14 Farmer's Market Secrets From Top Philly Chefs

Plates that make great use of the early harvest, along with tips on how to tame your own spring haul
April 21, 2014
by Danya Henninger

Chefs all over the city are taking advantage of the explosion of local vegetables, finally here along with the warm weather. Here are 14 dishes that make great use of the spring harvest, along with tips from the pros on how to take advantage of your own early season farmer’s market haul.

Michael Solomonov of Zahav

The Vegetable: Ramps

Featured In: Kibbe nayeh with ramp zhoug ($9)

Chef’s Tip: Solomonov loves adding sautéed ramp greens to the Yemenite garlic-chile-cardamom sauce called zhoug. “It’s amazing with grilled meat, like a chimichurri situation,” he says.  Sous-chef Yehuda Sichel (who will be co-chef of upcoming Abe Fisher) adds that in general you should treat ramps like a scallion - the green leaves can be torn for salads, and you can pickle the bulbs or thinly slice them to add a bright onion flavor.

237 St. James Pl.; 215-625-8800

Brad Spence of Amis

The Vegetable: Asparagus

Featured In: Bufala mozzarella with charred asparagus, mint and pickled red onions ($12)

Chef’s Tip: “I like to showcase each ingredient by itself with just one or two other components,” says Spence, adding, “When you shop properly, cooking is easy.” To go along with the creamy buffalo’s milk cheese, asparagus stalks are shaved and then charred very quickly, so they maintain a crisp bite.

412 S. 13th St.; 215-732-2647

Kevin Sbraga of Sbraga

The Vegetable: Cauliflower

Featured In: Spring vegetables (artichoke, chickpeas, turnips, peas, pea tendrils, fava beans, piquillo pepper, long beans, cauliflower, leeks, shallots, chives, olive oil, sea salt and black pepper with a hazelnut-carrot dressing; available as part of the $55 prix fixe menu)

Chef’s Tip: “Instead of blanching the cauliflower for this dish or roasting it, we like to char it,” says Sbraga. “We get a really hot cast-iron pan with just a drizzle of oil in it. Then we add in the raw cauliflower florets and cook them until the edges start to get black. Once we start getting color we finish them in the oven to cook through with a little bit of thyme, garlic, bay leaf, sea salt and Thai chile pepper.”

440 S. Broad St.; 215-735-1913

Josh Lawler of The Farm & Fisherman

The Vegetable: Early spring lettuce

Featured In: Pullet egg with mushrooms and lettuce broth ($12)

Chef’s Tip: Don’t discard the outer leaves peeled off of early lettuce heads - you can make them into a sauce. “I make a rich vegetable stock, then take all the random greens, sauté them off and quickly blend with the stock, then cool down right away so it stays vibrant green. We blend in herbs too, especially mint, parsley and chervil. It has this crisp, herby flavor that pairs really well with mushrooms.”

1120 Pine St.; 267-687-1555

Eli Kulp of Fork

The Vegetable: Morels

Featured In: Spring vegetable plate by chef de cuisine John Patterson ($18)

Chef’s Tip: “The natural structure of morels is a perfect home for insects and other debris - they're notorious for being time-consuming to clean,” says Kulp. His method: set up two large bowls of clean water. Put the morels in one and gently agitate to loosen debris, which will sink to the bottom while the mushrooms float. Skim them off and transfer to the second bowl, dumping the first and refilling it with fresh water. Continue moving them back and forth until the surrounding water is completely clear - it could take six or seven transfers. After that, put in a salad spinner and spin till dry, then store in a pan lined with paper towels.

306 Market St.; 215-625-9425

Aimee Olexy of Talula’s Garden

The Vegetable: Dandelion greens

Featured In: Dandelion wine

Chef’s Tip: “When life gives you dandelions, make some wine!” says the cheerful proprietress of Talula’s Table, Garden and Daily. “My Momom made it in a bucket in the basement ever since I can remember,” Olexy recalls. “The day I made my own first batch the smell was instantly familiar.” To give it a try, gather at least two pails of dandelion flowers, then add water, honey, sugar, lemons, orange, a packet of yeast and spices if you like. “Start it in the spring and it’s ready for Indian Summer nights that fall,” she says.

