Responding to late February’s longer days and warmer temperatures, the overwintered greens in the kitchen garden are bursting with welcome new growth. The chard looks prettier than it has all winter. New leaves are shiny green and stalks are vibrant shades of red, orange and yellow. Kale plants, tired-looking just a month ago, have fluffed out with tender green leaves.
And January King Cabbage is surprising us with a bumper crop of little cabbage buds all around the necks where we’d cut beautiful big heads of cabbage in winter.
In the kitchen, these greens become pasta sauces, side dishes and salads. For a quick pasta dinner the other night I wilted chard leaves and then sautéed them in garlic, added cooked cranberry beans and crispy bacon and served this mix of flavors and textures on whole wheat penne, topping all with grated Parmesan cheese. Experimenting a bit a few nights later, I spread cabbage flower buds on a sheet pan, brushed them with olive oil and roasted them at 450 degrees for ten minutes, turning them over after five minutes. The result was crispy outer leaves that reminded us of kale chips and softened stems that reminded us of lightly sautéed cabbage, a combination for a perfect side dish. I’m looking forward to repeating this technique with flower buds of kale and Brussels sprouts in another month.
When our friend Chris came for dinner last weekend, I lightly sautéed leaves of red mustard in olive oil and garlic for a pungent, spicy side dish to accompany pork chops, applesauce and corn bread. I picked more of this spicy new growth mustard this afternoon to mix with kale, arugula, spinach and radicchio for a February salad to take to friends for dinner tonight. I could have made an all kale salad using the tender new growth kale or repeated a salad we enjoyed this past week that combined spears of slightly bitter Radicchio de Treviso with a richly sweet bits of roasted parsnips, rutabaga, turnip and carrots, but a mix of all the new growth leaves to celebrate the February garden seemed right for tonight.
Here in our mild, coastal Pacific Northwest, February is the month when the kitchen garden comes back to life. I have tiny seedlings of broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes growing in my seed room and will soon start seeds of onions, peas, peppers and eggplant, but it’s the new growth on these winter-surviving greens that gives me most pleasure and hope this time of year.