Good greens: spinach and kale, the cool-weather favorites: grow these stalwart stars of the fall garden, and then try this trio of easy recipes to make them shine at your table, too.
Our approach to greens has changed since the days of long boiling in a pot, the obligatory dab of creamed spinach next to a steak, and the generic iceberg lettuce salad. You can grow many different kinds of greens in your garden, and the distinction between salad greens and cooking greens has all but vanished as cooks gain finesse and become attuned to the flavors and textures of this nutritious fare.
Growing Kale and Spinach
Sow kale and spinach as late in summer as you can get away with, typically in late July or August, so they reach maturity before a hard frost. Both will tolerate a freeze, but their growth will slow, even with the cold-tolerant spinach varieties, such as 'Space' and 'Winter Bloomsdale,' and the hardiest kales, such as 'Winterbor.' Even more indomitable are the stemless kales, such as 'Dwarf Siberian,' which hunker down for warmth rather than growing tall. (For more detailed guidance on which varieties to choose, see "Winter Gardening Tips: Best Winter Crops and Cold-Hardy Varieties" at http://goo.gl/4WcqRb)
Both greens will bolt when spring comes, but by then you may have a new crop of each coming along. In areas with harsh summers, both kale and spinach will take a break during the hottest months, but here on the cool Maine coast, we can eat them year-round. We have three methods of protecting both crops in winter: growing in a cold frame, growing beneath quick hoops (also known as low tunnels) covered with plastic or fabric row cover, or growing under a layer of row cover inside a small, simple plastic greenhouse. In mild regions, you may be able to get away with a covering of hay or straw--or nothing at all. (You'll find more guidance for growing kale and spinach in our Crops at a Glance Guide at http://goo.gl/JeFdF2)
Harvesting Leafy Greens
Kale's large, upright leaves make cutting it a snap, while harvesting spinach takes a little longer. Try picking spinach with a small, sharp knife in one hand as your other hand collects cut leaves and drops them into a nearby bucket or basket. Note how both plants keep growing by sending up small new leaves from the center. The more regularly you pick, the more new leaves they will produce. Cut large leaves for cooking, smaller ones for salads. Always leave at least a few leaves on the plant so it can continue to grow. You must also keep the beds tidy, not only by weeding but also by removing any yellowed or otherwise unusable leaves, as well as any long stems left after picking. This keeps the plants healthier, nicer to look at and easier to harvest.
Blessed with a year-round supply of both of these crops, I don't bother to freeze either of them. (If you'd like to freeze greens, blanch the leaves in boiling water, then cool quickly and pack into plastic bags.) I have experimented with cutting the tops off outdoor kale plants and storing them in a black plastic bag in the toolshed adjacent to our house, where the kale freezes, but not completely. The kale will often keep that way for a few months, fresh and handy to use in the kitchen.
Cooking Greens: Into the Pot
Spinach has long been popular, but kale is now giving it a run for its money. I've often heard kale hailed as "the new spinach." Lured by kale's reputation as a superfood, people who try it have found that it's easy to grow, easy to cook and just plain tastes good. As a gateway recipe, try tossing fresh, chopped kale leaves into a pan of drippings left over from frying sausage, pork chops or bacon. Sweat them, covered, with a bit of water and crushed garlic, and then scrape the pan to mix in any crisp, meaty bits. See what I mean? Delicious.
Because of kale's robust texture, you can drop pieces into a soup and they won't quite lose their shape. Knowing this, you'll find yourself stirring them into pork and beans, succotash, scalloped potatoes, and a host of other favorites, turning these foods into nutritious one-pot meals. This trait may also explain the surprising popularity of kale salads, as the leaves can support the heaviness of thick dressings, warm additions such as bacon or honey, or hefty croutons that would flatten, say, a bowl of baby arugula. (The mimosa dressing recommended below for spinach would also be great with kale.)
For eating raw, I prefer the thinner-leaved types of these greens, such as Tuscan kale (also called "cavolo nero," "lacinato" or "dinosaur kale"), or Northern varieties, such as 'Red Russian.' To prepare kale for any use, remove the tough central ribs, either by pulling off the soft part or by folding a leaf and slicing alongside its rib with a knife. Discarding the stem is by no means a requirement, however. Some worshippers of plant fiber slow-roast the ribs with olive oil and garlic and swear they are divine.
Anything you can do with kale you can do with spinach--and more. Spinach's slightly milder flavor lends itself to creamy dishes, such as quiches, purees and smoothies. But it's hard to beat just plain spinach, lightly steamed or dropped--just after washing, while moisture still clings to the leaves--into a pan slicked with butter or oil, and then stirred until barely wilted. For variety, add pine nuts, raisins, and a dash of cream or sherry. To preserve as much as possible of the greens' vitamin-rich juices, which are loaded with chlorophyll, don't overcook spinach. You can stockpile any cooking liquid for soups, but better not to lose it in the first place.
