Peas are a cool-weather vegetable, making spring their prime season. English shell peas are the classic peas-in-a-pod—they must be removed from their tough pod and cooked briefly in water or steamed. Flat-pod snow peas and sugar snap peas, on the other hand, are entirely edible, pod and all. Buy peas with firm, crisp pods and no wilting or shriveling. With English and sugar snap varieties, the peas inside shouldn’t be so big that the pod looks “lumpy,” an indication that they’re overly mature and not as sweet as younger peas. It’s best to eat fresh peas the same day you buy them but if you must store them, keep in the vegetable bin and don’t wash until you’re ready to cook. Snow and sugar snap peas should be “stringed” before cooking to remove the fibrous strings found on the seams on both sides of the pod: pinch the tip or end of the pea taking care not to remove it completely from the pod then pull the string down the seams.
Snow and sugar snap peas are delicious raw or cooked in a side dish, soup, or stir-fry; add fresh shell peas (simmer them briefly in Swanson® stock or broth or a touch of water first) to pasta or risotto.
Although asparagus is available year-round, it’s at its best now through the end of May. Both fat and thin spears are great, but make sure they’re uniformly sized for even cooking. See that the tips are tightly closed and dry, and that the bases aren’t shriveled—ideally, asparagus bundles should be stored standing in a bit of cold water. At home, store asparagus either in a bit of shallow water in the fridge or in the vegetable bin wrapped in paper towels. And don’t wash it until just before you’re ready to cook: water causes the tips to deteriorate. Before you cook the asparagus, snap off the woody ends of each spear: simply bend each one until the bottom breaks off. It’ll snap at the precise place where the ends are tough and fibrous.
You know spring has sprung when the bright red, celery-like stalks of rhubarb arrive in stores and markets. Also called the “pie plant,” rhubarb is botanically related to buckwheat and is actually a vegetable, but because it’s commonly used in pies, cobblers and crisps, most people mistakenly categorize it as a fruit. Choose stalks that are firm and crisp with no signs of wilting or spoilage—depending on the variety, the rhubarb may be deep ruby red or be streaked with green. Both are similar in flavor and can be used interchangeably. Because the large leaves of the rhubarb plant are toxic, they’re always removed before being sold in stores. If you get your rhubarb from a home gardener, remove and discard the leaves if they’re still attached.
Yes, strawberries are available most of the year, but April and May are when they’re at their peak. Choose deep red, fragrant berries (smell the packaging—if there’s no scent, don’t buy them) with no signs of bruising, leaking juice, mold or deterioration. Avoid those with pale white or green “shoulders” at the stem, indicating that they were harvested before they were ripe. Strawberries don’t ripen after they’re picked so it’s important that they spend as much time on the vine as possible for the best flavor. They spoil rapidly so use them as soon as possible after purchasing. If you must store them, line a baking sheet with barely damp paper towels, arrange the unwashed berries stem-side down on the tray and refrigerate for two to three days. Wash just before using them.
Strawberries shine in desserts and other fruit-based recipes like smoothies. But try them in sandwiches, on French toast or sliced in a spinach salad tossed with toasted almonds, thinly sliced red onion and poppy seed vinaigrette.
These recipes may call for frozen peas but don’t be afraid to swap them out for fresh peas in the spring when they're in season!
Fresh asparagus is sprouting up everywhere! It’s one of the first vegetables to pop up early in spring. Pick up a bunch today!