Chard Flower Buds

Each spring I look forward to harvesting, cooking and eating the flower buds that form on overwintered kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and red mustard.

Kale top Red Russian

Before their buds burst into yellow, bee-attracting flowers, these members of the Brassica family provide us with tasty side dishes and pasta sauces. Last week, as we were sharing a meal of sautéed red mustard leaves and their spicy flower buds with weekend guests, my friend Chris asked me if I’d ever eaten chard flower buds. No, I said, and wondered why I’d never considered the flower buds of this other overwintered green.

In the kitchen garden a few days later, I looked more closely at the flower heads that were forming on the bolting, overwintered chard plants.

chard tops garden group

Unlike the tight, broccoli and broccoli raab-like buds on kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and red mustard, these chard buds looked shaggy, loose and seedy, more like amaranth than the Brassica family buds I was used to harvesting.

chard tops garden closeup

This different appearance makes sense because chard and amaranth are members of the Goosefoot Family (Chenopodiaceae). But were the Goosefoot flower buds as edible and delicious as the Brassica buds?

Curious to know if other people harvested and cooked chard flower buds, I searched the Internet and found a July 29, 2009 blog entry titled “Eating Whole Food: When Chard Bolts,” by Deborah Madison, the chef and vegetable cookbook author whose inspiring work has guided my cooking for years. She describes surveying her bolting chard and deciding to cook and eat it instead of composting it: “True, it didn’t look much like the chard you buy at the store—no big fleshy leaves, here—but why assume what filled my arms wouldn’t be tender and tasty?”

Her account was all the encouragement I needed.

chard tops basket

I harvested a basket of chard flower buds and took them to the kitchen where I rinsed them, wilted them in a covered skillet, keeping an eye on them to see how long they took to soften. After five minutes, the thin stems and leaves and the shaggy blossoms were tender and delicious, tasting sweet and earthy like new chard. I added some chopped garlic and olive oil and sautéed them for a few minutes more before serving them.

With lots more seed heads forming on my bolting chard plants, I’ve been using them in other favorite chard recipes. One night I made Scafata, a mixture of fava beans, onion, tomato and chard from Viana La Place’s still-inspiring 1991 cookbook Verdura.

Scafata recipe

I used fava beans I’d frozen last summer, tomatoes I’d roasted and frozen and the last red onion, sautéing these together before adding the chard stems and flower heads. The flower heads softened and blended into the favas, tomatoes and onions, creating a sauté of complementary flavors and textures.

chard tops scafata.jpg

I served this flavorful sauce over pasta garnishing it with lots of black pepper and coarsely grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Last night I combined more chard flower buds with another set of flavors I often use with big chard leaves. Sautéing the chard buds in olive oil, garlic and shallots, I next added yellow raisins and red pepper flakes, and then served this sauté as a side dish garnished with toasted hazelnuts.

chard tops rack

chard tops raisins hazelnuts

I also look forward to making the recipes Deborah Madison describes in her blog post: wilted chard “leaves, stems and flower clusters” tossed with “cilantro, which I love with chard, lemon, olive oil, sea salt, pepper and little extra lemon juice for acid.” She adds that any leftovers can be a salad the next day or go into a pita sandwich or a fritatta or be mixed with beans. So many possibilities.

There will be more chard meals in the next week or two before these flower buds bloom and the plants finally go to the compost. My thanks to Chris for making me curious and to Deborah Madison for inspiring me! Now there’s another flower bud to look forward to each spring.

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Early Spring Salads

The early spring kitchen garden continues to offer salad greens from the sturdy plants that provided greens throughout the winter. Arugula, red mustard and kale all came through the cold snaps of December, January and February and now with the longer light of March and April are sending out new growth.

Arugula is starting to bud and blossom but the new leaves that are growing too are tender and spicy.

Spring arugula 4.18

Red mustard is sending out succulent-stemmed, horseradish-spicy leaves.

Spring mustard 4.18

And kale, the year-round champion, is bursting with sweet, tender leaves.

Spring kale 4.18

We eat kale salads for lunch nearly every day and lately we’ve been adding red mustard leaves to the bowl, their hot crispness a perfect balance to the tender sweet kale. Olive oil, a little salt, fresh lemon juice and grated Pecorino cheese meld the flavors of the two together into a perfect salad.

Spring mustard, kale 4.18

Spring kale mustard salad

Arugula makes a great salad with the same dressing, but for the past few months, I’ve been using Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for arugula with roasted red onions and walnut salsa from his 2014 cookbook Plenty More.

Red onion Walnut salsa recipe

It’s so good! The thick slices of red onions roast, soften and caramelize. Redwing is my favorite storage onion, a variety I’ve grown for years. Served warm over a bed of arugula these roasted onions are delicious and beautiful and would be a fine just with the arugula, but what really makes this salad is the walnut salsa. Modifying Ottolenghi’s recipe slightly, I marinate minced garlic in red wine vinegar with a little salt for an hour or so then add coarsely chopped walnuts and finely diced poblano peppers I’d roasted and frozen last summer. Thawed they are perfect for this salsa.   Flavors of sharp vinegar, pungent garlic, crunchy walnuts and spicy poblanos make a salsa that I’m happy simply to eat with a spoon. Tossed into the salad it’s great too. Another modification I make is to use much more arugula than the recipe suggests, making this a dinner salad rather than an appetizer.

Red onion walnut salsa salad

These early spring salads are exactly what we need as we wait for warmer weather and the first lettuce of early summer.

Emmer Farro and Vegetable Salads

Earlier this month, we were visiting family in western Massachusetts and planning a lunch for a gathering of fifteen good eaters. We’d stopped at Petarski’s Sausage for several pounds of their traditional kielbasa and a jar of locally made sauerkraut and at one of the many roadside stands for bunches of just-picked asparagus. Grilled kielbasa with sauerkraut and roasted asparagus garnished with lots of quartered, hard-boiled eggs would make two great dishes but I needed one more. Luckily my sister Sadie had her usual supply of Bluebird Grain Farms Emmer Farro, a grain she orders regularly from our friends Sam and Brooke Lucy who grow it in Washington state’s Methow Valley, so I began to create an emmer farro salad to round out the meal.

The Bluebird Grain Farms website describes emmer farro as: a type of farro (an ancient hulled wheat) that dates back to early civilization. It’s a simple grain of 28 chromosomes that pre-dates spelt. It is prepared like brown rice and cooks in 50-60 minutes (or can be soaked overnight to reduce the cooking time). It makes a fabulous pilaf, grain salad, risotto, addition to soup, or sprouted grain for breads and salads. When cooked, its dark, plump berries add sweet full-bodied flavor, chewy texture, and high nutritional value (over 16% protein) to every meal.

Farro package

And as farmer Sam added the other day when I told him about this meal: “emmer is a great filler.” He’s right, and I was counting on that for my family lunch crowd, but emmer’s sweet, nutty flavor and chewy texture also make it a great match for many savory flavors, whatever vegetables, meats, cheeses or nuts happen to be available. For this day’s lunch, I covered four cups of emmer farro with ten cups of water in a large pot and set it to boil, then to simmer, covered, on the stove while I began preparing vegetables I’d add to it for a grain salad. Sadie offered the last of her shallots so I slowly sautéed a cup and a half them, chopped, in olive oil. When they were soft and starting to brown, I added some chopped garlic. We’d also bought four bunches of locally grown bok choi so I coarsely chopped the leaves and stems and slightly wilted them. And the day before we’d bought some locally made bocconcini mozzarella that I was marinating in olive oil and herbs. Sadie also had some flavorful pecans so we toasted a generous half-cup.

After 45 minutes of simmering, the emmer farro was soft and chewy. I drained it then stirred in the sautéed shallots and garlic, the wilted bok choi and quartered bocconcini then dressed the grains and vegetables with a lemon juice/mustard/maple syrup and olive oil vinaigrette we’d made up on the spot, adding just a few teaspoons of the maple syrup to balance the tartness of the lemon and sharpness of the mustard. We lined a large, shallow bowl with a layer of Sadie’s just-picked spinach, arranged the emmer farro vegetable salad on top of the spinach and sprinkled the toasted pecans on top. Who knew that what was meant to take third place behind the kielbasa and asparagus would be the hit of the lunch. Everyone from a three-year-old to an eighty-one-year-old asked for seconds.

Back home after our visit, I’ve continued to experiment with emmer farro and vegetable salads. For a potluck dish, I sautéed some of my remaining shallots and garlic as a base and instead of bok choi added lots of chopped red radishes and toasted pecans and dressed the salad with just olive oil and salt and pepper. Another night I started with sautéed shallots as a base, added some cooked black beans and chopped radishes and finally some roasted broccoli topped with lemon zest. Farro BroccoliLast night I roasted some purplette onions and some spring turnips, sautéed the turnip greens in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and added these tasty spring vegetables to cooked emmer farro and black beans.

Turnips, greens, onions

Farro turnip

Once again, emmer farro’s chewy grain flavor was a perfect match for these earthy, sweet spring vegetables.

