I seem to say this pretty much every month but I think I truly mean it this time when I say that this is my favourite time of year to wander around the markets inspecting the fresh produce on offer. There’s a palpable buzz in the air in the marketplace at the beginning of Spring, caused not just by the first days of sunshine and bright blue skies, but presumably also the advent of the asparagus season – the Germans don’t half go bonkers for their treasured white gold.
Everywhere you look at the farmers’ markets, stalls are virtually sagging under the weight of various spring roots and salad leaves- flat, round and curly; ruby red and emerald green. There are mountains of white asparagus as far as the eye can see and, pleasingly, bunches of locally-grown green asparagus are available these days, too. The first punnets of German strawberries also start appearing around now, though my advice would be to hold off a few weeks until the sweetest, reddest fruits are on offer. I’ve never tasted a strawberry as good as the ones grown round here and I can assure you that the high season fruits are well worth the wait. So for now, and although this month, it’s genuinely difficult for me to choose, these are the five seasonal recommendations for April.
White (Spargel) is Germany’s king of vegetables, and they’re the star of the spring and early summer here. Choose the more expensive stalks (white asparagus is graded, so the more you pay for it, the better it is), snap off their woody ends, peel them, simmer them in boiling water and add a knob of butter when they’re cooked. White asparagus honestly needs nothing else, though the most classic German way to eat it is with new potatoes and Hollandaise sauce (and I’d highly recommend cream of white asparagus soup, too). Green asparagus (grüner Spargel), which is much easier to prepare as it doesn’t need peeling (though you should still snap off the ends), needs very little else other than butter either, in my opinion, but you can’t go far wrong with:
It’s available year-round, but springtime is when lamb (Lamm) is at its most plentiful. It’s very tender at this time of year because the lambs are still very young when they’re slaughtered, and because the lamb’s haven’t had long to graze, the meat is less flavourful than when purchased at other times of the year. Lamb is not as popular in Germany as pork and beef, however, so it’s not necessarily easy to get your hands on the cut you want (though the cuts don’t seem to differ greatly from those in the UK). In Wiesbaden, the best lamb – reared locally in the Taunus – is to be found at the farmers’ market; you can otherwise purchase good quality imported meat at many of the Turkish supermarkets in the Wiesbaden Westend as well as at Karstadt (both fresh and frozen). Wherever you are, why not get your hands on a some and cook up:
I was never particularly keen on radishes (Radieschen) until I moved to Germany and ate fresh ones from the market. They come in various shapes and sizes, the most well known probably being the fat red ball-shaped ones that are so wonderfully peppery and crunchy that I find impossible to resist. Cut any of them into thin slices or chunks and use them to perk up any sort of salad you fancy, but I also love them:
But hey! Don’t chuck out the green bits!
Wild garlic (Bärlauch), also known as ramps or ransoms, is popular in Germany for its medicinal properties: it’s apparently antibacterial, antiseptic and proven to reduce blood pressure (source). However, it’s mostly popular with me for being utterly delicious. The long, thin, dark green leaves have a much milder taste than garlic bulbs, and you can add it to basically anything you fancy. If you’ve never eaten it before, how about buying a bunch and trying out:
You’ll find two kinds of new potatoes (Frühkartoffeln) dominating the tuber scene at this time of year: Annabelle, a waxy (Festkochend) and Gala, a medium-waxy (Vorwiegend Festkochend) potato. (See my guide to buying potatoes in Germany for more on potato types.) They both have thin skins and yellow flesh and are well-suited for doing all the sorts of things you’d like to do with a potato at this time of year: putting it in a salad or using it whole, unpeeled and boiled and served with a knob of butter and sprinkling of salt and parsley alongside some meat or fish. If you want to step things up a notch, however, how about making:
★ Yotam Ottolenghi’s fabulous potato salad with quails’ eggs, petit pois and pesto (you can find quails’ eggs at farmers’ market and also at Karstadt)
★ Jamie Oliver’s baked new potatoes with sea salt and rosemary or
★ a new potato, asparagus and feta frittata.
Also in season in April:
Spring onions (Frühlingszwiebeln) and salad leaves such as garden lettuce (Kopfsalat), lamb’s lettuce (Feldsalat), curly endive (Friséesalat) and rocket (Rucola). Also worth a mention are the abundant fresh herbs, which you can buy throughout the year grown in greenhouses, but are in season and harvested locally around now. You can purchase them in generous individual bunches but also in bundles packaged together for seasoning specific dishes – and of course for making Frankfurter Grüne Soße.
Have you got any particular favourite fruit and veg on the go at the moment? Any seasonal recipes to recommend?