Update: Cover Crops

Now that summer’s warmth-loving plants have gone to the compost bin, the kitchen garden has bare dirt exposed in empty beds.  With a few exceptions, like arugula and mache (also known as corn salad), it’s too late to plant winter crops like kale and chard, leeks and hardy roots.  So, what can go into this bare soil?  Cover crops! They cover the soil, protecting it from hard winter rains and slowly building up foliage and roots that will add organic matter and nutrients to the soil when they are turned in the spring. 

Several years ago, I wrote about planting cover crops, explaining that this last step in the garden year was probably the most important thing I do for the kitchen garden.  Part of this process is selecting the right cover crop.  Over the years, I’ve used small-seeded fava beans, Austrian field pea, annual rye, and, as an experiment in a few beds, mache, also known as corn salad.  I’ve abandoned fava beans and field pea because they were attracting pea weevil, but I thought I was making a good choice with annual rye. According to garden authority Linda Gilkeson in a recent interview, I was not.

In a February 2020 blog post from the New Society Publishers, Gilkeson says: “don’t grow fall rye as a cover crop to turn under in the spring: that’s just a magnet for click beetles.”  Click beetles are the parents of wire worms, the pest that has increasingly plagued gardeners growing lettuce as well as larger-seeded plants like corn.  Yikes!  Was I attracting wire worms by using annual rye as a cover crop? No evidence yet that I have, and I hope it’s the same for anyone else who has used annual rye as a cover crop, but I’m not going to use it this year.

Instead, I’ve decided to sow all my open beds with mache. Years ago, a young Lopez gardener suggested I try it as a cover crop, and she gave me some seeds she’d harvested from her crop.  Since then, I’ve always sowed at least two beds in mache; this year I’ll sow nine.  

There are several things I like about mache as a cover crop.  It germinates reliably in the first weeks of October when I am ready to plant cover crops, and its foliage and mass of fine roots break down quickly in the spring. It’s very winter hardy, surviving temperatures in the single digits and even thriving in snow. And as a bonus, between winter and spring, the leaves make delicious salads.  I’ve always grown a bed of mache for winter Now with mache as a cover crop, I have enough for more salads than I could ever eat.

I’ve ordered seeds of mache from Osborne’s Seeds in Mt Vernon, WA. One 10 /M packet holds about 24 grams of seeds, enough to seed two 5-by-18 foot beds.  My friend Carol has ordered cover crop seeds from True Leaf Market. I may order from them next year.  

The seeds are tiny and light but are quite easy to broadcast thinly over a bed. 

I rake them in lightly, tamp the soil down with the back of the rake, and then cover the bed with a row cover like Reemay to protect germinating plants from birds. Once the plants are up, I remove the row cover.  If you’ve never sowed a cover crop, the video on this English site is a good guide.  I was interested to see that this site also recommends mache or corn salad as a cover crop.

If you’re looking for one last chance to be out in the garden before the garden year comes to the end, planting cover crops is a great way to spend a sunny fall afternoon.

Nearing the Autumn Equinox

In the mid-September kitchen garden, corn, beans, winter squash and potatoes are at the end of their growing cycles, their dry and yellowed stalks and vines destined for the compost pile. In the greenhouses, the last of the ripening tomatoes hang near the top of wilting vines and remaining eggplants and peppers still glow purple, red, orange and yellow though their leaves are tattered. These warmth-loving plants promise a few more meals before cold weather cuts off their production.  

In contrast to these drying, end-of-summer plants, the foliage of fall and winter crops is lush and green.  In early morning walks in the kitchen garden, my husband Scott has captured the beauty of leeks, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turnips, chard and kale.  While it’s sad to come to the end of the summer kitchen garden, the freshness of these fall and winter plants and the anticipation of meals they’ll provide temper the change from one season to the next.

Planting for Fall and Winter

What comes after spring garden planting? Abundant harvests of lettuce, radishes, peas, beets, carrots and, a little later, beans, zucchini and tomatoes.  But what else comes after spring garden planting?  Fall and winter garden planting!  Even as I’m enjoying vegetables from the spring and summer garden, I’m eyeing the spaces left by these harvests and plotting what I can plant there for fall and winter. If you have extra garden space showing up as you harvest, you can plant some fall and winter crops now and throughout July and August.  The reward will be vegetables from the kitchen garden this winter.

Most of the vegetables I plant for my fall and winter kitchen garden fall into two general categories, greens and roots. Greens that I always make room for are kale, collards, chard, radicchio, red mustard, arugula, mache. Winter roots that have a place are rutabaga, turnip, carrots, beets, parsnips, celery root. Brussels sprouts, cabbage and leeks don’t fit neatly into these categories, but I always leave space for them in my winter garden too.

