Spring Turnip Dinners

We’ve been enjoying delicious spring turnips from the kitchen garden for the past two weeks. The seeds I planted May 1st provided 1-inch turnips on May 29th and we’ve been harvesting increasingly larger turnips, up to an inch-and-a-half diameter, since then. There’s one more meal left in these rows; then I’ll need to wait a few days for turnips from the seeds I planted in mid-May. In early July we’ll have turnips from a June 1st planting. Succession planting is a great way to extend the harvest of these spring treats.

Turnip closeup

Oasis is the quick-growing variety I plant, my favorite ever since learning about these tender spring turnips five years ago. They grow almost as quickly as radishes, and while they are tasty raw like a radish, I have most fun roasting them, sautéing their leaves and combining both with other flavors and textures.

One night last week I harvested half a dozen turnips, their greens and a head of cauliflower. With some already-cooked Drabo cannellini beans leftover from the night before, I began putting together a meal. After cutting off and setting aside the greens, I quartered the turnips and tossed them and some cauliflower pieces in olive oil, sprinkled on a bit of salt and I set them in a 425-degree oven to roast.

Spring turnip greens raw

Spring turnips and cauliflower

While they cooked, I put half a cup of red quinoa in boiling water and set the timer for eleven minutes. While the quinoa simmered, I sautéed the turnip greens in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes; when they were almost wilted, I added the beans and some yellow raisins.

Spring turnip greens saute

The greens and beans were ready just as it was time to drain the quinoa, and a few minutes after that the turnips and cauliflower were softly caramelized and ready to eat. Arranged around the plate, these four pieces made a pretty picture and an even better meal.

spring turnip dinner

We sampled individual parts, then tried combinations, quinoa and greens, greens and turnips, greens and cauliflower, cauliflower and quinoa, gradually melding all the flavors and textures together into a wonderfully satisfying spring meal. Summer food is on the horizon, but for now it’s hard to imagine anything tastier than spring turnips.

Kale Lessons

I’ve always planted kale in mid-to-late July and watched the plants grow into robust, dark green towers of kale by October. But I always waited to harvest any until the plants went through a frosty night or two and the leaves became deliciously sweet. The leaves before the frost seemed thin and almost bitter compared to the sturdy, sweet, post-frost leaves.

Over this past late fall and early winter, however, kale plants, clusters and singles, volunteered in various spots throughout the garden, along edges of beds where seeds had dropped and through cover crops from seeds that must have survived the compost heat.  Curious about how they’d taste, I let them mature. Kale volunteers

Kale volunteerMy prejudice for July-planted, fall frost-sweetened kale kept my expectations low but I’ve been amazed by how succulent and sweet these later appearing, later maturing kale leaves are. The only frost they got in this past year’s mild winter was when they were quite small plants.

The July-planted kale, which in its last weeks of early May growth gave us many meals of delicious flower buds, is finally in the compost bin but the volunteer kale plants are still providing welcome salads and even some flower buds. And more volunteers have sprouted here and there in the past few weeks. I’ll let them mature too and see how they taste as they grow in the frost-free summer. And if they taste as good as I’m hoping they will, I’ll change my kale planting plan for the year ahead to try to mimic what volunteer seeds and weather patterns have taught me. We may end up eating kale year-round instead of only from October to May.

Kitchen gardener’s habits need to be nudged in new directions now and then, prejudices and rules challenged. With our warming climate, kale may be the first of many vegetables that will cause me to rethink planting calendars and favorite varieties. I’ll pay closer attention.

 

 

 

Habas y Jamon & Espárragos Revuelto

We’re just back from three weeks of walking in the countryside and cities of Andalusia, Spain. Dramatic landscapes, complex history, friendly Spaniards and fellow travelers were all highlights of our trip. We also returned with very fond memories of Andalusian food.

On our village-to-village walks I watched for kitchen gardens and the vegetables growing in them this time of year. Onions, chard and early lettuce stood out against brown soil and in even in the smallest garden plots there were often stands of habas, what I know as fava beans and what the English call broad beans. Favas growing in AndalusiaIn larger gardens long rows of favas grew around almond and olive trees, some with blossoms and some with pods already formed, like those in the kitchen garden of Las Chimeneas, the inn and restaurant in Mairena where we stayed for a week while taking daily walks into the mountains and to surrounding villages.

