Red, green, and white are colors I associate with this early winter season. They show up in Christmas lights, gift paper, ribbons and wreaths. In hedgerows, there are rose hips, hawthorne, holly and snowberry. And on the table, there are salads from the winter garden where radicchio, red mustard and kale, mache and arugula, escarole and curly endive offer more versions of the red, green and white of the season.
With winter salads in mind, I planted these greens in summer and fall, beginning with kale in mid-July, continuing with escarole, endive and radicchio in early August and the others, mache, mustard and arugula every few weeks from mid-August until late September. In an August post I wrote about planting many of these greens: https://lopezislandkitchengardens.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/greens-for-fall-and-winter/
Now they are mature, growing slowly if at all in the cooler temperatures and shorter days of our coastal northwest winter. I keep the escarole, curly endive and radicchio covered in a low plastic tunnel because the rain will cause them to rot. The kale, mustard, arugula and mache are fine in the rain though I cover them as well when nighttime temperatures head for the low twenties.
Radicchio: “Fiero” and “Indigo”
Harvesting these greens is pretty straightforward. With kale, mustard and arugula, I snip off individual leaves and the plant continues growing. With mache, escarole, curly endive and radicchio I harvest the entire plant by cutting it off at the base. The mache rosette is usually free of any tough or yellowed bottom leaves but the others often have some weathered and tough outer leaves that I pull off and compost.
Washing the individual leaves is easy in a salad spinner. Washing the full plants is a bit more complicated. After rinsing the mache rosettes, I grasp the rosette root side up in one hand and with the other hand slice across the plant about an inch or so above the root stem. The now separated leaves wash and dry easily in a salad spinner. I use the same approach with the much bigger escarole and curly endive plants. The one variation is that after cutting off the root end I separate the outer leaves from the smaller, creamier-colored inner leaves. I use the inner leaves for salad and save the larger outer leaves to sauté in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. Finally, the radicchio heads are usually tightly wrapped, so after trimming off the root and outer leaves, I simply slice or tear the leaves of the head as I would cabbage.
Each of these greens has a distinctive flavor. Kale is earthy, arugula is peppery, mustard is, well, mustardy. Mache is nutty and escarole, curly endive and radicchio are all pleasantly bitter. The flavors mix well together and are especially pretty with their shades of red, green and white.
Sometimes though I’ll enjoy just one all by itself heaped into a salad bowl. For dressings, I like simple vinaigrettes made with sherry, cider or white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil so that the flavors of greens stand out.
I often stop here, with a delicious, leafy salad. But, there are winter roots and fruits that mix wonderfully with these greens. Turnip, celery root, beets, apples and pears all add further flavors and textures as well as red and white colors to the greens. The other day, I sliced some Gilfeather turnip into matchstick-size pieces and added them and some diced winter pears to a mix of escarole and mache. The soft, sweetness of the pear and the crisp, pungency of the turnip blended perfectly with the bitter escarole and nutty, mineral flavored mache. I used cider vinegar vinaigrette.
Another favorite winter salad is celery root and apple with mache or arugula. I slice the celery root into matchstick-size pieces and marinate them for an hour or so in a mix of white wine or cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and finely diced shallots. For a pound and a half of celery root, I use a quarter cup of vinegar, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and one to two tablespoons of minced shallot. Then I add diced red apples, mache or arugula and four to six tablespoons of olive oil. It’s a beautiful red, white and green salad. A few toasted pecans or hazelnuts add one more delicious flavor.
Finally, beets, boiled, peeled and diced or peeled, diced and roasted are a perfect addition to any of these greens, both for flavor and for color.
On these dark December days with seed catalogs arriving daily, it’s tempting to look ahead to the first tender salads of spring but right now and for the next few months are perfect times to enjoy tasty winter salads.