Greens grown in fall and winter tend to be sweeter and more succulent than greens grown in summer.  They not only thrive in cool weather, but also get sweeter after a frost. Winter roots as well as leeks, Brussels sprouts and cabbage also thrive and sweeten in cold weather, and their rich deep flavors signal fall and winter in contrast to the lighter, brighter flavors of summer’s beans, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. And even when the weather gets really cold, there are lots of ways to protect your winter crops.

Here’s the planting calendar I keep in mind as space opens up in the garden. Some of these vegetables I’ll direct seed and others I’ll start in pots and plant out as space becomes available.

If you use Linda Gilkeson’s winter garden planting calendar, you’ll notice that I suggest dates a little later than those she suggests, but I’ve found that I can push the season a little more in my Lopez Island garden than she can on Salt Spring Island.

Greens:

Kale and collards: mid-July, direct seed or plant in pots for transplanting

Chard: mid-July, direct seed or plant in pots for transplanting

Radicchio: mid-to-late July, direct seed or plant in pots for transplanting

Red mustard: early to mid-August, direct seed or plant in pots for transplanting

Arugula: direct seed, mid-August through October and as late as December in a cold frame

Mache: mid-August, direct seed or plant in flats for transplanting

Roots:

Carrots: early to mid-July, direct seed

Beets: early to mid-July, direct seed

Rutabaga: mid-July, direct seed or start in pots for transplanting

Turnip: mid-July, direct seed or start in pots for transplanting

Parsnips: early June to mid-July, direct seed

Celery root: April to May in pots for transplanting late June

Leeks: late May, direct seed or in pots to transplant

Brussels sprouts: early June, in pots to transplant early to mid-July

Winter cabbage: early June, in pots to transplant early to mid-July

Over the years, I’ve written many blog posts about growing and cooking winter vegetables. If you’re interested in trying a few winter vegetables this year, check out these posts for photos and ideas and explore the site under Fall/Winter Vegetables. For many of these vegetables, it’s not too late to buy seeds. And if planting for fall and winter doesn’t appeal this year, there’s always next year!

Greens for fall and winter: Includes advice on planting arugula and mache.

Plant your Winter Roots: An overview, similar to this post

Undercover Greens: Includes advice on constructing a low hoop house

Kale: The first of many posts on kale on this blog.

Bitter Greens: Includes advice on growing and cooking radicchio and other bitter greens.

Mache: Includes advice on growing, harvesting and serving mache, also known as corn salad.

Red Mustard: Advice on growing and cooking red mustard.

Winter Vegetable Beauty: Includes a delicious recipe for winter cabbage

Gilfeather Turnip: Includes the “back story” of this delicious winter turnip.

January King Cabbage: Includes advice on growing this very hardy winter cabbage and a recipe for cabbage and collards

Roasting Colorful Carrots: Includes my favorite recipe for winter carrots

Sweeter after a frost: Explains why winter vegetables are sweeter!

Purple Cape Cauliflower and Uncertain Times

After last year’s happy experience with overwintering cauliflower and broccoli  , I’ve been eager for this year’s overwintered brassica harvest to begin.  I planted these overwintering brassicas indoors in early June and set them out in the kitchen garden in mid-July where they grew steadily through late summer and fall, then settled into winter, surviving cold, snow and winds.  The first overwintered treat to mature this year was Purple Cape Cauliflower, its intense purple startling me as much this year as it did last.

Purple Cape two

I’ve been harvesting heads for the past several weeks while the curds are still tightly packed, unlike last year when I, in my inexperience with them, let them grow out onto their stems.

For dinner the other night, I paired a head of Purple Cape cauliflower with emerging flower buds of Dazzling Blue kale and January King cabbage, nice color matches.

Purple Cape and flower buds

I roasted the cauliflower and lightly wilted the flower buds.  While the cauliflower finished roasting, I sautéed the wilted flower buds in lots of olive oil and garlic and then added some cooked black beans. When the cauliflower was browned and soft, I added it to the pan with the other vegetables and scattered all with finely grated lemon zest.

Purple Cape side

On its own, this mixture would be a lovely side dish, but by adding pasta, it becomes a hearty main dish.  Any pasta would be fine, but orecchiette is especially fun for the way the beans nestle into the little ears of orecchiette.  Sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and toasted bread crumbs, this pasta dish makes a perfect early spring meal.

