Wild Dandelion Greens and Field-Grown Rhubarb Kick Off the Growing Season

Stinging nettles, the tough, assertive lovechild of watercress and parsley.
Stinging nettles, the tough, assertive lovechild of watercress and parsley.haha Photo: Zoe Singer

The Greenmarket is looking more like dinner as all those inedible flowers make way for an increasing variety of produce. We’re not going totally locavore just yet, especially since the picking at gourmet markets is getting better by the day. But if need be, it could be done.

What to Look For
Local rhubarb is a good indication that spring has sprung. Smaller and spunkier than the greenhouse stuff, the still short stalks are full of flavor. Simmer them with loads of sugar or take a page from chef Ivy Stark’s book and try an Iranian-style salad ($4 per pound at Hoeffner, available Wednesday and Saturday).

Wild dandelion greens, thoroughly unwelcome in the lawns of New Jersey, are met with delight in Union Square. Smaller than their cultivated counterpart, the delicate leaves are traditionally wilted with hot dressing for spring salads. Add another Greenmarket treat, like thick-cut bacon or a soft-cooked egg, and call it a meal ($1.50 per bunch at Paffenroth, available Wednesday and Saturday; $2 per bunch at Gorzynski, available Saturday).

Foraged stinging nettles (we don’t know anyone who plants them on purpose) taste like the tough, assertive lovechild of watercress and parsley. The dry, saw-toothed leaves benefit from moist cooking. Blanch and chop to top pizzas, or work into fresh pasta dough, Babbo style. It’s best to wear gloves while handling these feisty greens, since they may irritate your skin before they’re tamed by heat ($1.50 per bunch at Paffenroth, available Wednesday and Saturday).

Sea trout, a.k.a. weakfish, just made it back to the market. Silky, meaty, and sweet, the off-white filets fall into large, codlike flakes that stay moist when cooked. If this week is anything like last, you’ll have to get up early to snag a whole fish before chef Colin Alevras claims them all for the Tasting Room — if you do get one, stuff the cavity with herbs and grill it (filets are $9.25 per pound and whole fish are $3.85 per pound at Blue Moon, available Wednesday).

Beyond the Greenmarket
Fava greens are just showing up at the Greenmarket, so it’ll be another month before fava beans arrive. If you’re impatient, try a gourmet market or a store that caters to Middle Eastern cooks. Choose large, glossy, heavy pods, and blanch the beans before skinning each one (a task for the patient) and featuring them in spring stews, purées, or salads (widely available). — Zoe Singer