Spring is right around the corner. Temperatures are warming up, and produce is starting to sprout out of the defrosting ground. While most people may be excited for warmer weather, chefs around Chicago are excited for a different reason—they cannot wait to get their hands on all the fresh in-season produce and to start creating new dishes with them. But, you don’t have to be a professional to appreciate the offerings that come with spring. Here are some fun spring ingredients to keep an eye out for this season.
The arrival of spring officially marks the beginning of ramp season. Scientifically called allium tricoccum, ramps are a North American species of wild onion. With bright green stalks and long leaves, ramps bring a delicious onion-garlic flavor to any dish. Comparatively, ramps possess a stronger flavor than leeks, and they are more pungent and garlicky than scallions, making them an ingredient that chefs love to work with.
This vegetable is especially popular and widespread in the Chicagoland area for one specific reason—the root word of “Chicago” comes from the Algonquin word meaning “onion field.” Ramps are pungent, curly onions that are suitable in any dish that you are looking to upgrade with a punch of flavor. Looking for an easy way to use this produce? Incorporate this pungent, curly onion into a pesto for some serious heat and unique flavor.
Stinging nettles may be an intimidating ingredient at first glance, but they are actually a great element to cook with. Formally called urtica dioica, stinging nettles are herbs with incredible health benefits—they contain many nutrients such as vitamin A and C, calcium, iron, potassium essential amino acids, and more. Additionally, stinging nettles are known to reduce inflammation naturally, lower blood pressure, and aid in blood sugar control.
Stinging nettles are covered in tiny hairs that are incredibly painful when it comes into contact with skin, but if prepared correctly, they elevate a dish to a whole another level.
These herbs can be found all over the state of Illinois. When picking and preparing the nettles, it is crucial that gloves are used to avoid the negative effects of the nettles. However, once the nettles are cooked, they lose their sting, making it completely safe to eat. Stinging nettles often serve as a spinach substitute, and are also commonly found in pastas, soups, and stews.
If you’re looking for a new way to incorporate these unique herbs, here is a delicious Nettle Ragout recipe to try out:
What you will need:
200g Sliced Artichokes
100g Sliced Onions
20g Minced Garlic
80g Stinging Nettles (washed)
50g White Wine
Heat a sauté pan on low. Add 1T of butter. Add artichokes until they bead with liquid and start to sweat. Add onion and garlic until all are tender (but not brown). Add white wine to deglaze the pan. Fold in Stinging Nettles and keep on heat for an additional 2-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Add chili flakes to taste for a little spice. At the Albert, we enjoy this dish with a house made pasta. Or, add a cheese like Parmesan or Ricotta and put on toast for a different flavor experience. Looking for a fun new breakfast dish? Spoon this concoction over some eggs in the morning. With the versatility of these flavors, you can’t go wrong.
There you have it! While these ingredients might seem intimidating to use at first, they are actually super easy to incorporate into everyday dishes. These spring offerings are guaranteed to elevate your cooking, while staying true to Chicago roots. But keep in mind that these ingredients are highly sought after, and they’ll be gone before you know it. So get out there and try it for yourself—whether you are cooking at home or visiting a restaurant that uses these seasonal ingredients, you are guaranteed to enjoy the experience no matter what.