Purple Cape pasta

In the days before social distancing, I’d make this pasta meal again and invite friends over to enjoy it, or I’d bring the vegetable side dish to a potluck.  I miss these dinner table connections and conversations, but I’m grateful for another connection between friends that still continues.  On the phone and over email, even sometimes at a distance of six feet during a walk, gardeners are asking each other questions and sharing advice.  “What are you planting, now?” “Are you planting out in the garden or starting seeds indoors?” “What kind of potting soil do you use?”  “Do I need to buy new seeds of that vegetable, or will my old seeds still work?”  And, as I asked my friend Carol on the phone the other day, “When will the rest of my overwintered brassicas mature?” “Soon,” she answered reassuringly, “April or maybe May.”

In addition to friends, I’m grateful to Linda Gilkeson whose “Lists” address gardeners’ questions every couple of weeks.  If you already subscribe, you know how useful her advice is for maritime northwest gardeners.  If you want to subscribe, go to her website http://www.lindagilkeson.ca/gardening_tips.htmland click on Gardening Tips in the menu.

In her March 22, 2020 list, she makes a very generous offer to all gardeners: access to her gardening courses.  She writes:

I am getting emails from first-time gardeners wanting to grow food in this year of the pandemic, yet my gardening classes, workshops and talks in the region have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. SO, I am making my Year Round Harvest gardening course slides available to everyone. These are pdf files of the PowerPoint slides that I show in my two 10-month gardening courses and are normally only accessible by the people registered in the classes. The two courses are sponsored by the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific [https://hcp.ca/ ] and the Salt Spring Garden Club [https://ssigardenclub.ca/ ] and I appreciate their support for releasing these presentation to anyone who wants to see them.

 You will need to use the class password to view these files, which will be available until December. Here’s how: 

Go to: http://www.lindagilkeson.ca/coursenotes.html

Use this password: honeycrisp

Click on SUBMIT (hitting ENTER doesn’t work)

 Around the middle of each month from January to October I put up a new module on a different topic appropriate to the season. So far, there are 3 files:

  1. Garden Plans and Seed Starting 
  2. Soil, Nutrients and Amendments 
  3. Spring Garden 

If you have questions about the material in these presentations, there is much more detail in my book Backyard Bounty. If you have access to a copy, please try to find your answers there first: I am becoming overwhelmed by emails. My priority is to answer questions for people in this year’s gardening classes and from Master Gardeners in BC and I will try to answer others as I have time.

Thank you to Linda for her generosity.

My blog also provides answers to some of our spring gardening questions.  Check out the post on  Starting Seeds Indoors and another on Transplanting vs Direct Seeding.  And if you’re ordering seeds, this post provides a chart on seed viability and if you’re wondering when you can eat the vegetables you’re planting, read this one on Days to Maturity.

I’m very grateful to have the kitchen garden right now, both because it provides food and because it provides a point of connection with friends, family and blog readers.  We’re comforted by growing food in this uncertain time, comforted by the sense of normalcy that germinating seeds and growing plants offer us each day.

Winter Vegetable Galettes

As February comes to an end, longer daylight length and warmer temperatures are awakening the hardy vegetables that have been holding in the winter kitchen garden since last fall.  While kale is already forming flower buds that I can harvest soon and throughout the spring, other remaining winter vegetables, like cabbages and leeks, really need to be harvested now, before they send out seed buds that compromise their flavor. Luckily, winter vegetable galettes are to a perfect way to use these end-of-the-winter-season vegetables.

A galette is basically a freeform, single-crust pie baked on a flat surface like a sheet pan or baking stone rather than in a pie pan, though the galette technique works well in a pie pan too.  Roll pastry dough into a circle, spread filling onto the dough to within about 2 inches of the pastry edge and fold the pastry edge up around the filling.  The result is a rustic-looking pie with the filling exposed and circled by a pastry crust.

I make galettes throughout the year, fruit galettes in summer, especially apricot galettes when friends give me apricots, and summer vegetable galettes with caponata-like fillings of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.  But winter vegetable galettes are my favorites.

Deborah Madison has a wonderful selection of winter vegetable galettes in her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (1997).  I make her winter squash galette often.  Sage, roasted garlic and a little cheese are all she suggests adding to roasted winter squash.  The result is a savory squash galette that makes a perfect main dish served with a pilaf of farro or brown rice and wild rice.

I also make her leek and goat cheese galette. It is a slightly richer version of Alice Water’s leek galette that is sautéed leeks only, wrapped in crust.

Leek galetteLeek galettes have been a winter standby for years, both for dinner and as a finger-food appetizer.  I’ll be making them often in the next few weeks as I harvest the final row of leeks.

