Easter Sunday has its bona fide classics: the chocolate-filled plastic eggs hidden in dewey grass and huge honey-glazed hams or herb-flecked legs of lamb at the center of the table. Other than that, there’s a lot of room to get creative with the day’s menu, especially when it comes to using seasonal vegetables and produce.
At Little Saint, an Award of Excellence–winning restaurant, café, market and music venue that opened in Healdsburg, Calif., in April 2022, playing with the local produce of Sonoma County is at the center of everything chef Bryan Oliver and the eatery’s team do. Right now, they are ramping up for spring, marking the restaurant’s first full trip through all the seasons.
“We're jumping right into it,” remarked Oliver. “One of the first things we start to see are all the little blossoms on the trees, and for me in the cooking world, it’s really the mustard flowers and radish blossoms that are some of the first things to pop up. They have that pastel Easter-egg quality.”
Little Saint was founded by two couples, owners Jeff and Laurie Ubben in collaboration with Kyle and Katina Connaughton of Grand Award winner SingleThread Farms (who have since departed the project). The majority of Little Saint’s ingredients are sourced from the restaurant’s five-acre farm, where the approach is to maintain a “living ecosystem,” using minimal tilling and natural methods for managing pests and weeds.
Chef Oliver sought out opportunities to work with seasonality throughout his career in hospitality (“I just became very attached to working with nature”), including a stint working under chef Daniel Patterson, an influential figure in “California cuisine” and advocate for working with seasonal and local foods in the late 1990s and 2000s, whose restaurants included Coi. Oliver has lived in Sonoma for seven years, drawn to the abundance of the land and how entrenched agriculture is in the community. Every few weeks bring a new vegetable, herb or fruit for him to experiment with, allowing him to stretch his creative muscles while working with the cards he’s been dealt.
“There's only so much planning you could actually do when you're cooking in the moment like this,” laughs Oliver. “It's a very exciting way to cook. It leads to some really great successes—and massive failures at times.”
While this Little Gem lettuce salad would be a great accompaniment to lamb or another centerpiece meat, that’s not exactly Oliver’s style as a vegetarian. For Easter, Oliver tends to spend the day with friends, centered around an Easter egg hunt for the kids, including his own little ones. Once everybody’s tuckered out, then it’s time for a light, yet ample lunch filled with different mezzes: dips, breads, crudité, roasted potatoes, you name it. This salad would make an excellent companion to such a spread.
This dish is meant to celebrate the produce around you, so if you’re not able to find these specific vegetables yet at the farmer’s market, don’t sweat it. The radish blossoms can be swapped for virtually any edible flower in stock, and this salad can work with a gamut of seasonal vegetables. “Asparagus would be great in addition to the snap peas or in place of them,” explains Oliver. “[Instead of the snap peas] there's snow peas that people might find or even just English peas will be great on here too. And then if people can't find the peas or asparagus, just the gem lettuce with radishes over the top is really good.”
This recipe uses silken tofu, which is an essential ingredient in plant-based cooking. It’s a staple in the Little Saint kitchen as a source of protein and also because of its versatility, becoming a faux ricotta once mashed, a scrambled egg substitute for the breakfast menu and a marinated and fried topping for rice bowls. Here, Oliver uses it in a green goddess dressing, a staple of Californian dining that is usually made with buttermilk, mayonnaise and anchovies. The silken tofu works especially well in vegan dressings, according to Oliver, because its high protein content emulsifies beautifully with oil.
For a wine pairing, Oliver tapped wine director Alexandria Sarovich. What she thought of was the mouthwatering Vermentino from Martha Stoumen, hailing from the dry-farmed Venturi Vineyards in Mendocino. With a crisp mouthfeel, the wine plays well with the freshness of this herb-filled salad. For more picks, Wine Spectator chose 10 white wines hailing from both Italy and California, honoring both the origin of Vermentino and Little Saint’s California-centric philosophy.
Little Gem Lettuces with Sugar Snap Peas, Pumpkin Seed Green Goddess Dressing and Mint
For the Pumpkin Seed Green Goddess Dressing:
- ½ cup raw pumpkin seeds
- 4 ounces silken tofu
- ½ cup ice water
- ¾ cup lemon juice
- ½ cup picked parsley leaves
- ½ cup picked cilantro leaves
- ½ cup picked mint leaves
- ¾ cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
Little Gem Salad
- 6 Little Gem lettuce heads
- ½ pound sugar snap peas, stems and strings removed
- 1 bunch (around 6 to 8) Easter egg radishes
- ¾ cup lemon juice
- 2 Meyer lemons
- ½ cup picked dill leaves
- ½ cup picked mint leaves
- Around 16 edible radish blossoms
For the Green Goddess dressing:
1. Combine pumpkin seeds, silken tofu, ice water and lemon juice in a high-speed blender and blend for 1 to 2 minutes or until pumpkin seeds are broken down into a smooth and silky consistency.