Fava beans are one of our kitchen garden favorites here on Lopez Island, planted in fall or in early spring and harvested in June or July. Fava beans growing jpgWe serve them pureed for crostini or sandwiches and whole in pasta sauces or as side dishes, but none of these Italian and Californian preparations prepared me for Habas y Jamon, fava beans and Serrano ham, a classic Andalusian dish. The first night our hosts served it I was transported. There was the familiar earthy fava flavor but with a pleasant, faint bitterness from the skin still encasing the small, tender beans. Added to these flavors were the salty sweetness of the ham and the subtle flavors of onion, tomato and orange in the surrounding sauce. Familiar tastes yet a totally new combination. I wanted to eat it every night.

When I told our hosts how much I enjoyed this dish, they graciously offered to show me how to make it, adding this dish to the paella demonstration they’d planned. ConchiAssisted by Emma on the right, Conchi began by adding nearly a cupful of olive oil to a large skillet, warming it as she sliced in a couple of onions and lightly softened them. Next she added two or three handfuls of thinly sliced ham, warming it briefly before chopping and adding several tomatoes, zest from an orange and finally several quarts of small shelled but not peeled fava beans. That was it. The mixture simmered back in the kitchen as she showed us how to make paella. Habas y Jamon was served as a side dish to the paella but for me it could have been the entire meal

With only peeled and frozen favas from last year’s crop and no true Serrano ham, I was still determined to recreate this dish. My first scaled-down version of Conchi’s recipe was very tasty, bringing back happy memories of the original dish. Habas y Jamon in skilletI’m looking forward to this year’s fava crop and the chance to try some unpeeled beans from an early harvest. And maybe I can even find some real Serrano ham.

Asparagus was another spring vegetable we saw many times but not growing in gardens. Instead, in our walks along country paths, we saw long, thin stalks of wild asparagus in the arms and pockets of foragers. Forager #1

Forager #2These jolly foragers reminded me of the cookbook author and writer David Tanis’s story of eating wild asparagus in Andalusia in the spring. Tanis writes: “Long, skinny and ever so slightly bitter, Spanish wild asparagus has a deep green flavor. The best way to cook it, I was told, is sautéed in olive oil with garlic, then swirled with beaten eggs to make a revuelto…a kind of scrambled eggs.” The recipe he developed to accompany his story includes chorizo, green onions and a scattering of toasted croutons along with the eggs and asparagus.

Back home with asparagus from our kitchen garden, I followed his recipe. Though missing the wild asparagus and the wonderful pimenton-flavored chorizo of Andalusia, the dish was delicious and kept our food memories of Spain alive.Asparagus Revuelto

 

 

 

Broccoli Rediscovered

Over the years, I haven’t grown a lot of broccoli in my kitchen garden, usually just four to six plants of Umpqua or DeCicco that I start indoors in late February, set out in late March and harvest beginning with the full heads in late May and then side shoots until mid to late June.

Broccoli head

Broccoli side shoot

Spring broccoli fills the gap between the end of the kale flower buds and the start of sugar snap peas and zucchini. Sometimes I start more in June or July for late summer and early fall harvest but often I don’t because there are so many other tasty summer and fall vegetables I prefer to broccoli.

I’m just as limited with my broccoli recipes. I have a default broccoli recipe I found years ago in Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cook Book (1980): peel the skin from stalks and stems,Broccoli peeling

split any thick stalks into thinner stalks keeping florets attached, steam or boil until barely tender and drain. Sauté chopped garlic in a little olive oil until golden, then add the drained broccoli, a little salt and maybe some red pepper flakes, sauté lightly for a few minutes and serve hot or at room temperature as a side dish or as a topping for pasta or grains. It’s quick and easy and the sweet flavor of just-picked broccoli always comes through.

Perhaps there’s a correlation between not much broccoli and not many recipes. If I grew more broccoli maybe I’d experiment with new recipes or if I found a great new recipe maybe I’d want to grow more broccoli. I think I’ve just found that recipe.

Leafing through Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Italian Country Table (1999) I spotted a recipe for “Seared Broccoli with Lemon.” It’s as simple my old standby but creates a wonderfully different flavor, deeper and richer than the light, sweet garlicky Hazan version. Kasper writes, “browning broccoli gives it an unexpected lustiness…the trick is browning the broccoli fast enough to keep it from overcooking, yet at a moderate rate to build up rich, caramelized flavors.”