And then there is cabbage.  Who knew cabbage could make such a tasty galette!  I hadn’t made Deborah Madison’s Cabbage and Mushroom Galette until this year, and I’m wondering what took me so long.  The combination of lots of wilted cabbage with sautéed mushrooms, diced hard-boiled egg, sour cream or goat cheese, tarragon, thyme and dill is truly delicious, rich, but not too rich, and full of flavor. I’ve made it for us several times and for company once, and I have reserved the remaining January King cabbage for a couple more.

Cabbage and Mushroom Galette

(My adaptations of this recipe are in plain text below)

For the pastry

2 cups all-purpose flour (I like using whole wheat pastry flour or Bluebird Grain Farms all- purpose flour milled from hard white wheat berries.)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon of sugar (for fruit galettes; little or no sugar for savory galettes)
12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½ tablespoon-sized pieces
1/3 to ½ cup ice water

 For the filling

2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely diced
4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly diced (
I’ve substituted 1 pound of crimini mushrooms and think that this galette is better with more mushrooms.)
1 teaspoon chopped thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped dill or 1 teaspoon dried
6 cups thinly sliced cabbage, preferably Savoy, or 4 cups cabbage plus 2 cups other greens, such as beet, chard, or kale
salt and freshly milled pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped (
I often use two hard-boiled eggs.)
1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt (
I subsitute ¼ pound goat cheese and omit the tarragon vinegar. I really like the tang the goat cheese provides.)
1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar
2 tablespoons melted butter

Cabbage galette ingredients 

For the horseradish sauce(I’ve never made this sauce, but I bet it would be good!)
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
1 cup yogurt or sour cream

1. Make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar (if using) and salt. Cut in butter by hand, leaving some pea-sized chunks, or, if using a Food Processor, add half the butter and process until the mixture is like coarse meal; then add the rest of the butter and process briefly, leaving pea-sized or slightly larger chunks of butter. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle ice water over the top by the tablespoon and toss with flour mixture, using a fork or your fingers, until you can bring the dough together into a ball. Press into a disk and refrigerate for ½ hour or more.

2. Prepare the filling: Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, mushrooms, and herbs and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water. (The cabbage from my garden is so fresh that I omit the ½ cup of water. The cabbage cooks in less than 10 minutes.)Cabbage galette filling start

Cover and cook slowly until the cabbage is tender, 15 to 20 minutes, turning it occasionally. Add more liquid. When tender, uncover and raise the heat to evaporate any excess moisture. (I do this step about 10 minutes after adding the cabbage.) The mixture should be fairly dry.

Cabbage galette filling finishedStir in the parsley, egg, and sour cream (I substitute ¼ pound goat cheese for sour cream). Season with vinegar (Omit if you use goat cheese) and taste for salt and pepper.

3. Assemble galette: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll the dough into a large thin circle, about 14-15 inches across and about 1/8 inch thick, and set it on the back of a sheet pan or cookie sheet. (I like to transfer the rolled dough to a piece of parchment paper and assemble the galette on the parchment paper then transfer parchment and galette to the sheet pan.)

Cabbage galette pastryAdd the filling, leaving about 2 inches of pastry edge,

Cabbage galette assemblythen fold the edges over and brush with the melted butter. Pour any extra butter into the vegetables. Bake until browned, 25 to 30 minutes. While it is baking, mix the horseradish and cream to form a sauce, and season to taste. When galette is done, carefully slide it onto a serving plate. Serve with the horseradish sauce on the side.

Cabbage galette done

When I’ve harvested all the cabbages, I think I will follow the recipe suggestion and substitute kale, chard or collards, even the last of the Brussels sprouts, for cabbage.  I love winter vegetable galette fillings.  My husband likes them too, but what most delights him is all that pastry, so both of us are happy with these late winter dinners.

Brussels Sprouts are hot!

I’ve been a fan of Brussels sprouts since childhood. When I made my first Thanksgiving dinner for friends forty years ago, I fixed Brussels sprouts the way I remembered from family meals.  I cut a little “X” in the stem end and boiled them, watching closely and removing them as soon as the center was tender, but the outside was still green.  Guests politely took one or two while I and the few other fans finished the rest.  Some Thanksgivings later, a friend offered to bring the Brussels sprouts, steaming them, adding bits of crispy fried bacon and cloaking all in a mustard cream sauce. These rich, disguising flavors made some converts, and this preparation held for many years.  Then, fifteen years ago, deciding to feature the nutty, delicately cabbage-like flavor of Brussels sprouts, I thinly sliced each sprout and sautéed the slices in butter.  For the first time, nearly everyone ate Brussels sprouts.  For Thanksgivings since then, I’ve served Brussels sprouts this way or, in another great variation that features the flavor of Brussels sprouts, I’ve halved or quartered each sprout, tossed the pieces in olive oil and roasted them on sheet pans in a hot oven.  Caramelized Brussels sprouts are popular with just about everyone.

