Early Spring Harvest

We were in Portland, Oregon earlier this month, timing our visit so that we could go to the Saturday Farmers Market. Even in early spring, this wonderful market inspires with a bounty of fresh vegetables.  A highlight for me was seeing bunches of kale, Brussels sprout and mustard flower bud tops at many of the stands, confirming that others enjoy these tasty spring offerings from the Brassica family as much as I do.  I was interested to see that several vendors called these flower buds raab, linking them to broccoli raab, the pungent green popular in Italian and Asian cooking.  Kale “raab” tends to be sweet while Brussels sprout “raab” is a bit more earthy and mustard “raab” deliciously spicy.

Raab PFM

Mustard Raab PFM

Raab PFM closeup

When we got home from our travels, I was happy to find all of these “raabs” in my kitchen garden. There was also asparagus ready to harvest and lots of perennial herbs, chives, new growth thyme, burgeoning mint and parsley, all welcome flavors of spring, all beautiful and all offering inspiration for this season’s meals.

A quick stir fry of mustard flower buds and asparagus created a lovely side dish.

Asparagus mustard top bouquet

Asparagus mustard raab saute

Another night, kale flower buds and asparagus became pizza toppings.

Asparagus kale top still life

Pizza kale top & asparagus

And on another night asparagus and herbs combined with last year’s frozen fava beans to make my favorite spring pilaf.

Asparagus, kale top, herbs in basket

Pilaf in pan

This time of year the landscape offers new shades of green each day and so do the contents of each day’s garden basket and each evening’s dinner. I’ve written about kale, Brussels sprout and mustard flower buds before, about asparagus and about fava beans but there’s pleasure in writing about them again just as there’s pleasure in finding them in the garden each spring and transforming them for the table.

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.