Broccoli seared

Her instructions for preparing the broccoli are similar to my standard peeling and steaming preparation. Then once the broccoli is partially cooked, she instructs:

Heat the oil (2 Tablespoons for about 1 and ¼ pounds broccoli) in a 12-inch skillet (she specifies not nonstick) over medium-high heat. Sauté the broccoli until speckled with brown on one side. Adjust the heat to prevent it from burning and watch the pan bottom for scorching. Sprinkle the broccoli with shredded zest from one large lemon, salt and pepper, turn the stalks over and sauté to brown on the second side. Serve hot or warm.

It took me a couple of tries and the rest of my broccoli crop to perfect this technique but even my first attempts resulted in richly flavored, crispy broccoli. And the lemon zest perfectly balances this richness. I’m looking forward to making it again and maybe even experimenting with roasting rather than pan-searing the broccoli. I have six young plants that should give me broccoli by late August. I can already imagine how tasty seared broccoli will be with fresh tomatoes.

Kale Salads

My friend Lexi called me the other day to ask for my kale salad recipe and I was happy to share it: remove kale leaves from the stems and tear or slice them into bite-sized pieces, moisten with a little olive oil, sprinkle on salt to taste and use your hands to massage the leaves in the oil and salt until slightly slippery and shiny, adding more olive oil if necessary. Then squeeze lemon juice over the leaves and toss. Finally add grated Parmesan cheese and toss again. Proportions are flexible and depend on how much kale you start with, how sour or sweet the lemon is and how much cheese you like. Serve it right away or let it sit for up to an hour or so.

Kale salad stilllife

Kale salad tossing

Kale salad 5:15

It’s a recipe for the most basic of kale salads and my favorite, but as with any salad, additions and substitutions are practically endless. One friend adds roasted tomatoes, another lots of red pepper flakes, another toasted croutons; another substitutes Pecorino for Parmesan, another balsamic vinegar for lemon juice. Roasted vegetables, toasted pecans or hazelnuts, apples or citrus are also popular additions.

And then there is the question of what variety of kale to use. Some friends insist on Lacinato kale with its dark green, crinkled spear-shaped leaves. I like the tender, smooth-leaved Red Russian better than Lacinato and this year I’ve liked White Russian even more not only for its sweet flavor but also because it is both more winter hardy than Red Russian and has produced tender, flavorful spring growth longer than Red Russian has. Even now, at the start of June, there’s one more kale salad left on the last few White Russian plants still standing.

Kale white RussianLexi was using kale she’d planted this spring while for the past few months I’ve been harvesting new growth leaves from overwintered kale I planted last July. And before spring’s new growth there were the frost-sweetened leaves I started harvesting in October and before that the tiny new leaves from thinning those July-planted seedlings. With spring and late summer plantings, you can have kale salads year round.

Kale salads have been popular with chefs and home cooks for nearly a decade. Searching the recipe site Epicurious, I found the earliest kale salad recipes dated 2007 and 2009. Introducing the January, 2007 Gourmet magazine recipe is this note: “Inspired by an antipasto that’s popular at New York City’s Lupa, this substantial salad takes a hearty, rich green that’s usually cooked and proves how delicious it can be when served raw.” And a February 2009 Bon Appetit recipe from Dan Barber begins: “In a surprising twist, Tuscan kale is served raw—and makes for a substantial and satisfying winter salad.” Who knew! I experimented with my first kale salad in October, 2007 inspired by Melissa Clark’s New York Times recipe and article.

Before discovering how delicious raw kale is, I’d regularly wilted it then sautéed it in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and served it hot or at room temperature. I still do that, especially at the start of winter when warm food is appealing. But just as often now I keep the kale raw. It mixes well with other hardy winter salad greens like mache, radicchio and arugula but it’s also satisfying alone and especially welcomed after all the other winter greens are gone. In another month and a half, it will be time to plant next year’s crop. Kale salad, once new and trendy, is here to stay.

Raab Season

Broccoli raab or as Italians call it cima di rapa is grown in the spring and the fall specifically for its flower buds. It grows quickly. In fact one variety is named Quarantina, meaning forty days in Italian, for its speedy production of deliciously pungent, tender flower buds.