My and guests’ experiences with Brussels sprouts mirror a trend among chefs and home cooks.  Over the past decade, restaurants began serving roasted Brussels sprouts as appetizers and sides.  Creative recipes for Brussels sprouts began appearing in cooking magazines, newspaper articles and blogs.  And in the Skagit Delta this fall, rows and rows of Brussels sprouts stretch across the fields to meet the demand for this lovely vegetable.

Always on the lookout for recipes that celebrate the new popularity of Brussels Sprouts, I was intrigued by a recent New York Times Cooking recipe by Susan Spungen for Roasted and Raw Brussels Sprouts Salad. In the introduction, she writes: “If you like a good kale salad, or any type of crunchy salad, then you will love this one, which combines shredded raw brussels sprouts with roasted brussels sprouts leaves.”  I did love it and have made it several times with the Brussels Sprouts growing in my winter kitchen garden. I’ve also developed a delicious variation with cabbage and kale that uses the same raw and roasted techniques.

Roasted and Raw Brussels Sprouts Salad

1 pound Brussels Sprouts

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 small shallot, halved

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup

Black pepper

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ ounces Pecorino Sardo, or other sharp sheep’s milk cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler (about 1 scant cup)

 cup whole raw almonds, roughly chopped

Trim the sprouts, cutting a good 1/4-inch off the bottom. Pull off the large leaves (you should have about 2 cups of them); set aside. Shred the remaining sprouts thinly, using a food processor fitted with the slicing blade, or use a knife to halve them through the core, then thinly slice them. You should have 5 to 6 cups

Toss the shredded sprouts with the lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and massage with your hands to tenderize them. Set aside.

Finely mince half the shallot and mix with the sherry vinegar, mustard, honey, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. While stirring, slowly pour in 4 tablespoons oil, then drizzle the dressing onto the sprouts, mixing thoroughly. Toss in the cheese and place in a serving bowl. (Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours, if not serving right away.)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Thinly slice the other half of the shallot, and on a small baking sheet, combine the shallot with the reserved sprout leaves, almonds, remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss to coat, then roast, tossing once or twice until the sprouts begin to crisp and brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

Place the hot ingredients on top of the salad (do not toss) and serve immediately, with more cracked pepper on top.

After I trimmed a ¼ inch from the stems, it was easy to slip the outer leaves from each sprout and collect two cups of green leaves. I used the food processor to shred the inner sprouts and then tossed them with the lemon juice and salt.

Brussels sprouts leaves and centers

Brussels sprouts shredded

It was one of those cooking leaps of faith to combine the sliced shallot, chopped almonds and sprout leaves and believe that they would all finish cooking at the same time, but they did.  The crispy leaves and nuts and the soft shallots make a wonderful combination and a beautiful topping for the shredded leaves and shaved pecorino.  The dressing is really tasty too.  I used maple syrup.

Brussels sprouts salad set up

To serve this salad, reach deeply with the salad spoons and capture both bottom and top layers.  The salad is beautiful in the bowl and on the plate.

Brussels sprouts salad finished

The roasted Brussels Sprouts leaves reminded me of roasted kale leaves and the shredded Brussels Sprouts centers reminded me of cabbage.  With these similarities in mind, it was a short step to making this salad with cabbage and kale.  I followed all the instructions of the original recipe and would make this version again too.

Cabbage Kale salad set up

Cabbage Kale salad finished

Winter salads are so hearty and satisfying.  I’m grateful that Brussels sprouts and their brassica cousins will keep us in salads through this cold and dark season.

 

Seeding the winter kitchen garden now

It’s been a very busy April and May, but the spring and summer vegetables are finally in the ground and growing. I’m ready to take a break from planting the kitchen garden, but not before I finish one more task. It seems odd to be doing this during these sweet days of late spring and early summer, but it’s time to start seeds of fall and winter vegetables.  With days-to-maturity requirements of 100 to over 200 days, many of my winter favorites, like celery root, leeks, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, winter cabbage, overwintering cauliflowers and broccolis, need to be seeded now or in the next week or two so that they’ll be mature by the time days become shorter and temperatures drop.  At that point, they’ll be ready to hold in the garden, heavily mulched against cold and sometimes covered against the wind, for harvest throughout the winter.

