To some, spring means it’s time for the Easter meal of ham or lamb. To others — and to those holiday cooks looking for side dishes — it’s the time to enjoy the spring veggie harvest. We’re talking about sugar snap peas, asparagus, new potatoes, artichokes, leeks, radishes and, in a nod to Peter Cottontail, carrots.
Carrots, in fact, are one of the go-to veggies at the Margarita at Pine Creek — not only on the menu, but as part of the eatery’s directions.
“We always tell new folks calling for directions to look for the carrots, whether it be the giant carrot sculptures out front or the local art hung around the building,” according to Cathy Werle, a chef at the restaurant. “It works every time.”
As for the menu, she brags about a dish called Carrots Margarita, which started with Pati Burleson, who opened The Margarita more than 45 years ago.
“It’s such a yummy dish,” said Werle, “which is more of a throwback classic dish with shallots, carrots, thyme, honey and butter.”
The menu also offers a more modern take on a Middle Eastern-style roasted carrot, with a harissa honey butter, served over baked goat cheese or labneh yogurt, crispy leeks and a sprinkle of dukkah (an Egyptian spice mixture).
“We’ve always tried to include a carrot dish on our bar menu too,” she added. “A fan favorite is our Bhaji-spiced tempura carrots with curry aioli.” (Bhaji is an Asian-Indian snack that is like a fritter.)
As for other spring veggies, Werle loves cooking with fresh English peas when they’re in season. Currently they can be found in grocery store produce sections. She adds them to pasta with mushrooms, leeks and a little bit of lemon and cream. Or she’ll mash them up with ricotta and herbs and spread it on a good crusty bread.
“As soon as jumbo asparagus heads our way,” she continued, “I like to roast them and serve with a roasted garlic custard or a mixed salad with warm grilled asparagus, artichokes and crisp, cool arugula and radishes dressed lightly with olive oil and lemon. For me, that says spring is officially here.”
Ruthie Markwardt, market manager of the Colorado Farm and Art Market and a farmer at Flying Pig Farm in Manitou Springs, had some thoughts about spring eating.
“Vegetable-wise, now is a great time to cook up the carrots, potatoes, onions or squash that have been stored from the last growing season,” she said. “Our household celebrates Passover, so we make a hearty vegetable broth for matzo ball soup.
“With spring garlic and greens like dandelions, spinach and arugula, I like to make a pesto,” she continued. “Chickens and ducks are also laying more eggs as the seasons change and sun returns, so spring greens frittata is a favorite dish I like to make.”
Markwardt pointed out that with the rise of urban greenhouse agriculture, microgreens and mushrooms are ripe year-round.
“So an oyster mushroom and chive frittata is the most recent flavor I experimented with,” she said.
James Africano, executive chef and owner of The Warehouse restaurant, is looking forward to the arrival of spring produce for his side dish menus.
“Peas of all varieties, asparagus, morel mushrooms, fava beans, rhubarb and fennel all make their seasonal debut in late March and early April,” he said.
That’s when he’ll also be using last winter storage crops of squash, cabbage, potatoes, apples, carrots and turnips.
“These things are still going strong,” he said. “Combining spring’s bounty with last winter’s harvest to bring both light and hearty fare to the table presents a great array of possibilities for the home cook and professional chef alike.”
He suggested these dishes: turnip and gruyere dauphinoise, braised fennel and apples with chives, and rhubarb and oat crisp.
His recipes follow, along with Werle’s recipe for Bhaji spiced tempura carrots with yogurt raita and curry aioli recipe.
contact the writer: 636-0271.