Bitter Greens

When garden greens are overly mature, on the verge of bolting, aging and consequently becoming bitter and less than tender and succulent use this classic Mediterranean technique. In Italy and Greece where people treasure their cooked greens and enjoy a slight bitterness they commonly parboil the greens in lightly salted water and then saute’ these greens in olive oil and a little garlic.

I use this method with mixed and aging greens of, endives, chicory, mustard, pac choi, chard etc. Into the pot of boiling water go chunky stems and leaves washed, but barely trimmed. If stems seem truly tough I either discard or toss those in a minute ahead of the leaves. Boil for three minutes and drain in a colander while heating a skillet with olive oil and a generous amount of chopped garlic that is  allowed to soften but not  brown. Dump in the greens and stir around for another three to four minutes. On occasion, I’ve  added seed free sliceed Kalamata olives, dried currants, raisins or a sprinkle of pepper sauce. Serve on a platter hot or at room temperature, sometimes surrounded by fresh lemon wedges. The volume of these greens is dramatically reduced. This double cooking method results in very tender delicious greens. There is absolutely no reason to do anything more than a slight chopping of these greens. While I’m sure leftovers would be good we’ve yet to have any.

I’d say use any of your garden greens except large amounts of carrot leaves which don’t taste good and in spite of a recent article to the contrary, the jury is still out on whether these are healthful to eat. You’ll lose a few vitamins by boiling but you will be be preparing a dish with a high nutrient profile yet low in calories.

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YaYa Carrot & Spinach Beet

YaYa F1 Carrot is a Nantes type, delightfully crisp and sweet. The bright orange roots are so tempting I like to pull them fresh from the ground, and eat while  standing in the garden. Our last summer trial plantings were so popular we hardly had any left for cooking.

YaYa Carrot is a great example of modern selection and breeding. For such a sweet carrot it is unusually crack resistant. The texture has a perfect crunch that makes it a pleasure to eat. It draws admiration from all who may have forgotten how good a fresh carrot can be. It requires no complicated preparations with Vichy water and butter to coax forth flavor. Scrub and cut this carrot into sticks for enticing before meal snacks.

I’ve listed these two varieties together because they share top selling honors on our Nichols Garden Nursery website. One is a brand spanking new outstanding hybrid, the other, Spinach Beet, is an ancient green.

Spinach Beet is a variety we have fought to maintain in our seed collection. When there is a variety you love the best way to ensure it’s continuing existence is to grow it, eat it, share it, and talk about it. Heirloom seeds must be planted, eaten and enjoyed if the selection is going to endure.

Too tender to travel to markets it almost disappeared from the seed trade for several years. Spinach beet has a small taproot with large tender leaves and stems. It combines characteristics of both spinach and Swiss Chard with lots of tender leaves and excellent tolerance to heat and moderate cold. The planting I recently made will last through the summer and into early winter. It is marvelously productive and I recommend it for container growing since it can be recut so many times. The flavor is milder than spinach and not quite as earthy as chard.

Garden Greens of Many Colors

Green leafy vegetables are packed with nutrients and flavor. Grown for salads or cooking, there’s no easier faster crop for the home gardener. This spring I’ve been stir frying Kale, Swiss Chard, Bok Choy, Purple Broccoli, Raab, and Beet Greens in a little olive oil and minced garlic. I trim my pickings, chop and rinse. The skillet is hot and ready, I add oil and garlic, wait a few seconds, and then add the chopped greens with a little water still clinging, stir and toss until tender and sprinkle with a little salt. This usually takes no more than seven or eight minutes. If my chard stems are broad and beautiful I start cooking these first and then add the remaining greens.

My good friend, Al Modena, of Italian parentage,  owns an old family wholesale seed company in San Francisco. He asked me how I cook my Swiss Chard and I gave him this preparation. He enthusiastically nodded his head, saying “that’s right, but you need to add just a little anchovy instead of salt and it makes all the difference”! It’s as good as he says.

When I return from my Anchorage talks on Container & Small Space Food Gardening and Straw Bale Gardening we’ll cook up a few different greens with photos. Now is the time to start sowing seeds of all these “greens of many colors”. My family business, Nichols Garden Nursery is having a month long sale on many of these seeds. Often it is best to sow a row and come back in three weeks and plant again. It’s a little early to talk about fall planting but most of what we’re eating is from late summer and fall plantings of last year.

Miner’s Lettuce Salad

Miners Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata grows wild up and down the west coast. It’s a lovely little plant for spring salads and is easy to grow. Rich in vitamins A and C, it was an important food for Native Americans, early settlers andminers-lettuce gold rush miners. A few seeds sown in bare spots will show up as clusters of rounded leaves with tiny white flowers in the center. Stems as well as leaves are edible. Best picked when budded or blooming and before seeds form. The flavor is freshly green and grassy and melds beautifully with other ingredients.
A few years ago I was talking with Pam Peirce, author of Golden Gate Gardening, a year-round guide to food gardening in the Bay area. I asked if she liked mache/corn salad and she said “it’s ok, but I much prefer Miner’s lettuce”, so I began paying more attention to this garden green. Both now have an important space in my garden. With only a little encouragement both these plants will obligingly self sow.

Serves 3-6 depending upon appetites. miners-lettuce-saladA generous serving is a light main course.

4-5 cups Miners lettuce with stems, rinsed & trimmed
2-3 tablespoons fresh spearmint, finely chopped
6 small baked beets, peeled & sliced
2 tablespoons red onion finely sliced
4 teaspoons walnut oil
1 tablespoon red wine or sherry vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
1/3 to 1/2 cup cup walnut pieces or halves (toasted)
1 teaspoon salad oil
½ teaspoon sugar
2 to 4 oz. crumbled feta or goat cheese

To avoid tossing the delicate miner’s lettuce make this a layered salad. Spread out the greens on a serving dish and sprinkle with fresh spearmint. Combine beets, red onion, walnut oil, vinegar, salt & pepper. Spread beet mixture over the greens. Toast walnuts in a small skillet set on medium heat with oil and sugar. They’ll become fragrant and ready to use in 3-4 minutes, watch carefully as they can quickly go from perfect to scorched. Sprinkle cooled nuts over beets and last drizzle with cheese.