I look at my list and translate the days into months and realize that a hundred days from now is mid-September, the autumn equinox. Time to start planting!

Celery root: 100-110 days

Leeks: 90-110 days

Parsnips: 110 days

Brussels sprouts: 99-200 days

Winter cabbage: 160-220 days

Overwintering cauliflower: 200+ days

Purple sprouting broccoli: 220 days

With the exception of parsnips, which I’ll plant outdoors soon, I’ll start all of these seeds indoors.  I’ve already seeded celery root and leeks and their small, green shoots are rising above the potting soil.  I used to start celery root indoors in late March and set out plants in mid-May, but in the past few years, I’ve found that the plants grow better when the weather is warmer, so I start them in early May, May 9th this year, and set them out in late June.  I also used to direct seed leeks in late May, but a few years ago, I experimented with starting seeds indoor in pots, where I got much better germination, and then setting out the contents of the pots in mid-to-late June where the leeks grew well into pencil-sized plants for final transplant into rows.

Celery root starts 5:31

Leek starts 2 5:31

Next week, I’ll start the brassicas: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. By mid-July, the brassicas will be sturdy plants in 4-inch pots, ready to harden off and set out in winter beds.

In mid-July, I’ll plant more winter crops, those with shorter days-to-maturity, like carrots, beets, turnips, rutabaga, kale.  But mid-July is six weeks away, and between now and then there will be time to take a break from planting the kitchen garden.

Overwintering Brassicas

My friend Carol has given me lots of great fruit and vegetable ideas over the years: grafting tips and ground cherrybean and tomato varieties.  Her latest suggestion was overwintering brassicas.  I’d always counted on flower buds from kale and other overwintered brassicas to give me a sweet broccoli taste in early spring, but this past summer, Carol encouraged me to grow purple sprouting broccoli as well as overwintering cauliflowers. She even gave me some plants. “You’ll be glad you grew them,” she said.   For the past month, as we’ve enjoyed sweet cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli, we have been glad.  Thanks to Carol, I’ve ordered my own seeds for overwintering brassicas and will plant them this summer for next spring.

Carol gave me starts for “All the Year Round” and Purple Cape cauliflower and for Purple Sprouting Broccoli.   Uprising Organics offers “All the Year Round” cauliflower, shown here in my kitchen garden.

Cauliflower ATYR in garden

Adaptive Seeds offers Purple Cape cauliflower, a bit blown in this photo because I didn’t realize it was cauliflower so picked after it had burst from its head.  It was still delicious. Adaptive also offers Prestige Cauliflower, another white overwintering cauliflower.

Cauliflower purple cape

A variety of Purple Sprouting Broccoli called Red Arrow is usually available from Adaptive Seeds but is sold out this year. Territorial Seeds also offers several different varieties of Purple Sprouting Broccoli, all tempting.  I’m not sure which variety from Carol’s starts is here in these photos.

Broccoli PSB closeup

Broccoli PSB plants in bed

This past winter was a good test for overwintering brassicas.  We had many nights with temperatures in the teens, days with relentless northeast and northwest winds, and snow.  The cauliflower and broccoli plants I’d set out in late July were robust, nearly three-foot tall towers of dark green leaves by late October. From November to February, with each hit of winter weather, the plants looked more and more cold and wind damaged, less and less likely to rebound.  I was about to write them off as a failed experiment when in late February I noticed new growth emerging.  First, small purple buds appeared near the ends of broccoli stems, then leaves on the cauliflowers multiplied, looking like they were starting to enclose growing heads.  Once again, Carol was right.  We were soon harvesting tasty purple broccoli florets and large, sweet heads of cauliflower.

I’ve prepared them as I do summer and fall season broccoli and cauliflower, mainly roasting them and serving them as side dishes or added to pasta, beans or grains for a main dish.

Broccoli PSB roastedPurple sprouting broccoli roasted and topped with some roasted kale leaves and flower buds

Cauliflower ATYR pasta in bowlAll the Year Round Cauliflower roasted with shallots, topped with toasted almonds and parsley

Broccoli PSB roasted with soissons verteRoasted Purple Cape Cauliflower and Soissons Verte beans with sautéed red mustard

I have plants of summer broccoli and cauliflower already growing in this year’s kitchen garden and am looking forward to harvesting them on sunny, warm days of summer, but I’m also anticipating next winter and early spring and the chance to welcome overwintering brassicas again.

