Spring is here! And so are the year’s best greens, from delicate romaine and crisp little gems to baby spinach and arugula. These sweet, fresh, tender leaves form the base of warm-weather salads, fresh pastas, pestos and more. Read on for an overview of the many types of spring greens, along with our best tips for working with them and some quick recipes from the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen.
Look for: Greens should be fresh and crisp, free of blemishes, yellowed spots or tiny holes. Small, young leaves will have a milder flavor; more and more greens are now available as tender baby leaves. Look for greens tied in bunches or washed, chopped and sealed in plastic bags. (Even though the latter are prewashed, they should be rinsed well again before using.)
It’s best to store greens unwashed in plastic bags. They’re best if eaten the day you buy them, but soft-leaved greens will keep for up to 4 days in a plastic bag in the crisper of the refrigerator. Firmer lettuces such as romaine will keep for up to 10 days. Here are a few of the best varieties for spring:
- Arugula: These dark green, deeply notched leaves are nutty, tangy and slightly peppery in flavor. Add it to a salad, or use it to top pastas and pizzas.
- Delicate Lettuces: Butter, red-leaf, oakleaf and romaine lettuces are sweet and tender. Mesclun — a Provençal word for “mix,” is a varied mixture of young, tender greens — is traditionally a salad consisting of the first greens and herbs of spring.
- Mâche: Also known as field salad, corn salad or lamb’s lettuce, mâche is very delicate and mild, with oval leaves that grow in small, loose bunches. It makes a beautiful addition to salads.
- Sorrel: Sorrel has a strongly tart flavor and triangular leaves; the paler the leaves, the more delicate the flavor. It lends a bright, pleasantly sour flavor when pureed into soups and sauces.
- Spinach: With dark green leaves and an earthy, faintly bitter taste, spinach is a staple on tables around the world. Use baby spinach leaves raw in salads, and save mature spinach for sauteeing, stir-frying and pastas.
- Watercress: Watercress has a refreshingly peppery flavor and small, round, dark green leaves on short, delicate stems. It’s delicious used fresh on salads and slightly wilted in seafood and meat dishes.
Prep tips: To wash greens, immerse them in a large bowl or sink filled with cool water. Gently lift them out and repeat the washing until the water is clear. A salad spinner is ideal for drying greens, but shaking them gently in a clean kitchen towel will also absorb excess moisture. Be sure to dry the greens as much as possible, especially if using them for salad — excess water will dilute the dressing and prevent it from coating the leaves. If you have time, put the washed greens in the refrigerator to crisp. Here’s your toolkit:
- OXO Salad Spinner, to dry greens
- Thermo-Clad Stainless-Steel Nonstick Covered Fry Pan, for quick and easy sauteeing
- Stainless-Steel Mixing Bowls with Lids, for washing and storing greens
- Cuisinart Elite Die-Cast Food Processor, to puree greens into pestos and sauces
Arugula Pesto: In food processor, finely chop pine nuts and garlic clove. Add arugula; pulse until coarsely chopped. With processor running, slowly add olive oil until smooth. Add lemon juice, grated Parmesan, salt and pepper; pulse until incorporated. Serve over fish, chicken, steak or lamb.
Pizza with Prosciutto & Arugula: Brush pizza dough round with tomato sauce; top with shredded mozzarella and thin prosciutto strips. Bake at 500°F on preheated baking stone until crust is crisp. Toss arugula with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Scatter over pizza along with shaved Parmesan.
Pasta with Arugula & Shallots: Saute sliced shallots in olive oil until tender. Add minced garlic and lemon zest; saute until fragrant. Add arugula; cook until just wilted. Add cooked and drained pasta; toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Sprinkle with grated pecorino romano.
Spinach Dip: Saute spinach in olive oil. Squeeze dry; chop coarsely. Combine spinach, sauteed onion, minced garlic, cream cheese, mayonnaise, grated Parmesan, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Transfer to baking dish; sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Bake at 400°F until bubbly.
Butter Lettuce Salad with Buttermilk Dressing: Whisk together buttermilk, minced shallot, mayonnaise, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, chopped chives, salt and pepper. Toss torn butter lettuce leaves with dressing.
Little Gem Salad with Radishes: Whisk together sherry vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, minced shallot, walnut oil, salt and pepper. Toss Little Gem lettuce leaves, shaved radishes and croutons with vinaigrette.