Seasonal spring fare in the Hudson Valley

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(Photo by Jennifer Brizzi)

Anticipating all that appears as the earth comes back to life at this time of year, we welcome the transition from frozen, packaged, processed, dried and far-flung foodstuffs to the fresh and new foods of springtime, Some items spring forth on the plates dished out by local restaurants. Some come from our own gardens or the greenhouses or row covers of local farms. Others shoot up in the woods and fields, waiting for the eager forager.

Spring is a rebirth, a new year, foodwise. Not only do we welcome back the familiar harbingers, but our favorite eateries, food markets and food artisans also bring forth exciting new things they’ve been working on.

Fortunately,. a lot of that spring bounty works well for the thorough cleansing our bodies crave at this time of year, as tonics that detoxify our blood, liver and kidneys, skin and respiratory system. Although those systems detoxify themselves naturally, the boost from spring greens — like dandelion greens and asparagus — helps make us closer to good as new.

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Dandelions are probably the best in that regard, whether foraged or the cultivated kind bought from a market. Not only diuretic and good at flushing us out, they have more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more potassium than bananas. and more beta-carotene than carrots.

Asparagus often makes an appearance on Easter and Passover tables. Other early crops like artichokes, radishes, garlic scapes, fiddleheads and early peas make an appearance in markets and the menus of our local restaurants. At The Village Tea Room at 10 Plattekill Avenue in New Paltz, for instance, a recent menu offered cod cakes with roasted local asparagus and lemon herb mayo. At Crave at 129 Washington Street in Poughkeepsie you’ll find grilled asparagus with preserved lemon and soft poached egg as a “small plate.” During the recent Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, Diamond Mills at 25 South Partition Street in Saugerties paid homage to spring with many spring ingredients, like an asparagus risotto with crispy Kurobuta pork jowls, preserved lemon, pecorino aioli and cured egg yolk. The spring menu also offered potato ravioli with nettles, morels, spring garlic and toasted hazelnuts, as well as a dish of pan-seared cod cheeks with green peas, asparagus, baby carrot purée, fiddlehead ferns and ramp emulsion.

For foragers, spring is a heavenly time, with all outdoors ripe for picking nettles, wood sorrel, poke and the now über-trendy ramp, all delicious. For those who’d rather have these goodies come to them, ramps at least are found in markets and on menus, and in zillions of imaginative preparations at Hudson’s annual ramp festival (as of this writing the date has not been set, but it’s usually early May). Although summer and fall are generally mushroom seasons, the elusive, scrumptious morel is an ephemeral treat that shows up all too briefly in spring.

Herb growers love the way the versatile chive shoots up before anything else. At the new Indoor Organic Gardens of Poughkeepsie it’s spring year-round. They grow luscious microgreens of herbs and vegetables that pack stupendous amounts of nutrition and flavor into a tiny package.

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The Bear Cafe. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

Proteins associated with the season include eggs, spring lamb, goat and shad. The layers in the henhouse who may have slowed down production in the colder months are producing in earnest again. Lamb is found on many an Easter table, a tradition that originated with the first Passover when a sacrificial lamb was eaten with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Mediterranean: The Beautiful Cookbook by Joyce Goldstein (HarperCollins, 1994) offers regional variations on a classic spring preparation from that part of the world that I’ve cooked many times to celebrate spring: lamb or kid (or chicken or rabbit) with artichokes, peas, fava beans and/or asparagus, plus fresh dill, mint, marjoram or parsley (or a combo) and an egg-lemon sauce. Whichever the variation, it never fails to delight.

Unfortunately the shad is no longer available for harvesting. Years ago I could buy it fresh or smoked from a shad shack down the road, and the area abounded with seasonal shad festivals.

Before plum and peach and apple seasons come our spring fruits: strawberries and rhubarb — which luckily complement each other, in that rhubarb pie. Rhubarb is technically a vegetable. You’ll also find it in savory preparations like The Village Tea Room’s pan-seared salmon with rhubarb and red cabbage braise and Diamond Mills rabbit sausage or Hudson Valley foie gras with sweet and sour rhubarb, honey ginger chips, chervil and green garlic puree. Diamond Mills restaurant week menu also offered as dessert a lime curd with rhubarb granite, strawberries, basil syrup and pink grapefruit sorbet.

We know it’s spring when all these good things pop up on menus. We find them again in the markets, reappearing like long-lost friends. Olde Hudson Market in Hudson is one such source. Mother Earth’s Storehouse’s stores in Kingston, Saugerties and Poughkeepsie are good spots for plenty of spring produce — and all organic — as are Adams’ four stores in Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Wappingers and Newburgh.

When Del’s opens in Rhinebeck (mid-March every year, so relatively early), you know that winter’s over, or will be soon. Our many local farmers markets and farmstands open, one by one by one, until there is bounty at every turn. When the food trucks come back to Hudson, it’s the same kind of thing. Spring means finally filling our bellies with the wonderful foods that we’ve missed so much since last spring. A magical time indeed.

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