 

 

 

An Italian Recipe for Overwintered Greens

Greens winter in basket

Kale, chard and red mustard are three hardy greens that overwinter in my kitchen garden and are now putting out fresh, new leaves.  The plants are on their way to producing flower buds; in fact, some buds are already forming on the kale and mustard, but it’s their leaves that interest me in the kitchen right now.

Any of these leaves singly or in combination is delicious wilted slightly and then sautéed in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes. They are great as a side dish or as part of the main course on pasta or white beans.

Though I could eat greens prepared this way every night this time of year, I recently remembered a recipe I made years ago. It takes little more time and a few more ingredients but is definitely worth the effort.  It’s from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Splendid Table (1992) and titled Spiced Spinach with Almonds.  In the note introducing the recipe, Kasper writes: “Far more interesting than Italy’s usual sauté of spinach and onion is Emilia-Romagna’s 17thcentury version of the recipe.  In it, spinach cooks with spices, nuts, currants, and cheeses.  Serve the dish just as they did centuries ago as a side dish,or use it as a topping on warm flat bread “and serve it as an antipasto or with drinks.”

Greens winter on island

Greens winter nuts prep

When I first made this recipe years ago, I followed another of Kasper’s suggestions and layered it with slices of polenta, alternating three layers of polenta with two layers of filling, baking at 350 until it was heated through and serving it as a main course.  It’s this combination of sautéed greens and sliced polenta that I repeated a few weeks ago.

The filling was even better than I remembered, perhaps because I used red mustard leaves instead of spinach.  Spinach was good, but spicy red mustard is even better.  I also made two other substitutions to the recipe, using shallots instead of onion and yellow raisins instead of currants, both good.  I’ll make the polenta dish again soon, but in the meantime, we’ll continue to enjoy the side dish for dinner with leftovers for lunch.

In a final note at the end of the recipe Kasper adds: “Swiss chard, turnip greens, broccoli rape, beet greens, romaine, escarole, curly endive and young dandelion greens are all excellent prepared this way.” To her list, I’ll add red mustard and kale, both of which blend wonderfully with the spices, almonds, creamy ricotta and the nutty Parmesan, and both of which, along with chard, are in good supply in my kitchen garden.

Greens winter saute in skillet

Spiced Spinach with Almonds

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

 2 pounds fresh spinach, trimmed

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup minced onion

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

5 tablespoons blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons currants

½ cup fresh ricotta cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

 Cooking the Spinach: Rinse the spinach in a sink full of cold water. Lift the leaves right from the water into an 8-quartpot, without shaking off any of the water clinging to them. Set the pot over medium heat, cover, and cook 5 minutes, or until the leaves are wilted but still a bright dark green.  Immediately turn the spinach into a colander.  Briefly run cold water over the spinach to cool it down and stop its cooking. Then squeeze out the excess moisture and coarsely chop.

 Finishing and Serving:  Have a serving bowl warming in a low oven.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté 8 minutes over medium to medium-high heat, or until golden brown.  Stir in the garlic and cook another minute.  Add the spinach, cinnamon, nutmeg, almonds, and currants. Stir while sautéing over medium heat 2 minutes, or until heated through and aromatic.  Stir in the ricotta and heat a few seconds.  Season with salt and pepper.  Turn the spinach mixture into the serving bowl and toss with the Parmesan.  Serve hot.

Winter Shakshuka

I’ve been a fan of shakshuka since discovering it in Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks Plenty (2010) and Jerusalem (2012) and in one of Melissa Clark’s New York Times Wednesday columns in 2013.  In Clark’s words, shakshuka is “a one-skillet recipe of eggs baked in a tomato-red pepper sauce spiced with cumin, paprika and cayenne.” She continues, “First you make that sauce, which comes together fairly quickly on top of the stove, then you gently crack each of the eggs into the pan, nestling them into the sauce…Shakshuka originated in North Africa, and like many great dishes there are as many versions as there are cooks who have embraced it.”

I make shakshuka in summer from fresh peppers and tomatoes, and it’s delicious, but this winter I started making it with roasted and frozen peppers and tomatoes.  It’s just as good.  In fact, the flavors of the already-roasted peppers and tomatoes are even richer than the flavors of the fresh versions.

The shakshuka recipe I most often follow is from Ottolenghi’s Plenty (2010).

Shakshuka red set up½ tsp cumin seeds
190ml light olive oil or vegetable oil
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
2 red and 2 yellow peppers, cored and cut into 2cm strips
4 tsp muscovado sugar
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme, picked and chopped
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ tsp saffron strands
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
Up to 250ml water
8 free-range eggs

 In a large saucepan, dry-roast the cumin on high heat for two minutes. Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley and two tablespoons of coriander, and cook on high heat to get a nice color. Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, adding enough water to keep it the consistency of a pasta sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavorful. You can prepare this mix in advance.

Place four saucepans on medium heat and divide the mixture between them. Break two eggs into each pan, pouring into gaps in the mixture. Sprinkle with salt, cover and cook very gently for 10-12 minutes, until the egg just sets. Sprinkle with coriander and serve with chunky white bread.

Shakshuka red skillet

I especially like the instruction to toast the cumin seeds briefly before adding the oil because the cumin flavor permeates the dish through the oil. I leave out the sugar because the onions, peppers and tomatoes from my garden are already very sweet.  In the summer, using fresh vegetables, I follow the recipe cooking sequence.  In the winter, using already-roasted peppers and tomatoes, I sauté the onions until they are very soft before adding the peppers, tomatoes and other spices and cooking them until the flavors blend.  Sometimes I’ll also add feta or goat cheese when I add the eggs, as Melissa Clark suggests.  Finally, a half-batch of this recipe is perfect for two, and rather than using individual skillets, I usually use one skillet that will hold four eggs.

Tomato and pepper based shakshuka is the more traditional version, but this winter I’ve also been making what many call green shakshuka. The technique is the same, but instead of onions, peppers and tomatoes, the vegetable base for the eggs is a sauté of leeks or onions and greens like spinach, chard, collards or kale or a combination of these hardy greens.  Green is as delicious as red and, in keeping with the season, it’s another great way to use the leeks and hardy greens in the winter kitchen garden.

In his latest cookbook, SIMPLE (2018), Ottolenghi has a recipe he calls Braised Eggs with Leeks and Za’atar that is essentially green shakshuka. I’ve made it several times and it’s delicious.

Shakshuka green set up

Braised Eggs with Leeks and Za’atar

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

2 large leeks (or 4 smaller), trimmed and cut into ½cm slices (6 cups/530g)

1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

2 small preserved lemons, pips discarded, skin and flesh finely chopped (2 ½ Tbsp/30g)

1 ¼ cup/300ml vegetable stock

7 oz/200g baby spinach leaves

6 large eggs

3 ¼ oz/90g feta, broken into 2cm pieces

1 tbsp za’atar

salt and black pepper

  1.    Put the butter and 1 tablespoon of oil into a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, and place on a medium high heat. Once the butter starts to foam, add the leeks, ½ teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Fry for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the leeks are soft. Add the cumin, lemon and vegetable stock and boil rapidly for 4–5 minutes, until most of the stock has evaporated. Fold in the spinach and cook for a minute, until wilted, then reduce the heat to medium.2.    Use a large spoon to make 6 indentations in the mixture and break one egg into each space. Sprinkle the eggs with a pinch of salt, dot the feta around the eggs, then cover the pan. Simmer for 4–5 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.

    3.    Mix the za’atar with the remaining tablespoon of oil and brush over the eggs. Serve at once, straight from the pan.

Shakshuka green skillet

I’ve substituted kale and collards for the spinach in this Ottolenghi recipe and also used goat cheese instead of feta, and all are tasty.

Chard is a good another green in shakshuka as Sarah Copeland suggests in this New York Times recipe. The touch of heavy cream in this version also works wonderfully to blend together the vegetable flavors.

3 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 large bunch/1 1/2 pounds Swiss chard, stems and leaves separated and chopped (about 9 cups)

½ teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

 cup half-and-half or heavy cream

8 large eggs

¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus more as needed

3 ounces cotija cheese or queso fresco, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)

1 avocado, sliced, for serving

1 small jalapeño, thinly sliced, for serving

Chopped cilantro, for serving

Smoked hot sauce, for serving

Corn tortillas, toasted, for serving

1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving

Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook until softening, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 5 minutes more.

Raise the heat to medium-high, add the chard stems, and cook to release some liquid, 5 minutes. Add the chard leaves, in batches, adding more as they wilt, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until completely wilted, 3 to 5 minutes more. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, pour in the half-and-half and stir loosely together.

Make eight small hollows in the cooked chard with the back of a spoon. Gently crack an egg into each hollow. Cover with a lid or foil and cook on medium-low until the eggs are just set, but still soft, about 7 to 9 minutes. Remove the lid, sprinkle with salt, pepper, cotija, avocado, jalapeño and cilantro. Serve with smoked hot sauce, toasted tortillas and lime wedges.

Shakshuka is a popular breakfast, brunch or lunch dish, but I serve it most often for dinner.  During our recent cold and snowy weather, it’s been a comforting winter supper with the added bonus of flavors that hold promises of summer.