I remove the ribs of large spinach leaves only if they will be served raw, or if I want a puree that is as dense and deep green as a spruce forest.
Colcannon, a Traditional Irish Comfort Food Sometimes the simplest, most economical dishes are the most satisfying. Colcannon is one from Ireland, for which all you need is cabbage or kale, some potatoes, and the dairy element that gives it richness and makes meat unnecessary. You can substitute milk for the cream in this recipe, but don't leave out the butter--even if you pass the butter at the table so diners can choose the quantity, melting it into their portion while the colcannon is steaming hot. I leave potatoes unpeeled, both for the skins' nutrients and for the texture they give to the dish. Many variations of colcannon exist--in parts of Scotland, it's called "Rumpledethumps" and made with cabbage. Popular additions to colcannon include sauteed leeks and bacon. Yield: 4 to 6 servings. 2 pounds unpeeled potatoes, cut into chunks 6 small to medium kale leaves 1/2 cup whipping cream Coarse sea salt, to taste Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1/4 cup butter (half a stick) Drop the potatoes into a medium saucepan of boiling water. Lower the heat and simmer them until tender, 15 to 20 minutes, then drain. While the potatoes are cooking, cut or tear the ribs off the kale and discard them. Chop the leaves coarsely. You should have about 2 cups, tightly packed. Steam the kale until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. A firm, curly kale will take a bit longer than a thin-leaved type. Return the potatoes to the saucepan along with the cream. Mash over low heat with a potato masher until smooth and heated through. Stir in the kale, salt and pepper, and then transfer to a serving bowl. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and pour it over the colcannon. Add an extra grinding of pepper and serve immediately, while still piping hot. Crispy Kale Known as "kale chips" to most, this dish has become wildly fashionable and may be a major cause of kale's recent surge in popularity. For families eager to embrace healthful snack foods without giving up the magic trio of salt, fat and crispness, it's just the thing, and I find a plate of it set out for the grandkids disappears just as fast as you can say "potato chip." Slow cooking at a low temperature allows the kale chips to become crisp without browning. You can add many things to crispy kale, such as garlic or cheese, but I like this simple version best. Yield: Enough to mound. on a large dinner plate, about 4 ounces. 1 bunch kale (about 8 stems, or 1/4 pound) 2 tbsp olive oil Generous pinch of coarse sea salt Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Pull the green part of the kale off the ribs in roughly 2-inch pieces. Discard the ribs, or save for another use. From here, one method is to toss the kale and olive oil in a large bowl with your hands, massaging the leaves a bit to soften them if they're extrafirm, and then baking them on a cookie sheet. But I have had even better luck just smearing the cookie sheet with the oil and placing the leaves on it. This distributes the oil uniformly. Spread the leaves in just 1 layer, using 2 sheets. I bake curly kale for about 12 minutes, flip the leaves over with a spatula, and bake 4 minutes more. Thin-leaved Tuscan types or the 'Red Russian' variety take a bit less time, and there's no need to flip them. Serve right away, or leave out for nibblers who wander by. Chips will keep--and stay crisp--for several days at room temperature. Spinach Salad With Mimosa Dressing This salad provides enough protein to be a meal in itself. We love it as a light supper in fall, after cooler days and nights have sweetened the spinach in the garden. The grated egg yolk sprinkled on top evokes the bright yellow pollen from the flowers of the mimosa tree. Yield: 4 servings as a side dish, 2 as a one-dish meal. 3 large eggs 2 tbsp butter 2 cups cubed whole-grain bread 1/8 tsp dried thyme 1/4 pound slab or thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch cubes 1 tbsp vinegar 4 tbsp olive oil 1/4 pound small spinach leaves, washed and spun dry Coarse sea salt, to taste Freshly ground black pepper, to taste Hard-boil the eggs according to your favorite method, then set the cooked eggs aside to cool. In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add bread cubes and sprinkle with thyme. Stirring continuously, toss to coat the cubes with butter, and brown slightly on all sides. When crisp, set them aside in a bowl to cool to room temperature. In the same skillet, fry bacon cubes over medium-high heat, stirring, until brown and crisp. Set aside to cool. Peel the eggs and cut in half, and then remove yolks and reserve. Chop the whites fine and set aside in a bowl. Holding a fine grater or Microplane horizontally over another bowl, grate the yolks. Set bowl aside. To make the mimosa dressing, whisk the vinegar and oil together. Place the spinach in a wide, shallow salad bowl with room for tossing. Add the dressing, salt and pepper, and then toss gently but thoroughly. Sprinkle the bacon evenly over the top of the salad, followed by the egg whites and finally the yolks. As people help themselves to the salad, the ingredients will distribute among the spinach leaves.
Barbara Damrosch creates fresh recipes using the bounty of her garden with her husband, Eliot Coleman, at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine. She is the author of The Garden Primer and, with Coleman, of The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook. Both are available on Page 64.
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|Title Annotation:||The Gardener's Table|
|Publication:||Mother Earth News|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2014|
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