Fresh for the Season: NJ Chefs’ Favorite Spring Veggies

Man's hands washing asparagus. Asparagus under flow of water.

While we’re solidly into the season, it finally feels like spring has (really, truly, definitely) sprung in the Garden State. Here are the fresh veggies (and an herb) chefs across the state look forward to serving up! Spoiler alert: It’s good to be asparagus this season.

JR Belt, Executive Chef at  Catherine Lombardi
3 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick
“Asparagus is my second most favorite harbinger of spring. It’s best served with a German Riesling, of which we have the best list in the Northeast!”

Asparagus ravioli with pesto
Asparagus ravioli with pesto, Catherine Lombardi

JR Belt, Executive Chef at Stage Left (same chef, different restaurant!)
5 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick
“Ramps and asparagus! We serve grilled ramps with steaks. Just a touch of olive oil and then a few minutes on the wood burning grill. We pickle as many ramps as we can because we love to eat them all summer long. We also make them into a pesto for our Wagyu flatiron steaks.”

Wagyu flatiron steaks, Stage Left, Spring Ingredients, Jersey Bites
Wagyu flatiron steaks, Stage Left

Anthony Bucco, Executive Chef at Restaurant Latour
1 Wild Turkey Way, Hamburg
“My favorite spring ingredients have to be asparagus and rhubarb. With asparagus, I’ll shave it and make a salad with pecorino, toasted almonds, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. I like to simply pickle rhubarb and add it to either a sweet or savory dish.”

Anthony Bucco
Anthony Bucco

Michel Desjardins, Chef De Cuisine at Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas
70 Kingsland Road, Clifton
“Spring sparks the beginning of the local farming season, with early vegetables including asparagus, fava beans, peas and spring onions, so we focused on incorporating those fresh flavors into our new seasonal menu. Two of my favorite dishes include our Casarecce con Pesto, made with red bell pepper, sugar snap peas, white beans, leeks and broccoli pesto, and our Risotto ai Primavera, which stars asparagus pea puree, lending great flavor and color to the dish.”

Casarecce con Pesto
Casarecce con pesto at Spuntino

Jeremy Einhorn, Executive Chef at Blue Pig Tavern
200 Congress Hall, Cape May
“Garlic scapes are one of the first fun ingredients that pop up at Beach Plum Farm in early spring. They are the green shoots that grow from various types of hard neck garlic. They have a mild garlicky flavor and while their season is short lived they are incredibly versatile and easy to use. In the Blue Pig Tavern, I like to make garlic scape pesto to serve with local scallops or grill them like ramps. In the Boiler Room, we throw them on top of our artisan pizzas raw and let them char in our brick oven. Delicious!”

Robbie Felice, Executive Chef/Partner at Viaggio Ristorante
1055 Hamburg Turnpike, Wayne
“I am obsessed with ramps. When I was in culinary school in Hyde Park, I used to forage for ramps and sell them to sophisticated restaurants in Manhattan.” 

Ramp tagliatelle with Parmigiano Reggiano at Viaggio

Leia Gaccione, Chef/Owner at south+pine american eatery
90 South Street, Morristown
“In February, the winter blues start to hit me pretty hard and I begin to dream of all things spring. For me, spring is green, bright, and everything is just starting to come to life. Peas are one of my favorite ingredients during this time of year. There are so many varieties, from English peas to sugar snaps to pea tendrils, and they all have their own personality. We use sugar snaps, snow peas, and locally grown pea tendrils in our golden tile fish: it’s spring come to life in this light and flavorful dish!”

Bryan Gregg, Chef/Owner at Tastes by Bryan Gregg
235 Prospect Avenue, West Orange
“Spring is an exciting time of year for food. The mixture of first crops of the year, as well as the beginning of foraging season, makes it so easy to be creative. The first asparagus of the season always excites me. There are so many different ways to incorporate it into a dish or just make it the focal point. My favorite dish so far this season is asparagus and egg yolk sauce.”

Asparagus and egg yolk, Seasons, Jersey Bites
Asparagus and egg yolk sauce at Tastes by Bryan Gregg

Ilson Goncalves, Executive Chef/Owner at Samba Montclair
7 Park Street, Montclair
“This spring, I’m excited to introduce a primavera version of my signature yuca gnocchi dish, using the freshest seasonal vegetables. I’m currently in love with roasted red radishes. Roasting takes an edge off the bite and they add great color and pop in your mouth. I’m obsessed!”

