Go green with local spring vegetables

“With fresh asparagus, the higher your income the higher up the stalk you cut off the tip.”

Bill Rathje

“Spinach is the broom of the stomach.”

French proverb

“Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl

And (scarce suspected), animate the whole.”

Sydney Smith

When the weather turns warm in May on the North Fork, the roadside stands emerge bright with flowers and plants. And the early vegetables — spinach, spring onions, asparagus and rhubarb — make their appearance. Even though these items are usually available from all over the world, when they are local they look better, smell better and taste better. Seeing them makes you want to cook some wholesome, healthy, local food. Here are a few ideas:

Spring Onion Fried Brown Rice

Cook 1 cup brown rice in 2 cups boiling water until tender, about 40 minutes, and set aside. Combine 1/4 cup Asian oyster sauce, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon Asian chili sauce and 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger. Break 4 eggs into a bowl and stir in 2 tablespoons of the above mixture. Heat a large sautà pan and spray with no-stick. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil and scramble the egg mixture in pan until just cooked. Remove and set aside.

Cut 1 pound of trimmed asparagus into small pieces. Wash and trim 1 bunch of spring onions and separate the green stems from the white bottoms. Dice the white part and combine with the asparagus. Chop the green part and set aside. Slice 1 cup of shiitake mushrooms and add to the asparagus and onions. Add 2 tablespoons canola oil to the sautà pan and cook the vegetables for 5 minutes. Add the remaining oyster sauce mixture and stir in the cooked brown rice and scrambled eggs. Heat until rice is hot and garnish with the chopped green onion tops.

Serves 2 to 4.

Note: The spring onion is similar to the scallion except that it has a larger white bulb and a sharper, more pronounced onion flavor. The scallion can be substituted in this recipe, but the spring onion carries with it the freshness of the season.

Grilled Chicken Breast with Spring Onion and Orange Salsa

To prepare salsa, peel 3 oranges, separate them into sections and cut into half-inch pieces, removing any white pith and seeds. Place in a bowl with 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1 minced jalapeno pepper (without seeds and ribs) and 1 teaspoon ground cumin. Chop the white and green parts of 2 spring onions and add to the orange mixture. Refrigerate until service.

Prepare a charcoal fire. Brush 1 1/2 pounds of chicken cutlets with olive oil and season with coarse salt and pepper. Grill them over white coals until fully cooked, about 5 minutes per side. Serve over steamed local spinach with the orange salsa on the side.

Serves 4.

Steakhouse-Style Creamed Spinach with Asparagus

Purchase 4 large bunches of fresh spinach and 1 pound of asparagus. Remove the leaves from the spinach stems and wash thoroughly. If the leaves are large, cut them from either side of the stem. Wash and trim the asparagus into spears. Cook the asparagus in boiling water and remove. Cut into bite-sized pieces.

Heat a large soup pot with a cover over medium heat and add the washed spinach (additional water is not necessary). Cook until spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove and drain. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, wrap it in a clean cook’s towel and squeeze out the moisture. Place it on a cutting board and chop.

Cook 6 strips of bacon in the soup pot and remove. Dice the bacon and set aside. Add 1/4 cup flour to the bacon drippings to make a roux. Over medium heat, whisk in 2 cups of milk and bring to a slow boil. The sauce should become very thick. Season with 1 teaspoon each of coarse salt and pepper and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg. Fold in the chopped spinach, asparagus and cooked bacon.

Serve with char-grilled steaks, roasted tomatoes and baked potatoes.

Serves 4.

Asparagus Risotto with Lump Crabmeat

Purchase 1 16-ounce can of fresh lump crab and empty it into a bowl. Pick out any cartilage and set aside.

Wash and trim 1 pound of asparagus and cut into bite-sized pieces. Chop the white and green parts of 2 spring onions and place the white part in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons butter, reserving the green part. Cook until soft and add 1 cup Arborio rice. Continue to cook at medium heat for 3 minutes and add 1/2 cup chardonnay. Increase the heat and cook, stirring, until wine is absorbed. Gradually add 3 cups chicken broth, letting each ladle be absorbed before adding another. Add the asparagus and continue cooking until rice is just tender. Fold in the crabmeat and the chopped greens from the onions and serve.

Serves 4.

Sugar Snap Peas, Spinach, Radish and Goat Cheese Salad

Wash and blanch 1 pound of snap peas in boiling water until just cooked. Rinse and plunge into ice water to retain color. Wash 2 bunches of fresh spinach and trim leaves from the stems. Dry the leaves with paper towels and cut into bite-sized pieces. Wash and slice 4 large radishes into thin rounds and thinly slice 1/2 cup of red onion. Combine these vegetables together and mix in 2 tablespoons of chopped mint leaves. Make a dressing by combining 2 tablespoons honey with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar. Whisk in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and toss with salad just before serving. Garnish salads with 4 oz. of local goat cheese and serve.

Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected].