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Seasonal produce popping up on menus

SHAPE April 2017

Chefs, restaurateurs freshen their menu offerings with spring fruits and vegetables.

Chefs and restaurateurs seeking to provide their customers with vibrant, healthful choices after a long, cold winter are devising menu selections based on fresh spring fruits and vegetables.

Experts agree that a renewed focus on fresh seasonal produce is a smart menu message to send to winter-weary guests.

“Fresh is the most powerful marketing term on menus for any diner who is looking for a more healthful choice,” says Amy Myrdal Miller, founder and president of Farmer's Daughter Consulting in Carmichael, California. “And all diners perceive anything on a menu marketed as fresh as higher quality. Seasonal doesn’t rank as high as fresh, but when the two terms are combined you’ll capture the attention of many diners.”

According to research firm Datassential, the term “seasonal” is found on 41 percent of all menus, an increase of 15 percent since 2012. Claire Conaghan, senior account manager at Datassential says “seasonal fruit” as a term is found on 15 percent of menus, up 16 percent since 2012, while “seasonal vegetable” is found on 13 percent of menus, an increase of 12 percent since 2012.

Savvy chefs and operators know that seasonal produce is good for the food cost too, because it is less expensive during peak times, says Dale Miller, president of Master Chef Consulting Group in Clifton Park, New York. “Also, produce procured at its peak has more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and flavor than produce harvested before it’s ripe and gassed during long distance shipping. Chefs don’t have to work as hard to coax the flavors out as much as they do when handling foods that are out of season.”

Myrdal Miller says spring can be a particularly good season to emphasize the use of fresh, seasonal produce on menus. “When diners are weary of winter, promoting fresh produce on menus can bring some joy and excitement,” she says. “Items like fresh spring peas, rhubarb — the first 'fruit' to appear in gardens in the Midwest — or tender spring greens can be welcome [menu] additions.”

Some popular spring fruits and vegetables include:

Apricots: A good source of vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber, apricots begin to show up on menus in late April and early May. Chefs can use them in homemade apricot jam and cookies. They also are welcome additions to chicken and pork dishes — for example, rosemary-flavored pork loin stuffed with roasted garlic, apricots and cranberries served with a port wine sauce.

Artichokes: Artichokes are in peak season from March through May. They have been shown to be a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, folate and magnesium. This edible thistle is also a versatile ingredient, appearing in such dishes as artichoke and spinach dip with pita or breadsticks; panini with artichoke hearts, spinach and red peppers; and artichoke and arugula pizza with prosciutto and mozzarella.

Asparagus: Asparagus is on the menu, so it must be spring. A menu-friendly favorite, asparagus is at its peak beginning in April. Green or white asparagus contain vitamins A, K and C, and folate. Beginning in early spring, look to the menu for the likes of cream of asparagus soup; roasted asparagus and bacon flatbread pizzas; asparagus and chicken stir-fry; and vegetable risotto with asparagus, zucchini, fava beans, snap peas and morels.

Fava beans: Peak season for this flat legume runs from late March through May. Fava beans are a good source of vitamin B1, fiber, iron, folate and manganese. Menu ideas include Moroccan fava bean and vegetable soup; fava beans with red onion and mint salad; and farfalle with fava beans, morel mushrooms and mascarpone.

Fennel: Fennel is good source of vitamin C, potassium and fiber, and contains a blend of phytonutrients that make it a powerful antioxidant. It can be found in pan-roasted black cod, melted fennel, pee wee potatoes, artichoke and fava bean stufato; and pan-seared fennel pollen-dusted diver scallops with minted fava hummus and carrot custard.

Fiddlehead ferns: Tasting similar to asparagus — another spring vegetable — fiddlehead ferns go well in soups, salads and with pastas. They contain vitamins B2, B3 and C, along with iron, niacin potassium, and manganese. Try fiddlehead ferns in an omelet with bacon, chives and onion, or in a salad with smoked salmon.

Green peas: Green peas are best in the spring when they can be removed fresh from their pods. They are a good source of vitamin C, iron and manganese. They are great in such dishes as ricotta gnocchi with peas, asparagus and morels; fettuccine with spring peas and a light herb butter sauce; and scallops with pea puree and vermouth sauce.

Morel mushrooms: With their distinctive honeycomb cap, morels pop up in kitchens beginning in early April. They are a source of vitamin D, copper, iron, manganese and phosphorous. Menu ideas include morel mushroom quiche with broccoli and leeks; morels and spring onions in cream sauce; and pasta with morels, ramps and peas.

Rhubarb: Rhubarb appears early in the spring, but only the thick stalks can be eaten — the leaves contain oxalic acid and can be toxic. Rhubarb is a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins C and K, and calcium, potassium and manganese. Menus feature rhubarb served in a galette with homemade vanilla ice cream; in a tarte Tatin with strawberry-basil sorbet and a pistachio tuile; and in marmalade as an accompaniment to grilled salmon.

Sorrel: An early spring green with a lemony flavor, sorrel is a good source of vitamins A and C, magnesium and manganese. It is a good accompaniment for salmon but also appears in French sorrel soup and a sorrel onion tart.

Vidalia onions: Grown in Georgia, sweet Vidalia onions begin their season in mid-April. They are a good source of vitamin C and chromium. Eaten raw in salads, they also can be served in a Vidalia onion tart; or in a steak, roasted tomato and caramelized onion sandwich.

All things considered, spring is a great time to maximize the use of seasonal fruits and vegetables.

“Spring is a fantastic time of year for chefs to focus on fresh produce on their menus. It is an exciting time for celebrating the fresh, bold flavors of the season while keeping color, flavor, and textures front and center,” Miller says. “Fortunately, the consumer benefits from this, because most quality restaurants today are seasonally driven.”



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