Ilson Goncalves, Samba Montclair, Jersey Bites
Ilson Goncalves

Eric LeVine, Chef/Owner at Morris Tap & Grill and Paragon Tap & Table
500 Route 10 West, Randolph (Morris Tap & Grill)
77 Central Avenue, Clark (Paragon Tap & Table)
“Asparagus is my favorite spring vegetable and avocado is running a strong second these days. We feature asparagus in a few dishes at both places at this time of year. We have a quinoa salad that has shaved asparagus, spicy avocado with baby spinach and a light lemon oil. We also feature asparagus in our gnocchi dish with asparagus, rosemary garlic chicken and mushroom sauce.” 

Gnocchi with asparagus, Morris Tap & Grill, Eric Levine, Jersey Bites
Gnocchi with asparagus, Morris Tap & Grill

Josh Sauer, Executive Chef at Avenue
23 Ocean Ave, Long Branch
“To me, spring means seafood and that West Coast Halibut, especially Alaskan Halibut, are in season. At Avenue, we serve this terrific halibut with spring vegetables —this year the fish is plated with fresh spring morels, minted pea puree and heirloom carrots.”

Marlyn Schlossbach of the Marilyn Schlossbach Group
Asbury Park, Normandy Beach, Rumson
“Garlic makes the world go round! The real onset of spring means the freshly grown garlic snapes – the flavor is unbeatable and the perfect ingredient to get a taste of the season. We love working with Merrick Farm’s harvest to bring this ingredient into all of our restaurants.”

Jason Scott, CEO and Co-Founder of The Taco Truck
Hoboken, Princeton & Morristown
“Zucchini! And naturally, I put it in a taco! Our spring seasonal Verduras—veggie—taco is packed with zucchini, squash and bell pepper. Julienne zucchini, squash, and bell pepper into 1/8-inch slices and mix together with salt, pepper and chile de arbol and grill. Lightly grill stone-ground corn tortillas and top with the mix, black beans, chipotle salsa and lime-pickled onions. Best enjoyed with a cold cerveza or an adult aguas frescas, which is aguas frecas plus tequila.” 

Veggie taco, the Taco Truck, Jersey Bites
Veggie taco, the Taco Truck

Rob Ubhaus, Executive Chef/Owner at Redux
Located at 3 Central Avenue, Madison
“My favorite spring ingredient is local Jersey asparagus. It’s an extremely versatile vegetable that can be used for soups, as an accompaniment to fish or meat, or it can be the star of the dish. A classic dish that I like to serve is Local Jersey Asparagus with Béarnaise Sauce & Lemon Zest. It’s a simple way to highlight the freshness of the Asparagus while still remaining grounded in classic technique.” 

Local Jersey asparagus with Béarnaise sauce and lemon zest

Mark Ulrich, Executive Chef at Cecil Creek Farm
73 Democrat Road, Mickleton
“I can’t wait for Cecil Creek’s own strawberries. I like to use them in a salad composed of organic red leaf tossed with our strawberries, goat cheese, walnuts in a lemon-honey vinaigrette.”

Strawberry salad, Cecil Creek Farm

Karen Voller, Chef de Cuisine at Restaurant Nicholas
Route 160 Route 35 South, Red Bank
“Spring asparagus. Here at Nicholas, we have an asparagus dish that if we were to create a “greatest hits” dinner, it would likely be at the top of our list. We use asparagus picked at its peak season and lightly poach it, we then make a rich butter sauce out of its own juice which in turn creates a super decadent glaze. On top of the poached asparagus, we make a seasonal mushroom ragout from locally foraged mushrooms, fresh cream and aged creamed sherry. The mushroom ragout is later finished with whipped hollandaise which brings even more full-flavored richness to our dish. It’s an absolute showstopper and one of our most requested menu items.”

Kwame Williams, Chef at Vital Dining
387 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair
“As cliché as it might seem, my favorite ingredient spring ingredient is asparagus. I love when I start to see asparagus at the farmer’s markets and on my order sheets again. In the kitchen, it’s true: these are the first sign of spring and the indicator of the abundance of produce that is soon to follow. Currently, we’re serving a brown rice risotto special with spring asparagus. You just can’t go wrong preparing it—nothing says spring like asparagus.”

