Do we need to keep pointing out what El Niño hath wrought in our farmers' markets? Probably not. But it bears mentioning that springtime harvests are as abundant as Lady Gaga videos on YouTube this year. Blame it on the rain. We will wander through an embarrassment of riches in the next few weeks, and most of it will be green and fleeting, much like our too-short transition between winter and summer. Two standouts are the wispy, fern-like leaves of chervil and the spearhead bouquets of dandelion greens.
Chervil is strictly a springtime herb here in the Southland. If it gets even the slightest whiff of summertime it bolts, sending up beautiful, lacy white flower heads that, while pretty, suck away the leaves' mild and fennel-like hints of licorice. It's not a commanding herb like rosemary or even tarragon, one of its partners in the French herbal blend of fines herbes. But what it does to other compatible lightweights like fresh peas, young spring salads, and eggs is undeniably refreshing. Cooking does it no justice, but add it to cooked dishes at the very end to make the most of its distinctive and subtle qualities.
Dandelion greens look how they taste. Their long and sharp toothy leaves have a chicory-like bitterness that can be intense and hard to tame later in the season. But prior to going to flower, their sometimes-intense bitterness is pleasingly muted. Raw in salads they are no bit player even when blended with other salad greenery. Dress with a light honey vinaigrette to balance themn out or give them a good sauté with a few bitter-balancing vegetables: we suggest onions, garlic, lemons, and sweet carrots. Your best bet though is to make the traditional French creme de pissenlits (dandelions are also a mild diuretic, hence le piss) , or cream of dandelion soup, a lovely venue for a big flavored green.