Spring has come early this year and my hops have noticed. I have four hop plants going strong in our community garden plot. The Chinook and Centennials are going into their fourth year and it’s the third year for the Crystal and Nugget hops.

I am especially excited to see the hops coming up early, as I have been looking forward to cooking up some hop shoots. After learning that hop shoots are eaten as a Belgian/French delicacy (known as Jets de Houblon), I wanted to try to use them in the veganyumyum recipe for pan-friend gnocchi with morels and fiddleheads. It’s a recipe I’ve made a few times and love, though in the off-season I have to substitute the fiddleheads with asparagus (and I’ve never made it with the morels, unfortunately.) The hop shoots are a prefect early-spring substitute for the fiddleheads and the recipe provided me with an excuse to cut back the hops while I get the trellis set up.

I followed the recipe as it is on veganyumyum, with a few additions/substitutions. I added some garlic and organic kalamata olives and gave it a splash of about 2tsps of  white truffle oil at the end. Also, I subbed the morels with a mix of organic shiitake, shimeji, abalone and “field” mushrooms (10 oz frozen bag from Wildwood Farms.) Finally, I used about 20 6″ hop shoots in place of the fiddleheads. I prepared the hop shoots in a separate pan, blanching them in about 1/4 cup of Biere de Mars for about 5 minutes.

When the hop shoots were softened, I set them over the other ingredients in a bowl. I also pan-fried some asparagus to mix with the remaining gnocchi. It turned out to be a very tasty meal. Though I don’t think the hop shoots had a tremendous impact on the flavors, they did add an interesting touch – a mix of asparagus and the “wild” flavors and crunchy texture of fiddleheads.  They had a slight bitterness (probably offset some with the sweetness of the beer), yet overall their flavor was somewhat subtle. Each ingredient added an interesting dimension and came together as a nicely balanced, highly enjoyable dish.

It was a perfect meal for a beautiful spring evening. It was enjoyed outside, paired with a very nice brett-infused saison from The Bruery, Saison Rue.  The “wild” flavors of the funky farmhouse ale went incredibly well with the food and the 80 degree weather. Indeed, a delicious start to spring.