Brown rice risotto special with spring asparagus, Vital

Kate Winslow and Guy Ambrosino, authors of ONIONS ETCETERA: The Essential Allium Cookbook
“We’re always excited to get our hands on green garlic, the thinnings that are pulled to make room for other garlic plants to grow to maturity. The juicy bulbs usually haven’t fully divided into cloves, which means they’re a snap to chop. Green garlic makes for a lovely, gently flavored mayonnaise. We also love making Caesar salad with this milder garlic. In addition to the dressing—heavy on the anchovies!—chop some of the tender stem and toss it with the oily croutons as they toast.”

And here’s the word from Stockton Market!
Colleen Christi, Chef at Bread and Spoon 
“On the savory side, we love working with spring garlic. Garlic is usually planted before the first frost, then harvested late the following summer; but if you pull garlic in the spring and early summer, you get something wonderful: a plant that hasn’t formed a bulb yet, still green, with a mild, fresh, sweet taste. The flavor of garlic with slightly less commitment. It’s a beautiful addition to cold salads incorporating other spring veggies, like peas and asparagus, or sauteed to add flavor to sauces and dressings.
On the sweet side—well, really more tangy—we love rhubarb! Rhubarb kind of looks and crunches like a reddish celery- but its flavor is sharp, tangy and delicious. It’s often combined as a wonderful balance to the sweeter strawberry, and we love to feature it in our vegan and gluten-free pies, scones and crumbles. It also makes a wonderfully tangy sorbet!”

Megan Jones-Holt of Market Pizza
“I love spring, it’s the awakening from the cold, dark, shorter days of winter and hearty comfort foods. It’s time to lighten up and spruce up. My favorite part is getting my veggie and herb garden planted to use fresh home grown ingredients in my weekly pizza specials. Rainbow Swiss chard is my favorite to work with. It’s packed full of flavor and vitamins and is extremely versatile not to mention colorful. I love using it in complex pizzas that have your taste buds jumping. Fresh chard with bacon, caramelized onions, red pepper flakes, garlic, fresh mozzarella and goat cheese topped off with a balsamic reduction drizzle.”

Stephanie McCue of Mushrooms Etc.
“Following is a raw (crudo) recipe from Antonio Carluccio. The first book by Mr. Carluccio that I bought was The Complete Mushroom. This remains my favorite cookbook/reference book, as his foraging stories and photos are captivating. I was so enamored with this book, I went on to purchase Two Greedy Italians by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo. It is from this book that I found a recipe for raw courgettes (zucchini), arugula, and mint salad: a recipe that is simple and springlike. It brings to mind the first spring green on the trees that excites our senses for the promise of spring.”

Alexander Talbot of Curiosity Doughnuts
“There are two ingredients that speak spring. Lovage and rhubarb. Lovage has been a member of our weed patch for years. It is hardy, I can’t seem to kill it with my neglect, and it returns year after year. As spring nears lovage begins to pop its head out of our stone planter. It is a reminder of fresh, bright, bracing and clean ideas, a visual cue to its intense vibrant amplified celery on steroids flavor. Rhubarb arrives a bit later in spring. It has a color and flavor reminiscent of rebirth and reawakening. The vibrant red and the intense oxalic acid makes rhubarb an ingredient to be worked with. We harness this brightness in a preserve we use in our thumbprint doughnut at Curiosity Doughnuts. Lovage, for all my affinity, has not made an appearance in a doughnut or on a custard. Of course, a rhubarb-lovage preserve would marry my loves and create a delicious result. Time to make that idea happen.”

Sharon Zofcin of Cottage Spice Co.
“One of my favorite herbs to dry is tarragon. Tarragon goes great with fish, meat, soups, sauces and stews.  It also pairs well in tomato and egg dishes. It boasts a delicate, balanced flavor with a hint of licorice and vanilla. One of my absolute favorite recipes using this unique spice is tarragon salmon. The salmon comes out divine and is unmistakable!”

Recipe for Tarragon Salmon [gdlr_space height=”20px”]
2 fresh salmon fillets
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, mayonnaise or chipotle mayo
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of cayenne
½ teaspoon lime juice
*Dried tarragon, cayenne and olive oil are available at Cottage Spice Co.  [gdlr_space height=”20px”]
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Combine tarragon, mustard, honey, cayenne and lime juice.
3. Drizzle oil on the salmon and season with salt and pepper.
4. Place in hot oven for 10 minutes.
5. Take the salmon out and rub in the tarragon mixture.
6. Heat for an additional 5 to 10 minutes or until the sauce is caramelized.