Spring is a moody time of year; the weather just won’t make up its mind.

Do we wear T-shirts or sweatshirts? Are we hungry for crisp, light salads or a warming sauté?

Now that the farmers markets are open, you can’t go wrong at mealtime. The choices are exhilarating.

Last weekend, I chanced on fiddlehead ferns, morel mushrooms, early peas and plenty of herbs.

Fiddlehead ferns are baby ostrich ferns, a regional specialty, and their season is definitely short. They look like the curled head of a fiddle and taste like a cross between asparagus and artichokes, mild and slightly grassy. Once they’ve matured and unfurled, the ferns turn bitter and inedible.

Several of the vegetable sauté recipes I’ve come across call for blanching the sturdier vegetables in boiling water before adding them to the pan. But I prefer to “butter steam” them so they cook in their own juices. (Perhaps it’s my own laziness, as cutting out the blanching step seems to yield the same result with less work.)

It’s simple to do. Melt butter or heat the oil in a sauté pan and add in the vegetables that require the longer cooking times (onions, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, etc.) and toss to coat. Add a little water, stock or wine, cover the pan and allow the vegetables to cook until just tender.

Remove the lid, then add the quicker cooking vegetables (such as peas, fiddlehead ferns, etc.) and sauté until they’re bright and cooked through. Toss in a little acid to pop flavors — lemon juice, mild vinegar or white wine — along with freshly chopped herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

As the growing season unfolds, vary the vegetables and adjust the cooking times and flavors accordingly. A spring sauté is especially good with fresh mint and parsley or dill. Come summer, choose green beans, cherry tomatoes, broccoli and fresh marjoram and basil. As the season progresses, try beets, turnips and parsnips with rosemary or sage.

This sauté is terrific served warm or at room temperature. Top it with an egg for brunch or serve it later in the day, tossed with feta and pasta or over rice or couscous. Let spring’s moods inspire what to cook next. 

Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.

Spring Vegetable Sauté

Serves 4

Note: The season for fiddlehead ferns is brief. Find them at farmers markets and food co-ops, and occasionally at supermarkets. Top these vegetables with crumbled feta or fresh chèvre and serve over couscous or farro for a lively main dish. Feel free to vary the vegetables and the herbs to taste. From Beth Dooley.

• 1 tbsp. unsalted butter

• 1 tbsp. olive oil

• 1/4 c. chopped shallots

• 1/4 lb. new potatoes, thinly sliced

• 1/4 lb. carrots, thinly sliced

• 1/4 lb. mushrooms, thinly sliced

• 1/4 c. chicken stock or water

• 6 to 8 fiddlehead ferns, trimmed (see Note)

• 1/2 c. peas, fresh or frozen

• 1/4 c. lima beans or edamame, fresh or frozen

• 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

• 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh mint

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Heat the butter and oil together over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted and bubbly, toss in the shallots, potatoes, carrots and mushrooms and toss to coat.

Add the stock or water, cover the pan and cook the vegetables until just tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove the cover and toss in the fiddleheads, peas and lima beans and continue cooking until the peas, fiddleheads and limas are bright green and just tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Toss in the lemon juice, parsley and mint, and season with the salt and pepper to taste.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 135 Fat 7 g Sodium 40 mg

Carbohydrates 16 g Saturated fat 2 g Total sugars 4 g

Protein 5 g Cholesterol 10 mg Dietary fiber 4 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 starch, 1 fat.