Kale Tops and Other Flower Buds

In these early spring days of longer light and warmer temperatures, the winter kitchen garden offers one last treat before giving way to the next season’s plantings.  Kale, Brussels sprouts, the few remaining turnips and rutabagas all respond to the end of winter by producing flower heads, tight buds that resemble tiny broccoli.  They are delicious!  Kale tops are the most familiar but flower buds from other brassicas are just as tasty.  Quickly wilted and then sautéed in olive oil and garlic they are a perfect farewell to winter and welcome to spring.

Red Russian kale flower bud

Rainbow Lacinato kale flower buds

Winterbor kale flower budsBrussels Sprout flower budsTurnip flower budsServed on pasta with toasted breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese these sautéed flower buds make the meal I most look forward to this time of year. They are sweet and tender, like broccoli raab but not as pungent.  They come on fast and though I find myself imagining other ways to eat them, I’m just as happy to return to this favorite pasta topping or simply serve them sautéed as a side dish.

Kale flower buds sautéed and served with pasta

Brussels Sprouts flower buds sautéed in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakesI harvest these flower heads by slicing the stem two or three inches below the buds.  First harvest stems are thick, a quarter to a half inch in diameter, and succulent; as the short season continues, the stems of side buds are smaller but still tasty. Those buds I don’t manage to pick open into yellow flowers, brightening the garden and attracting bees.  If temperatures really warm up, aphids also discover the flower buds, making them less pleasant to pick and prepare.  At this point, I reluctantly let them go, but in their place there are the first spears of asparagus and leaves of lettuce ready to harvest so I really can’t complain.