and radishes.
Frakes likes to pickle the Easter Egg radishes, in particular, and serve them on charcuterie plates, because the vinegar helps balance out the fattiness of the meats.
“The Easter Egg radishes come in colors of red, white, pink and purple,” he said. “We pickle them in a vinegar mixture with onions and jalapeno.”
As a brunch or lunch dish, Frakes has created a recipe for a Spring Onion Flan with a pâte brisée crust that is enriched by fromage blanc, heavy cream and eggs. He likes to serve it with a small, green salad alongside.
Spring onions are adolescents that have been harvested before adulthood. You should trim off the root end but you can use all of the white and green parts. Slice them similar to a scallion, thinly crosswise.
Another dish that screams “spring brunch” is Frakes’ Asparagus and Goat Cheese Frittata, which he cooks in a nonstick skillet.
“We have people stay in our guest houses here, and they will have that for breakfast,” he said. “You could drizzle some balsamic vinegar underneath.”