Each spring I look forward to harvesting, cooking and eating the flower buds that form on overwintered kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and red mustard.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve always cooked the ribs on the big leaves but never the big stems. I’ll give them a try. How do you cook them?
You should do a post on your favorite cook books. I bought Chez Panez and I think you were the one who talked about it. I’m always looking for new and different ways to cook vegetables.
Good idea! Thanks. I’ll work on it.
Who knew? Beautiful pics and lots of inspiration-thanks!!
Yes, who knew! Thanks for writing! Glad you like the pics and the recipes.
Ok! I am finally going to try fave beans, because of this blog! Yes, with Chard, sounds great!
Thanks for another great veggie blog,
You are welcome! Thanks for writing.
Once again, you are so incredible!!! We are so lucky to have your curiosity to stretch all of our palettes! How lucky Scott is to have such a cook at home!!
Spring love to you, Polly
And spring love back to you as our shared birthday month approaches!
Thanks for writing, Debby
As my chard is bolting, I too searched the internet and found Deborah Madison’s post and yours. Thank you for the inspiration!! Funny thing that Deborah, you, and I share variations of the same name (mine is spelled Debra). More than likely we are around the same age =)
Thank you for writing! What a lovely coincidence that we are all variations of Debra/Deborah. I’m a Deborah but often go by Debby. And I was born in 1950. Does that make us around the same age?
I have enjoyed your monthly posts for a couple of years. Recently I visited some newcomers to Camano Island who live close to us to see their new property and garden. I discovered, while mentioning your garden, you know each other. They are Mike and Marsha McGough. Mike worked with your husband, Scott.
I started eating the blooms in my morning fritata this year on a whim, and agree that they are awesome and kind of extend the season for Chard. I suddenly started to worry about oxalates (even through I’m not sensitive), but they are so tender that I doubt its a problem, and your blog reinforced my courage to eat them this time of year. Also since they grow so fast oxalates should not have time to accumulate in them since it seems like it takes some time for something like Ca Oxalate crystals to form in plant tissue. I kind of think of them as wild immature buckwheat.
I’ve been eating chard flower buds too! Haven’t tried them in a frittata yet, but will. Thanks for the suggestion!