In Italy, it’s said that you will know the season by what’s on your plate.
And, as days grow longer, more Long Island chefs are focusing on what’s available and what’s soon to arrive at the local markets.
Spring is really the best food season for a chef,” said Gregory Kearns, executive chef of Copperhill in Williston Park. But, he added, “We’re still waiting for all the fun gifts, like ramps and rhubarb.
Spring is also the season of artichokes and asparagus, fava beans and fiddlehead ferns, peas, morels and those ramps, or wild leeks. Baby beets and cabbage abound, along with new garlic and, of course, spring onions.
For chef Mitchell SuDock of Hendrick’s Tavern in Roslyn, a dish that singularly expresses spring is simply “morels and asparagus on toast,” with chanterelles eventually succeeding the morels.
The season also welcomes a big catch of seafood. En route is shad roe, said Charlie Manwaring, owner of the Southold Fish Market. The bounty from local waters already is headed to the table with flounder, fluke, weakfish, porgy, and sea trout.
Manwaring, whose market also is home to a casual restaurant, fries light, airy “porgy puffs” in a light beer batter, sautés shad roe with bacon and onions, and pairs weakfish with asparagus “and a little garlic on top.”
You also should expect the ongoing enjoyment of striped bass, blowfish and blackfish, skate and swordfish, more bluefish, and the arrival of soft-shell crabs.
Spring lamb is finding its way into the kitchen, though diners can order lamb year-round. And pasta primavera, despite its statement of spring, is generally prepared with whatever vegetables are available.
If you’re looking for that taste of spring, here are some of the ways you’ll find it in Nassau and Suffolk.
Young, spring beets are a colorful addition to any table. They can be boiled, steamed, roasted, fried, pickled. Beets and ricotta can boost a pasta; complement mozzarella, burrata and feta cheese; add color and flavor to hummus; and find immortality in borscht, either hot or cold. But beets truly spread across countless menus one way — in a salad. Beets shine with fennel and orange, with mint and nuts such as pistachio and almond, and in their popular way, with goat cheese and seasonal greens. Chef Stephen Gallagher of The Trattoria (532 N. Country Rd., St. James) offers a beet salad with farro, the nutty and chewy whole grain, plus carrots and peas for a springtime trifecta. More info: 631-584-3518, thetrattoriarestaurant.com
Peas and leeks
Spring peas are the essential seasonal vegetable. They get your attention on their own with butter and a bit of salt, maybe accented with mint. Or try peas with pasta in a light tomato sauce; in a risotto on their own or with asparagus; elevating a salad with spring onions or ramps; and enriching a frittata. Leeks star on their own poached, marinated, and served with a vinaigrette. Grilled leeks and braised leeks complement beef, pork and chicken. You can stuff leeks with a favorite cheese. And leeks are major players in light, springy potato-leek soup and leek-and-fennel soup. Peas and leeks come together easily, too. They do exactly that at Hendrick’s Tavern (1305 Old Northern Blvd., Roslyn) where chef Michael SuDock prepares roasted black bass with spring pea broth, crisp leeks and spinach. More info: 516-621-1200, pollrestaurants.com
Carrots go from snack to appetizer, soup, salad, main course, side dish and dessert. Have them raw, shredded, vinaigrette, caramelized, glazed, roasted, pretty much any way you like. Although carrots can be found year-round, a local, sweet baby carrot will differ from the hefty ones chopped to end up in a cold-weather stew. But you’ll always get your beta-carotene. Whether your vision will improve is another matter. Chef Peter Mistretta of Perennial (990 Franklin Ave., Garden City) uses purple and gold carrots, roasts them to sweetness, and piles them on pureed goat cheese before showering them with hazelnuts. More info: 516-743-9213, perennialrestaurant.com
At the Stone Creek Inn (405 Montauk Hwy., East Quogue), chef Christian Mir serves a spring vegetable fricassee, with sugar peas, asparagus, spinach, cauliflower, and minicorn lightly sauteed in butter to accompany that warm-weather favorite, soft-shell crab. More info: 631-653-6770, stonecreekinn.com
Green or white, thin or thick, asparagus stars whether grilled, oven-roasted, steamed, or pickled. It’s a great ingredient in a risotto, a frittata, a tart, a salad and a creamy soup. Melt Parmesan cheese on the shaved spears. One of the more creative ways to relish asparagus is as a pizza topping. An outstanding asparagus pizza, with cheese baked into the crust, the asparagus cut like little logs, and crunchy, seasoned bread crumbs on the whole square pie, is made at Gino’s Pizzeria & Ristorante (628 Willis Ave., Williston Park). More info: 516-746-2860, ginosofwillistonpark.com
Enjoy it raw, trimmed of its harder, outermost petals, and sliced in a salad. Globe artichokes may be steamed, their petals trimmed and dipped into a favorite dressing. And, if you trim an artichoke close to the heart, slice away hard parts of the stem, and scrape out the choke, you’ll be ready to fry it, making carciofi alla giudia, the crisp, sunflower-like classic associated with the Jewish quarter of Rome. But the most popular preparation here may be stuffed artichoke. Once more, trimming is necessary, to create the flatter top and remove the stem — though a trimmed stem is delicious steamed and dressed. Typical stuffing between the leaves includes bread crumbs, grated cheese, thinly sliced garlic, oregano, flat-leaf parsley, even sliced olives and prosciutto. The stuffed artichoke is a mainstay at many Italian restaurants, including the breadcumb-stuffed version at Sergio’s (5422 Merrick Rd., Massapequa). More info: 516-541-6554, sergiositalianrestaurant.com