Madison's farmers' markets are finally in full swing after the slow spring. Vendor tables are laden with rhubarb, asparagus, green onions, early kale, leafy lettuces and morels.
Morels, the popular wild spring mushroom, were selling for a whopping $40 a pound this past weekend. At the Willy Street Co-op the last time I checked, they were $32. That's still steep, but a satisfying handful costs only a few dollars. After frying them in butter, it's clear why they're so prized; they have an oaky complexity of flavor that is unparalleled. This may be the greatest mushroom companion for wine, more versatile than truffles.
Amidst all of the well-known vegetables that are appearing as temperatures finally swing to summer, are a few lingering delicate spring items.
For a long time it was customary for Wisconsinites to eat the first edible wild greens that became available. Doing so replenished vitamins that were depleted over the winter. Key among vitamin-rich options are the early leaves of the stinging nettle.
A few farms are still bringing them to market, and I got mine at Brantmeier Family Farm in Monroe, Wisconsin. Yes, they're an abundant weed that may seem silly to buy. But they're also only fifty cents a bunch.
You'll need gloves to prepare them. Strip the leaves from the stem and wilt or add to a soup. I make a sort of nettle vichyssoise that I swear causes a chlorophyll high. The flavor is mild and slightly sweet, and decidedly worth the effort.
Another favorite is lamb's quarters, or goosefoot, which is high in calcium and often compared to spinach. I think it's better than spinach. The Plahnt Farm has them and they're delicious raw in a salad with edible flowers from Hickory Hill Farm.
This salad is proof that while the blockbuster early vegetables get all the press, there are lesser known -- and inexpensive! -- farmers' market items that are just as worthy. And unlike rhubarb and asparagus, they are often truly only available this time of year.
Farmers' Market Spring Salad
One bunch Plahnt Farm lamb's quarters, leaves stripped from stalk
Microblossoms from Hickory Hill Farm
Garden To Be pea shoots
A few basil and/or cilantro leaves, cut up
Capri Cheese French-style feta, crumbled
Lightly dress with Driftless Organics sunflower oil, Mad Urban Bees honey and rice wine vinegar.