Sunday, January 23, 2011

Winter Harvest

My front yard garden is full of greens – yellow green lettuces growing tall next to compact vases of red-leafed lettuces, purple beet greens beside blue-green, bumpy and erect kale leaves, red-, pink-, and yellow-stemmed chards intermixed, tight rosettes of tat soi turning to crowded vases of bok choy, and dark green arrow leaves, with pink stems, on the spinach, sharing a row with the yellow-green arrow leaves of sorrel.  Visually, it's an impressive mix, yet when someone asks what I am growing in my new garden this winter, I say, oh, just some greens.

Just some greens.  Just some greens because they are so easy to grow that they almost grow themselves.  Just some greens because there are so many of them.  Just some greens because they are ongoing, a process rather than a product.  Greens don't ripen like tomatoes or peppers, or swell to full-size like carrots and fennel.  Instead, greens harvest is ongoing from the time the seedlings put on their first true sets of leaves until the days before they bolt and send up flowering stalks.  At this point in the year, greens have taken over the kitchen sink, all my mixing bowls, the big shelf of the refrigerator, and most of my "free" time.  I don't mean to complain, though washing greens does get repetitive, but to say that, with greens there is no moment of accomplishment, no specific harvest time.

Which is why I have been eagerly watching the broccoli and cauliflower patch in the backyard.  In early December each plant held, in secret under its protective center leaves, a tiny head of flowering buds.  Over the next few weeks, the tiny heads emerged and grew steadily, along with my anticipation of their harvest day, into full-sized heads.

In retrospect, I can say that three of the four broccoli heads and both of the cauliflower heads reached maturity in the second week in January.  Yet I didn't harvest my first broccoli and cauliflower until the third week of the month.  I wanted to wait to harvest until I was sure that the broccoli and cauliflower had reached their largest size.  The problem with waiting until I am sure is that the only way I can know, without a doubt, that a broccoli or cauliflower head has stopped growing is that it begins to loosen up in anticipation of flowering.  Once the heads loosen up, they are for sure done growing, but they are also officially past their prime.  Oops!

Green Magic Broccoli

Snow Crown Cauliflower

I steamed the fresh broccoli and cauliflower then tossed the florets in mustard butter and chopped parsley.  Even though each of the heads was picked about a week after its ideal harvest day, the steamed broccoli and cauliflower tasted fresh out of the garden, and harvesting both gave me that moment of accomplishment that I've been craving through this ongoing greens season.

Mustard Butter
from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

The recipe calls for 1/4 pound of butter, which is 1/2 cup.  When I made it, I wasn't paying close attention and used 1/4 cup butter, so my resulting butter was as much stuff as butter.  I thought it was delicious over the steamed broccoli and cauliflower (and I still had leftovers), so I would probably repeat my mistake in the future.

1/4 pound (1/2 cup) butter
1 garlic clove, pressed or finely minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, or to taste
1 large shallot, minced or 2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons minced parsley
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper

Soften the butter just enough so that it is stir-able but not melted.  Stir the remaining ingredients into the butter.  Serve over steamed broccoli and/or cauliflower.

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