In the Village, the tree-lined blocks and street-side gardens are exploding in a Technicolor spring. Ambling through the St. Luke’s Garden on Hudson Street means being assaulted by the radiance of violently red and purple tulips and brushing shoulders with demure ivory-skinned camellias. Despite the keen loss of the shade of the old cherry tree, the garden is at its best. The hues and textures are good enough to eat.
In an attempt to recreate the glow of spring light bouncing through the multicolored foliage, I raided the fridge and pantry for culinary color: a few petals of crunchy piquant shallots, tart pickled daikon radish, some sweet garland chrysanthemum leaves, clusters of mushroom confit, juicy marinated cherry tomatoes, tender young asparagus, silky slices of prosciutto, and inky curls of squid ink pasta. Happily, there is also a backyard to forage through for chives, thyme, basil, wood sorrel, and edible flowers. Toss everything together with some herb-infused olive oil and a light sherry vinegar for a bursting bowl of spring.
There is no hard-and-fast recipe for capturing this fleeting season. Spring is a sprightly tumble of fresh colors, bright flavors, and tenderly crisp textures. It is a good time to try seasonal produce that pop up only for a week or two at the ethnic grocers and the greenmarkets. There are fleshy and fuzzy green almonds at the Middle Eastern stores, bamboo shoots and young ginger at the Asian groceries, and fresh mushrooms of all shapes and sizes at the farmers’ markets.
Spring produce is succulent and subtle, so no need to manhandle it. This is an opportunity to appreciate the purity of the flavors and textures. Most young leafy greens don’t require cooking (unless you are using nettles!) and the stalky vegetables only need a quick blanch in salted water. As for assembly, be as carefree or fastidious as you would plant a garden. I like my greenery slightly overgrown and messy, but not so dense as to obscure all light. The simplest way is to achieve the colorful lightness is hand-toss everything so each bite is a new variation of crunchy, juicy, sweet, and savory. If in a more exacting mood, compose and pack everything neatly in a bento box for a picnic out in the garden.