Spring has officially sprung at Viva Tastings. The kitchen is humming with all the excitement and promise of a new growing season, and we have been busy at work crafting dishes that will make our first fresh ingredients of the season sing.
Our friends at Marvin’s Produce will be supplying us with two of the spring’s most treasured gems: asparagus tips and ramps (a.k.a wild leeks).
The asparagus most of us know and love (Asparagus officinalis) is actually the first growth shoots of a flowering plant from the lily family. It can grow upwards of 150cm (59 inches) tall and produces small red berries. Through selective breeding the asparagus we know has become thick and fleshy, but the wild form of asparagus is much thinner and still eaten in marshy European countries like Poland and Russia.
In North America we eat more of the familiar green spears, however in recent years white asparagus has become more popular as we have seen it creep onto restaurant menus. The white shoots are no different than the green, and the white colour is achieved by continually earthing the tops of the shoots as they grow so that they are not exposed to sunlight.
So what to do with good old Ontario asparagus once you get it home? Well, what can’t you do? Steam it, slab it with butter and, if you’re feeling really fancy, a little shaved Parmesan or Piave and you’ve got yourself the perfect side. Or make a risotto. Or use it in summer couscous or quinoa salads. Use it in pastas. Use it in omelettes, or with lemon juice and capers in egg salad. Curry it and use it in veggie sushi. The possibilities are endless.
At Viva, with a mind towards preserving the experience of seasonal Ontario asparagus all year round, our favourite preparation is pickling the tips (recipe below). Marvin provides us with the clippings of the first tips that make their way out of the ground, and we pickle them with a combination of dried peppers, dill seeds, whole mustard sees and garlic and vinegar. You can enjoy these pickled tips added to salads of greens, grains or pasta for a little acidic zip or use them as a perfect accompaniment to cheese and charcuterie.
And, of course, ramps have been all the rage for the last few years. Also known as wild leeks, ramps (Allium tricoccum) are a member of the onion family. They look kind of like scallions with their white bulb at the bottom, but have a purplish stem and green leaves at the top (all parts are edible). Unlike scallions, ramps are incredibly flavourful: think garlic meets onion, with a spicy kick.
These flavour combinations make ramps a great addition to almost any dish. Raw they can be added to salads, made into an aioli, or eaten a la North Carolina where they are traditionally enjoyed with bacon, potatoes and scrambled eggs.
The ramps we source were foraged by the farmer and owner of Marvin’s Produce himself, Marvin Creighton, and are from the forests of Waterdown, Ontario.
Harvesting wild leeks is legal in Ontario, but commercial trade is illegal in Quebec and personal foraging is regulated to 200g per season due to the severe over-harvesting abuses they have experienced in recent years. Responsible harvesting means that no more than 5% – 10% of a patch is taken to ensure it can regenerate.
We will be showcasing the flavour-punch ramps can provide in a beautiful pesto that works wonderfully stirred into soups, salads and sauces, or used on sandwiches.
What better way to welcome spring than with some beautiful (and tasty) fresh greenery?
Viva la primavera!
Pickled Asparagus Tips
Servings/Yield: 8 pint jars
12 lbs. of asparagus tips – washed and trimmed to fit your jars
8 smalled dried peppers
4 tablespoons dill seed
4 teaspoons whole mustard seed
8 cloves garlic
5 cups distilled white vinegar
5 cups water
½ cup canning salt
1. Place 1 hot pepper, 1/2 tsp dill, 1/2 tsp mustard seed and 1 clove garlic in each jar. Firmly pack asparagus vertically into jars, don’t force them. Trim when necessary and leave 1/2 inch headspace.
2. Combine vinegar, water and salt. Heat to boiling. Pour boiling mixture over asparagus spears, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Release any air bubbles with a plastic or wooden utensil
3. Seal and process in water bath canner for 10 minutes. Start timing when water starts to boil.
4. Let sit for 2 weeks before sampling. Lasts for at least 1 year stored in a dark cool spot
You can find Marvin’s fresh seasonal produce and our yummy preparations of his produce at both the Marvin’s Produce and Viva Tastings stalls every Saturday at the St. Lawrence Farmer’s Market (92 Front St. E.).
Photos by Lauren Wilson