2. Add in the herbs and continue to blend until the leaves are puréed smooth.
3. Proceed to slowly drizzle the oil into while blending on high to emulsify the dressing and finish by seasoning with salt. The dressing should be stored in the refrigerator until needed and can be made up to two days in advance.
For the Little Gem salad:
1. Remove any damaged or discolored leaves from the outside of the lettuce heads. With a sharp knife, remove the base of the lettuce and separate the leaves into a bowl of cold water to remove any dirt or residue. Being careful not to break or bruise the leaves, transfer to a small salad spinner or clean, dry kitchen towel to drain.
2. In a medium pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil on the stove and season generously with salt. Blanch the cleaned snap peas in the seasoned boiling water for 1 minute and immediately submerge in ice water to chill. Once cold, drain the snap peas from the water and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until needed.
3. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice the radishes into thin rounds and submerge in ice water for around 20 to 30 minutes or until hydrated and crisp. These can be sliced up to two days in advance.
4. Gently dress the Little Gem lettuces, snap peas and radishes with the pumpkin seed dressing until the leaves are coated but not overly wet. This recipe can produce a little more dressing than necessary, so the extra dressing can be used as a dip for raw vegetables and bread or a sandwich spread. Season with additional salt to taste.
5. Arrange the dressed greens, radishes, and snap peas on a large platter and garnish with the freshly dill and mint (or other herb) leaves and radish blossoms. Serves 4-6.
10 Californian and Italian White Wines to Step into Spring
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding- and very good–rated wines from recent tastings. More options can be found in our Wine Ratings Search for California and Italy.
Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2020
Score: 92 | $26
WS Review: Peach, apricot and mango notes are pure, intense and extremely juicy on a fleshy, succulent frame, with hints of spice, orange blossom and dried ginger. Drink now. 19,231 cases made. From California.—MaryAnn Worobiec
Chenin Blanc North Coast 2020
Score: 91 | $30
WS Review: This has wonderful richness, with a touch of toasty brioche and a drizzle of honey to the apricot, pineapple and nectarine flavors at the core. Reveals hints of honeysuckle and dried thyme on the juicy finish. Drink now. 1,300 cases made.—M.W.
Pinot Bianco Alto Adige Tradition 2021
Score: 91 | $24
WS Review: A bright, snappy white, featuring generous flavors of ripe kiwifruit and melon, with notes of chalk and stone, backed by accents of tangerine peel, jasmine and ground ginger. Drink now. 14,000 cases made, 3,100 cases imported.—Alison Napjus
GASLIGHTER WINE CO.
Sauvignon Blanc California 2021
Score: 91 | $25
WS Review: Mouthwatering and pure, with Key lime, lemon verbena and ruby grapefruit flavors on a sleek, light frame, showing a touch of dried pineapple. This is lovely for the precision, power and delicacy. Drink now. 10,000 cases made.—M.W.
Pinot Grigio Friuli 2021
Score: 91 | $30
WS Review: A spine of racy acidity drives this lithe white, creating a mouthwatering frame for the finely meshed notes of crunchy pear, pink grapefruit zest, melon and salty mineral. Bright and hard to stop sipping. Drink now through 2025. 20,800 cases imported.—A.N.
Pinot Grigio Collio 2021
Score: 91 | $33
WS Review: A juicy white, with hints of orange zest and fleur de sel that impart pleasing liveliness on the texture. This layers a minerally underpinning with mouthfilling flavors of baked pineapple and apricot, almond paste and pastry cream. Drink now through 2026. 16,500 cases made, 14,500 cases imported.—A.N.
Vermentino Dry Creek Valley 2021
Score: 91 | $33
WS Review: Vibrant and stylish, with notes of jasmine, tangerine, mango and orange zest on a plump and juicy frame. Features lingering notes of matcha on the mouthwatering finish. Drink now. 372 cases made.—M.W.
Soave Classico 2021
Score: 90 | $23
WS Review: This vivacious white dances on the palate, with a lively, zesty edge to the appealing flavors of crunchy pear, blood orange, stony mineral and almond blossom. Garganega and Trebbiano. Drink now through 2025. 41,000 cases made, 4,000 cases imported.—A.N.
Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County County Cuvée 2021
Score: 90 | $17
WS Review: Fresh and vibrant, showing fresh herbal notes of lemongrass and lemon thyme that complement a core of yuzu, ruby grapefruit and tangerine. Offers mouthwatering acidity. Drink now. 1,151 cases made.—M.W.
Falanghina Campania 2021
Score: 90 | $27
WS Review: A light-bodied white, offering nectarine and clementine fruit flavors that are bright and juicy, with pretty cherry blossom, sliced almond and pickled ginger accents. Chalk-tinged finish. Drink now. 3,350 cases made, 1,300 cases imported.—A.N.