This is one of my favorite times of year when late spring heads into summer. There’s greenery accented by blooms, birds serenading and bees buzzing and pleasantly warm sunny days. After our spring rain, hail and snow, the farm fields have started to produce their own greenery in earnest!
Isabelle Farm has the most beautiful lettuce heads right now. Take a look at the intense red romaine, and luscious red and green butter lettuce types.
These sweeties make sparkling salads to enjoy before the full on summer heat makes it difficult if not impossible to grow lettuces and other tender greens. Our intense sun, warm temps and dryness make growing those crops extremely difficult, but Natalie of Isabelle told me one of her goals is to have these gems all season long. Keeping my fingers crossed for success! If you need a refresher, see the previous post for a guide on dressing greens.
A more unusual once per year crop is garlic scapes. Most Colorado farms usually plant garlic in the fall to get established before winter’s cold. By early summer, the plants have sized up and send up a single flower stalk. If picked while still a tender bud, these can be enjoyed as an early garlic bonus! Growers remove the buds to encourage the garlic plant to put more energy into growing a bigger head of garlic, instead of producing seeds. It’s a win win for farmers and garlic lovers.
I’ve already trimmed off the long tough tip of the bud, and the rest of the scape is entirely edible with a slightly sweet and garlicky flavor without the bite. If eaten raw, as in a garlic scape pesto, you’ll still have garlic dragon’s breath though. Blanch them in boiling salted water for a few minutes to tame that flavor, or enjoy in any cooked preparation as you would garlic cloves. I like to think of them as garlic-flavored asparagus as they have a similar texture to our favorite spring shoots. For quick cooking, use them one for one in place of the garlic cloves in your favorite sautéed greens recipe or use this one as a guide. And for other ideas, go here.
Another ubiquitous spring vegetable is radishes. As a gardener, they all seem to size up for picking at the same time, and as a cook I get pretty tired of slicing them into every salad I make. Radishes are the perfect stand in for turnips! You can roast, braise or sauté them and they look and taste like pretty little baby turnips, having lost their peppery bite during cooking. I sautéed these in a little olive oil, salt and pepper only. You can see from their caramelized edges that they have some sugar content, and cooking makes them sweeter than when eaten raw.
Lastly, we’re headed into prime time for kale and chard. Folks can find the amount of greens you get in a share overwhelming at times, but I think that’s one of the hidden benefits of being in a CSA program; you’ll eat healthier meals than you planned, as long as you eat all your veggies! If you get tired of eating cooked kale, eat it raw in a salad. Baby kale leaves can be added to any salad once they’re washed and spun dry. Full-sized kale benefits from the tenderizing treatment of a salt massage though. First wash the kale leaves and remove the tough center stalk by holding up the base of the stalk with one hand, and pinching just below that with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand. Then pull the pinching fingers down along the stem, stripping off the leaf from the both sides. This method isn’t as neat as running a knife down each side of the stem, but it’s quicker and easier and no tools (knife) required! Tear or cut into bite-sized pieces (don’t forget to spin dry), sprinkle heavily but still to taste with coarse salt, then squeeze, toss, squeeze, toss the greens until the salt is evenly distributed and you feel the leaves soften, a minute or so. Depending on the size of your salad, you might need to do this in more than one batch. Here’s a “before massage” picture of a single batch of torn leaves, then both batches after massaged and sitting for at least 5 minutes.
Proceed with your add-ins and dressing (remember it’s already salted), toss and eat.
Happy first day of summer all!