The Foodie

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What’s Fresh in April: Asparagus, Ramps and Fava Beans

April 14, 2009
by Erin Harris
April is a great month for spring cleaning, but it’s also a perfect time to rejuvenate your diet. After months of subsisting on hearty vegetables and roots, welcome warmer weather by infusing your cooking with the foods of the season. Tender asparagus, aromatic ramps and buttery fava beans all deliver the fresh flavors of spring, along with an array of nutrients to keep you healthy.


Asparagus, which derives its name from the Greek word for “sprout,” belongs to the Lily family and is most tender and flavorful from March until early May. Look for spears with firm, deep green or purplish tips that are not dried out. Spears should be uniform in size so that they cook evenly and can be stored in the refrigerator, with the tips wrapped in a damp paper towel. Cooking Light magazine recommends trimming the bottom of asparagus and standing bunches in a half inch of water, like you would a bouquet, to extend their life.

Packed with folate and Vitamin K, asparagus promotes strong bones and healthy blood cells. It’s also a great choice for pregnant woman, as studies suggest that folate helps to prevent birth defects. When eaten alongside chicken or lean beef, asparagus may also be beneficial in lowering the risk of heart disease. A Runner’s World article says the Vitamin B6 in asparagus interacts with the Vitamin B12 in those meats to reduce levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that “wreaks havoc on artery walls.”

Asparagus has such a distinct, fresh flavor that the it can stand on its own as a side dish, grilled or roasted with a drizzle of olive oil. However, it also makes a great addition to salads, pastas, or stir fry, and can even be blended into a creamy soup. In this recipe for Lemon Risotto with Asparagus and Fiddlehead Ferns, the spears provide a sweet crunch. And unlike other risottos, this one is not heavy, thanks to the light spring flavors of lemon, leeks and ferns.


Also known as “wild leeks,” ramps’ strong, scallion-like flavor provides a welcome break from bland winter foods. Healthy ramps boast thin white bulbs attached to long, flat green leaves and are characterized by a pungent odor stronger than that of its close relative, garlic. According to legend, Native Americans referred to the land south of Lake Michigan where pungent ramps flourished as “skunk place” or “shikako.” Today, we call this same area Chicago.

Native Americans were among the first people to use ramps for medicinal purposes, believing that the potent vegetable cleansed the body of toxins. Recent studies suggest that plants like ramps might reduce cholesterol and fight off heart disease by stimulating lipoprotein production. Ramps are also a good source of prostaglandin A1, a fatty acid that may help relieve symptoms of hypertension.

Simple preparation will allow the natural, earthy flavor of ramps to shine through in dishes. They are delicious sautéed alongside spring vegetables, baked into frittatas or tossed with hot pasta and olive oil. This White Pizza with Ramps recipe from The Kitchen Sink highlights the edible roots’ vibrant, springy taste by layering garlicky ramps and fresh mozzarella atop crispy, blistered flatbread.

Fava Beans

A relative newcomer to American markets and grocery stores, emerald-green fava beans have long been used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking. Also called broad beans, horse beans, English beans and Windsor beans, favas have a firm texture and nutty flavor that is delicious in dips, spreads and soups. When buying fresh fava beans, choose small pods rather than overripe, bulging ones. Read Cooking Light’s tips on how to shell fresh favas.

Many varieties of beans have been praised for their high fiber content, which helps lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar in the body. Fava beans, however, might offer additional health benefits to people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. According to NPR, each serving packs a dose of L-dopa, a substance used to treat the disease.

Versatile fava beans work in any dish, from Italian soup to Maltese “bigilla,” a spicy paste served on crusty bread. Although favas probably pair poorly with human liver and a nice Chianti, they do taste nice with salted pork products. Test out that theory with Bon Appétit’s recipe (via Epicurious) for Sauté of Fresh Fava Beans, Onions, and Fennel, which includes a half-cup of pancetta.

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