A friend asked me this weekend what I planned to bring to our neighbor’s Fourth of July potluck celebration next month. I told her I was already thinking of what vegetables to add to an emmer farro salad. Maybe some roasted beets and carrots, flavored perhaps with toasted cumin and coriander seed, with sautéed beet greens and roasted spring onions. Food for a crowd!

Happy Summer Solstice!

 

 

Red Mustard Pairings

Red Mustard in garden 5:17The prettiest vegetable in the spring kitchen garden right now is the overwintered red mustard. Purple is actually a more accurate description of the color, violet purple with gorgeous purple-green variegation, but the variety growing in my garden is called Red Giant. I’ve also grown the more accurately named Osaka Purple, but I’ve found that Red Giant is more winter hardy than Osaka Purple. It survived the repeated cold spells of the past winter in a drafty hoop house with hay mulch around its base. Now robust and big-leafed with new growth, it’s a treat for the eye.

It’s also a treat for the palate. The Fedco description of Red Giant’s flavor says: “Tastes like horseradish to some, peppery to others.” The horseradish flavor, actually closer to wasabi than horseradish, is why we like it so much.

Another treat is that these huge and flavorful leaves are surprisingly tender. Removed from the stalk, rinsed and sliced into rough squares, a pile of enormous leaves will wilt down quickly in olive oil and garlic, transforming into a spicy sauté, delicious alone but also wonderful with sweet or salty flavors.

Red mustard pile on island

Red Mustard saute

With the abundance of mustard in the garden now, I’ve been experimenting with red mustard pairings. One night, asparagus, fresh from the garden and roasted, provided an earthy, sweet counterpoint to the spicy mustard.

Red Mustard & Asparagus platter

The next night I used beans for sweetness. For salty, I fried some bacon, wilted the mustard in the bacon fat and combined all the flavors into a pasta sauce. Delicious!

Red Mustard, bacon beans in skillet

Another night, mustard and bacon mixed together formed a side dish for orzo and asparagus.

Red Mustard and orzo

A few nights later, I combined eggs, a little grated Parmesan cheese and sautéed red mustard for a creamy, soft frittata. On the side, some sweet roasted pears, roasted and frozen last fall, were a perfect pairing.

Red Mustard fritatta

We’ll keep experimenting with red mustard leaves and soon will add the lovely, chartreuse-colored mustard flower buds to the mix. Like the leaves, they are tender and full of mustard flavor, perfect for pairing with more sweet and salty flavors.

 

Earth Day 2017

I usually plant seeds outside in the garden on Earth Day. The soil and air are often warm enough by April 22nd and it’s often a pretty day. But this year I’m going to wait a week or maybe two for soil still saturated and cold from March rains to warm up a bit and for temperatures to rise a little more. Maybe this year’s first outside planting day will be May 1st, a date many Lopez Island old-timers recommended to me when I first started gardening here twenty-five years ago.

Despite the delay in planting seeds of spring vegetable crops, the kitchen garden is still providing food I associate with spring. New leaf growth on kale, arugula and chard provides salads, pesto sauces and sautés. And flower buds forming on kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustards and the last remaining rutabagas and turnips offer raab-like treats for pasta sauces and side dishes. Most exciting, asparagus is shooting up, growing quickly in spite of cool days and cooler nights. We’ve been enjoying some every night for the past week.

This burgeoning green in the garden is matched by the greening of the landscape outside the garden hedge. Willow and alder are leafing out, shrubs in the hedgerows show a film of green, and grass in the pastures seems taller and greener each day. I see this landscape from the kitchen as I cook.

Kitchen green view

Last night I sautéed kale flower buds with some of the last leeks, sliced and roasted some asparagus, thawed and simmered some fava beans frozen last summer

Primavera ingredients

and mixed all of these green vegetables into a sauce for homemade pasta,

Primavera in skillet

our kitchen garden version of pasta primavera to celebrate Earth Day, toasting the spirit that inaugurated Earth Day forty-seven years ago and hoping our activism can prevail against the current administration’s assault.

In another week or two I’ll plant seeds outside, carrots, beets, radishes and spring turnips. They’ll join starts of sugar snap peas, broccoli and cauliflower I set out this week. While I wait to plant outside, I can tend the summer vegetables growing in the warm shelter of the seed starting room and the greenhouse. Tomatoes I seeded indoors on February 22nd are planted in the greenhouse ground now, spreading up and out. Eggplant and peppers are in 4” pots in the greenhouse, adjusting to this new environment after their six weeks under lights in the seed room. When temperatures rise enough, I’ll set them out in their permanent bed under a hoop house in the garden. In the seed room, starts of fennel, radicchios and lettuces are ready to harden off and get into the ground as soon as the soil is ready. Spring may be slow this year, but it’s coming.

 

 

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.