210 W. Washington Sq.; 215-592-7787

Rob Sidor of The Treemont

The Vegetable: Spring onions

Featured In: Duo of veal loin and veal neck terrine ($26)

Chef’s Tip: Chef de cuisine Sidor prepares foraged baby spring onions by trimming just a bit off the tops, then separating the tiny bulb from the stalk. Bulbs are compressed in olive oil with lemon peel, blistered with the raw stalks for 20 seconds in the fryer and then seasoned with salt and lemon juice. “Their slightly sweet, mild onion flavor provides the perfect foil for the Cerignola olive purée and fermented barley in this dish,” he says.

231 S. 15th St.; 267-687-2237

Steve Waxman of Trax Restaurant & Cafe

The Vegetable: Asparagus

Featured In: Spinach crêpe with asparagus, prosciutto and roasted yellow pepper ($12)

Chef’s Tip: Local asparagus season is short and never falls at the same time, says Waxman, whose vegetable garden surrounds outside seating at his restaurant. For grilling, use the thinner stalks, he advises, or if yours are thicker, wrap them in prosciutto and bake until tender.

27 W. Butler Pike, Ambler; 215-591-9777

Yianni Arhontoulis of Mica

The Vegetable: Ramps

Featured In: Lightly cured wild king salmon with dill, borscht powder and smoked ramp dashi (available as part of the seven-course, $90 tasting menu)

Chef’s Tip: Chef de cuisine Arhontoulis does a lot with ramps - fermenting the greens like sauerkraut or kimchi and smoking and pickling the bulbs, but what excites him even more are the brines these processes yield. “Taking the pickling liquid from the smoked bulbs and using it to season dashi makes for an extremely wonderful broth for egg or raw-fish preparations,” he says.

8609 Germantown Ave.; 267-335-3912

William DiStefano of Fountain

The Vegetable: Zucchini blossoms

Featured In: Sautéed Pacific halibut with wild-ramp spaetzle, velvet pioppini mushrooms, crisp zucchini blossoms, light parsley and vermouth cream ($45)

Chef’s Tip: “Take the blossom of the zucchini and remove the stem and stamen,” says DiStefano. “Dip in a light tempura batter and fry until crisp and golden brown.” The chef serves his with spaetzle made from dough that includes puréed ramp greens.

1 Logan Sq.; 215-963-1500

Rich Benussi of Old Eagle Tavern

The Vegetable: Fiddlehead ferns

Featured In: Spring veggie hash ($6)

Chef’s Tip: All you need to do with the young first arrivals is blanch them, then toss them into a stir-fry or sautée mix like the hash. Benussi also buys a large amount and pickles them so they stay crisp all summer. “I like to eat them right out of the jar through November and think fondly of spring,” he says.

177 Markle St.; 215-483-5535

Jared Canon of Iron Hill Chestnut Hill

The Vegetable: Brussels sprouts

Featured In: Brussels sprout Caesar ($8.50, when available as a special)

Chef’s Tip: Clean the Brussels (Canon gets his from Henry Got Crops at Weaver’s Way), remove the outer layer, then shave them down into ribbons, advises Canon. After that, give them a light blanching and a quick sauté - only about a minute in the pan - before mixing them with pickled onions, radish and Caesar dressing.

8400 Germantown Ave.; 215-948-5600

Nunzio Patruno of Nunzio’s Ristorante Rustico

The Vegetable: Asparagus

Featured In: Pollo con asparagi e gamberi (sautéed chicken breast with shrimp, fresh asparagus, capers and garlic in a lemon white-wine sauce; $20)

Chef’s Tip: Patruno gets his asparagus from the Collingswood Farmer’s Market, and says, “Because the soil in New Jersey can be so fine, it is important to wash the asparagus thoroughly to remove any remnants. We soak it in cold water for at least an hour to loosen any soil particles, then gently wash and peel the stalks.”

706 Haddon Ave., Collingswood; 856-858-9840

Holly Riccardi of Magpie Artisan Pie Boutique

The Vegetable: Rhubarb

Featured In: Raspberry rhubarb pie ($6 slice/$38 whole)

Chef’s Tip: Vegetables can be used for dessert too! When using rhubarb, Riccardi warns to make sure you remove the leaves, because they contain poisonous toxins. For the pie filling, she chopped washed and dried stalks into half-inch pieces - “don’t peel the fibrous skin, because it holds a lot of color and flavor” - and then tosses with raspberries, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean.

1622 South St.; 267-519-2904

eli kulp
farmers markets
brad spence
spring veggies