What's in season: At first glance, they might look like ordinary weeds, but stinging nettles have a bright, assertive flavor, with just a hint of pepper. A vibrant shade of green, the nettles are named after fine, hollow, hair-like trichomes containing formic acid on their long leaves and stems that can irritate the skin on contact. Because of this, farmers often provide tongs and plastic bags to manage the young shoots and tops. Unfriendly as they might appear — nettles were often pulled as weeds before chefs began adding them to menus — nettles lose their sting when cooked. Stinging nettles love cool, damp weather and are generally in season during the late winter months.
What to cook: To tame a bunch of nettles, blanch the greens in a pot of boiling water, or sauté them for just a minute or two. Nettles are a great addition to pastas, frittatas, omelets and polenta; you can also simmer the greens in soups or add them to a batch of pesto.
What's on the horizon: Bunches of green garlic and leeks can be found now, as can mounds of English peas, a sign spring is just around the corner.