Tony Messina is eagerly anticipating any harbinger of spring. “After this winter, anything green is going to be a welcome change,” says Messina, the chef of Uni Sashimi Bar. One of his favorites is the fresh, grassy-hued garbanzo bean, which he fries until crisp and tops with lemon and togarashi, a peppery Japanese spice mix. “They make a great bar snack,” says the chef.
When the growing season starts, he’ll be on the lookout for ramps, the punchy little allium that is a favorite of many chefs. “Everyone uses ramps,” he says, “but they are what get me really excited about spring.” He plans to make ramp kimchi, the fiery effervescent Korean pickle. For a simpler home version, he suggests soaking them in a quick pickle brine in the refrigerator to make a versatile condiment. “They are a great topping to deviled eggs,” he says.
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Messina also likes blanching ramps before blending them into a bright pesto, a delicious accompaniment to shellfish, which this spring holds a special appeal in the form of scarcely available Gulf of Maine shrimp. The tiny crustaceans haven’t had an open commercial season since 2013 because of low stocks, but a small harvest was recently permitted in order for biologists and regulators to see if the stocks are making a strong recovery.
The chef was able to procure a modest batch, and is hoping there will be more available soon. “You get savory and sweet all in one perfect little bite,” he says. He uses every last bit of the precious pink seafood, simmering the shells for broth, and frying heads for a crispy garnish. “The best preparation is, quite honestly, raw,” says Messina. “I recently made a simple tartare, with celery, Green Gauge plum, and Asian pear.” Those sweet little plums, about the size of a half-dollar, are another sign of spring — and almost as difficult to get. He tells us plum season this year “was about 10 days long.” Uni Sashimi Bar, Eliot Hotel, 370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, unisashimibar.com
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Sweet shrimp sushi.