Saturday, April 30, 2011

Look Ma, No Head!

I've had the title for this blog post floating around in my head for a week or so now.

I think it is brilliant-you may think it is stupid.  But of course, you don't know what I'm talking about.

Yet, anyways.

It is busy times on the farm now. I've been transplanting for several weeks straight and have been pushing it pretty hard. Thousands of plants in pots, hundreds of varieties of vegetables.  I'm not quite where I'd like to be, but I think I feel that way every year.

Maybe it can make you a bit silly.  When it came time to transplant  the collards, piricicaba and spigiarello, kale and couve tronchuda...I don't know what happened.  Mollie and I were singing about them, making up little rhymes about them and then there it was.  "Look ma, no head!"

Which is exactly what these brassicas are missing.

I've written about the brassica family history before here. It is an interesting family to get to know.

Most people are familiar with kale, although what you find in the grocery store is the tip of the iceberg in terms of varieties. I like kale a whole lot.  But there are other wonderful leafy brassicas worth your time as well.

Collards for example.  Most people think about collards as being a southern crop, and lord knows they are popular in the Southern US. I'm not sure why they are not quite so popular here.  They are well adapted to our climate, very easy to grow and hardy at that.  After a frost they take on a special sweetness, that makes them taste even better.

The variety I grow is  Georgia Southern, but I think the name is a bit misleading- this is one super hardy crop. I was pretty surprised to go out into the garden this spring and find a lovely crop of collards had survived under some dead tomato plants I had pulled from the hoop house last fall. Things like this are such a bonus. The first outdoor greens of the spring (and a crappy one at that!)

Couve Tronchuda
Couve Tronchuda is a very old variety of non heading portugese cabbage.  I've grown it for quite a few years, obtaining my original seed from the fabulous Redwood City Seed Co. But was I surprised when I looked at my seed and saw it was from 2002. Certainly even more surprised when my germination rate was nearly 100%.  Now that's good seed!

This is a wonderful crunchy cabbage leaf vegetable, with thick ribs, and sometimes massive leaves. It does look rather prehistoric and majestic in the garden. Worth a grow.

Spigiarello is one of my favourite greens, as is Piricicaba.  Do these names sound a little unfamiliar? They are both varieties of broccoli, but of course "look, head!" Well, that's a lie.  There is a head, but it is very small, and really isn't the reason you grow spigiarello anyways.  Again, it's the wonderful broccoli flavoured leaves. Spigiarello is a veg that is highly popular in Southern Italy and there are two varieties, smooth leaf or frilly.

Piricicaba, is also a unique brassica. I'm not a huge fan of the bitter raab , much preferring this and it's sweet yumminess.  It does have heads that are a bit bigger than spigiarello's, on a lovely long slender stem. The Fedco seed catalogue (a good read at any time) offers this description :

"Piracicaba (56 days) Open-pollinated. The tributes keep flowing in for this unusual brassica. Piracicaba (pronounced peer-a-SEA-cah-bah) is a city and river in Brazil famous for its beautiful waterfalls, and home of the university where this cultivar was developed. About halfway between a heading broccoli and a broccoli raab, these succulent tender small green heads with very large beads make delightful raw eating. Very loose heads, lots of side shoots, sweet stalks. Even the fairly large leaves make excellent greens. Garden writer Barbara Damrosch found it equally delicious steamed. NY State trialers report it is best as a fall crop with relatively good frost tolerance, although it was bred to withstand heat and has produced heads at temperatures in the 90s in trials in California."
ll these plants have the same culture, as do the other "headed "brassica buddies.  I find it really important to put them in the ground six weeks after seeding.  I start mine indoors under lights or in the hoop house in March or April depending on the spring, and plant them into a nice compost enriched soil when my soil is sufficiently dried out. Suffice to say that hasn't quite happened yet this year, but fortunately I seeded a bit later.  I give them a good drink once a week assuming it is a drier season, and mulch them with straw to retain moisture and keep the weeds down.

Now time to get cooking! This recipe from the New York Times is my preferred way of using all these greens...but they are extremely versatile and can be used many ways.


Vegan Broccoli Spigarello

Yield 2 to 3 servings

Time 15 minutes

3 cups broccoli spigarello leaves, or broccoli rabe leaves (stems discarded)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
pinch of chili flakes.

1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water, and set aside. Fill a large pot with water, salt heavily (it should taste like seawater), and bring to a boil. Add broccoli spigarello, and blanch until bright green and tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, immediately plunge into ice water until cooled, and drain again.
2. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, heat olive oil until shimmering. Add garlic, cover, and cook until tender but not browned, about 1 minute. Add broccoli spigarello and chili flakes. Stir slowly to gently reheat. Serve hot with, if desired, gnocchi or risotto.

Source: Adapted from Jonathan Benno, Chef, Lincoln


Aagaard Farms said...

Learn something new every day! Thanks! Even though I read a lot of seed catalogues and read a lot of stuff like William Woys Weaver - I'd never heard of those two! I've probably still got time to get some seed.....

Linda said...

Thanks for reading. You may have a tough time finding the spigiarello and piricicaba seed. I do sell seed for both, but am technically sold out as well. Could probably scrounge up a few seeds for you, (n/c) though if you want to try them. Really bet you'll love them!

Buttons said...

I love coming here you always teach me something new. I love Kale and will try a new part of her family this year. Thank you. B

Iz said...

I always learn something new from you! I doubt we can get all of these here but I will see if I can find them at some of our farmer's markets. They sound delicious. I love that you also put in some recipes. Thank you for that.

Linda said...

Thanks Buttons and Iz-you'll really just have to come to Wellandport and try them here! I'll do the cooking!

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