It’s spring and our world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful, at last. The lettuce plants in my garden are pushing out leaf after crisp-frilled leaf for joy of this cool, cloudy, rainy weather. The sugar-snap peas are climbing the trellis, and a new crop of Bright Lights chard is adding its brilliant rainbow colors to the surrounding greens in every shade from emerald to chartreuse.
Much of the charm of the spring garden lies in its promise, in the anticipation of delicate, de-lovely tastes to come. The pink-and-white apple blossoms promise apple pies come autumn; the green leaves crowning the hills of the potato plants mark the treasure of new potatoes soon to be discovered below. But one short-season treat is ready right now.
Green garlic is our very particular, very Nor-Cal herald of spring, much as ramps (also a member of the allium family, along with onions, shallots, and leeks) are in the Northeast. But unlike ramps, a wild plant that must be foraged from the spring woods, green garlic is a domestic, farmable crop, common at farmers’ markets in springtime. It’s nothing more than the early shoots of the garlic plant, harvested before the familiar cloven bulb has formed at the base. Right now, the tall, leafy shoots are still pale green, with a texture somewhere between scallion and lemongrass. The scent is garlicky but the flavor is mild, making it a perfect addition to pizzas, pastas, and egg dishes. Trim off the roots and the top few inches of leaf, then slice and use much like a tougher, more pungent scallion.
And speaking of eggs, spring’s tender new greens, both domestic and wild, are a lovely complement to eggs any way. Chopped and sautéed in butter, spinach makes a fine nest for a poached duck egg. Finely sliced asparagus, a bit of poached or smoked salmon and some fresh ricotta, a lovely omelet filling. Nettles, steamed in a splash of water until just wilted (and no longer sting-able), can be drained, squeezed of any excess water, chopped finely and stirred into a scramble.