Ah! The March equinox! Equal day and night happening for us on March 20th, as well as spring’s putative arrival: after such a winter, I am so happy this day is here. The White House breaks ground on their own kitchen garden today. And our humble greenhouses are both winding down and ramping up on this day. In the old greenhouse, I have been busily sowing lots of seed and transplanting indoor baby seedlings of onion, leek, broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce. Everything is sprouting, everything looks great.
The new greenhouse is a bit of a puzzle to me. Somehow, it is not as warm as the old one, and while this is not a problem (per se) it has me scratching my head. Either way, and just like the leeks, it’s time for many of the existing plants to get eaten. This also marks the end of my general parsimony: eating up a harvest is necessary (as my stinginess won’t let anything go to waste) and it’s also just plain delicious fun. SO I thought I would share with you on what’s moving out of the salad bowl and getting main-course status on our plates.
Escarole: This lettuce-like plant is actually a chickory, so it shares its family’s tang and bite. I do use it in salads (and will continue to do so) but it hates the heat so it will soon mostly end up being quickly sauteed with garlic or–my favorite–served slightly warm with hot bacon drippings on top of it. Add some huge croutons and a poached egg and that is dinner.
Sugarloaf chickory: This plant has many uses, and often I use it the way you’d use cabbage. It continued to grow through the coldest days so it is a definite keeper in my eyes. I used it in lieu of cabbage leaves for cabbage rolls: they’re more stringy but I like their bite. This is also great sauteed, with a splash of vinegar at the end.
Chard: Unlike the enormous fans of the summer garden, winter greenhouse chard is small and tends to hug the earth, reserving its energy. Because this is a biennial, I need to hurry up and eat it before it goes to seed. One of my favorite recipes is a chickpea/chard stew with lots of cumin and cilantro and garlic. Chard is also great braised and wrapped up in a turnover with some stinky cheese, or braised and used as a filling for crepes.
Carrots: I will never rely on storage carrots again, I think: having them grow in the greenhouse was both so much easier for nightly harvests and so much more fresh with nearly no nutrients lost. This is one crop I will be sad to see go.
Kale: The red-leaved Russian kale seems to have been a much happier denizen of the greenhouse this winter; its lacinato (dinosaur, or Tuscan) cousins surely didn’t do so well. It is such a mild plant too thanks to the cold. Like all that I have listed here, it too is a biennial and the oldest, largest plant is just about to flower. Think “broccoli” and you’ll see my plans for these blossoms…
do you see the little spider in her web?
and finally, Sorrel: I have been a happy wanderer with all my plants but when I discovered sorrel at Lucia’s in Minneapolis about 15 years ago I knew I had found a vegetable to call home. They served it as a lemon-y sauce with some baby potatoes…yum. Unlike all the above plants listed, this is a perennial. I moved it down from my Minneapolis garden and have both outdoor and greenhouse plants growing: it’s a favorite of the chickens, too, so usually the indoor one is the only one I get to use. It melts to nothing in the pan and the plant melts to nothing in the heat of summer, reappearing in the cool of autumn.