But other members of raab’s cruciferous family, turnips, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard and kale, produce flower buds too, though not for eight or nine months after planting. They are the final gift of these hardy winter vegetables as the longer, warmer days of early spring encourage growth and bloom. The emerging flower buds look enough like raab that market growers sell them as “kale raab” or “mustard raab” or “Brussels sprout raab.” Raab PFM

Mustard Raab PFMUntil I saw them labeled this way in the Portland Farmer’s market last April, I’d simply called them flower buds or tops but raab works too. Whatever you call them, the important thing is to enjoy the short-lived treat these raab relatives provide this time of year. Harvest them from the your winter garden or look for them at farmers’ markets. For me they signal the welcome arrival of spring food.

One of the first raab relatives to produce flower buds in my kitchen garden this year were three red cabbage plants that sent out gorgeous purple veined blue-green leaves and buds from the base below the long-since-harvested cabbage head. Red cabbage raabMatching this purple and green palate were spears of asparagus, a perfect earthy compliment to these sweeter cabbage buds. I harvested some of each to create a lovely still life on the kitchen island.Raab asparagus stilllife

After admiring it, we roasted the asparagus and sautéed the red cabbage raab in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and served it on pasta topped with toasted breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese, a perfect meal to welcome spring. Raab asparagus dinnerFor yet more delicious meals Brussels sprouts stalks are sending out tender yellow green flower heads and kale flower buds will be ready soon. Spring is here! Welcome raab season!

 

Days to Maturity

“Days to Maturity” is the number that appears in seed catalogs and on seed packets, often in parenthesis right after the variety name, and refers to the number of days it takes for the seed to grow into edible form: Cherry Belle Radishes (25 days), Oasis Turnip (50 days), Sugarsnap Snap Pea (68 days), Spring Treat Yellow Sweet Corn (71 days), Flavorburst Pepper (75 days), Cherokee Purple Tomato (77 days), Diamond Eggplant (78 days).

But as even one season of growing vegetables will teach you, this handy-looking number is really just a rough estimate. Weather and temperature, soil condition and rainfall, day length and sun exposure all influence it. Recording seeding, transplanting and harvest dates as well as weather conditions for your garden each year helps customize the days to maturity and plan future seed orders and planting calendars.

If your record keeping is well intentioned but haphazard like mine, or even non-existent, catalog predictions of days to maturity can still be useful estimates because they help sort varieties that ripen earlier from those that ripen later. Here in our cooler marine northwest climate, selecting varieties that ripen earlier can be a good idea. Most years, Spring Treat Corn at 71 days is more likely to reach maturity than Silver Queen at 96 days. Some catalogs supplement or even replace this number with the categories early, mid-season and late making selection for our climate even easier.It’s also a useful number if you want to plant more than one crop of quick-growing spring vegetables like radishes, spring turnips or lettuce. Sowing at intervals of one to three weeks helps ensure a steady supply during cooler spring months.

Most sources also distinguish between direct seeding and transplants when predicting days to maturity. For vegetables that you sow directly into the ground, the days to maturity estimate begins when you sow the seed though some prefer to start counting when seeds germinate. For vegetables that you start indoors and transplant, the days to maturity estimate begins when you set out the transplants in the garden or the greenhouse. Even with this generous handicap, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers transplanted to my greenhouse still exceed the catalog prediction of days to maturity most years.

While customizing days to maturity with record keeping and using this information to create planting calendars are parts of my garden planning, once I actually have the seed packets in hand and the potting soil or the garden dirt under my fingernails, all this information and planning falls away and my mind fills with the meals ahead: the first salad of tender new lettuce and spicy radishes, a bowl of roasted spring turnips on a bed of their sautéed greens, the first sugar snap pea raw from the vine sometime in early June and the big bowl of them I’ll take a month later to my neighbors’ 4th of July party.

_Turnips cookedPeas closeupThinking past spring into summer, I imagine the first tomato sandwich of the season, the first eggplant pizza, and the first crisp pepper salad. Eggplant pizza with bowl of green beans Pepper salad As I plant seeds for each of these meals, I’m confident that they will germinate in a week or two, the plants will grow over more weeks and months, the harvest will happen as weather and temperature allow, all this as the days get longer and warmer. A planting calendar based on days to maturity and record keeping nudges me along but the real motivators are the meals ahead and the pleasure of imagining them.  Happy Spring!