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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.

Leaves may be falling from the trees now, but if you've planned well, abundant fresh ones currently color your garden green. Leafy green vegetables love fall, and their flavor improves in cooler weather--especially if grown without synthetic, high-nitrogen fertilizers. For kale and spinach, whose sugar content rises as the temperature falls, this is the best season of the year.

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

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

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
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

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
1/8 tsp dried thyme
1/4 pound slab or thick-cut
  bacon, cut into 1/4-inch
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
Author:Damrosch, Barbara
Publication:Mother Earth News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2014
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