As usual, this spring seemed colder and longer than ever. But in spite of this, the plants are sprouting out of the ground right on time. For us, picking and savoring the first asparagus, fiddleheads, spinach and rhubarb; and mint, parsley, chives, tarragon and lemon balm are rituals we look forward to.

Last week we found all these plants and herbs large enough to harvest – so we feasted on asparagus with a mint dip, fiddlehead souffle, spinach salad and a rhubarb crunch.

Rhubarb Crunch

  • 8 servings
  • 15 minuts preparation
  • 35 minutes baking

This luscious dessert takes only moments to prepare.

Topping:

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped nuts

Filling:

  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 tbsps. butter
  • Pinch salt
  • 8 cups (2 lb.)
  • 1-inch pieces rhubarb
  • 1/3 cup soft whole wheat flour
  • 2 tbsps. chopped lemon balm leaves; or 1/4 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

For the topping, heat butter, honey and salt. Toss oats and nuts together. When the butter mixture has melted, toss with oats and nuts.

For the filling, heat butter, honey and salt. Toss rhubarb with flour and lemon balm. When the butter has melted, toss with rhubarb mixture and eggs. Pack into 8-by-12- inch cake pan. Sprinkle topping over filling.

Bake uncovered until top is golden (about 35 minutes). Cool uncovered. Serve warm or cool; with whipped or ice cream.

Fiddlehead Souffle

  • 4 servings
  • 20 minutes preparation
  • 35 minutes baking

Since the visual appearance of fiddleheads is as important as their taste, leave them whole rather than pureeing before mixing into souffle.

  • 3 tbsps. butter
  • 4 tbsps. flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground white peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 cups fiddleheads
  • 1 tbsp. grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 6 egg whites

Melt butter in small saucepan on medium heat. Stir in flour and continue stirring for 3 minutes. Whisk in milk. Heat and stir frequently until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and pepper into this base.

Trim fiddleheads by pulling off any brown sheathing and large stems. Put fiddleheads and 1/4 cup of water in another saucepan. Steam on high heat until they turn a bright green (about four minutes). Refresh with cold water.

Meanwhile, rub the inside of a one-quart souffle dish with butter and dust with parmesan. The above steps can be done several hours ahead.

About 45 minutes before serving preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Stir the cooked fiddleheads and chives into the base. Beat egg whites to firm peaks. Fold in half the beaten whites; and follow with the rest. Turn mixture into prepared souffle dish, it should be three-quarters full. Prevent overflowing by running your thumb around the edge.

Bake right away on the lower oven shelf until browned and it springs back after being touched (about 35 minutes). Whisk to the table and serve right away with spinach salad.

Spinach Salad

  • 4 servings
  • 10 minutes preparation

Spinach salad may seem passe, but when made with tender early leaves, tastes creamy and rich. I planted seeds last fall to enjoy this treat in May.

  • 4 cups torn bunch spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon; or 2 tsp. dry leaves
  • 3 tbsps. walnut or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

Toss spinach, chives, tarragon and oil. When well mixed, toss in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Turn into a salad bowl and sprinkle on eggs.

Asparagus With Mint Dip

  • 4 servings
  • 10 minutes preparation

Asparagus tastes even better when eaten with your fingers – try it.

  • 1 lb. evenly sized asparagus
  • 2 tbsps. chopped mint
  • 2 tbsps. chopped parsley
  • 4 tbsps. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic

Tap the base of each asparagus spear with a sharp knife. Cut off any parts the knife does not easily cut through. Peel any skin which is not easily pierced with your fingernail using a vegetable peeler.

Set crumpled foil along one side of a large pot. Lay trimmed asparagus in the pot with tips resting on the foil. Add 1/4 cup water and steam on high heat until asparagus turns a bright green (about four minutes). Serve warm right away; or refresh with cold water and serve cold.

Meanwhile, put mint, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic in a blender or food processor. Spin until creamy. Serve in a small bowl right away. If it separates, spin again.