Photo by Judith Hausman
This summer, you’re going to hear more than once about a wonderful growing project I’m a part of. A group of about 10 of us are gardening/farming a very well-prepared plot together. We each have a weekly work slot, which may increase when the season is full throttle, and a wonderful farm intern links us and directs our efforts. I’m already learning so much about serious vegetable growing in a small space and about organic practices.
Seeds were started over the winter before we began, and a number of crops over-wintered, both inside an unheated hoop house and right in the field. This means that we lucky participants hit the ground running with goodies to harvest almost immediately.
Even with muddy, muddy sessions pulling the weeds, what could be more motivating than bags full of lettuce, arms full of leeks and chard, and bunches of radishes and carrots? This cool, wet spring we’ve had does mean stalled tomato starts, which had to be re-potted to combat legginess, as well as perfect growing conditions for weeds, but it’s also meant gentle growing for spring crops and explosions of greens. I feel like I’ve cheated the patient waiting time because I’m eating so deliciously and healthfully already.
Red and green oak leaf, mache, claytonia, butterhead, speckled romaine, baby spinach, and peppery arugula. What do I do with all those greens?
Hooray for salad with color, texture and a real taste that isn’t just a vehicle for dressing. I can treat salad greens like we usually treat pasta or pizza dough, using it as a base that embraces a variety of elements: a fried egg and crumbled bacon; warmed, diced tomatoes; tuna and capers; white or fava beans and Parmesan; warmly spiced, browned ground beef with green olives; sautéed leeks, carrots and baby beets with goat cheese; diced chicken, walnuts, scallions and bleu cheese. I like the warm (but not hot) ingredients, which wilt the greens just a little and accentuate the flavors they contribute.
Other greens, such as chard, beet greens, radish greens, turnip greens and spinach, are so vital that the basic olive oil-garlic quick sauté is really all they need. One of my gardening partners said she kept her family’s interest by generous additions of Parmesan to the classic. This combo could then be part of a risotto or pasta dish, too.
What else for greens? Well, anything you liked in my post about asparagus goes for greens, too. Greens with eggs and cream, cheese, breadcrumbs, herbs and a little ham make gratins, quiches, omelets and strata. Just drain the quickly cooked greens well so they don’t make these dishes watery.
Below is a recipe that was new to me, courtesy of a gardening colleague, Leslie Needham, of Bedford, N.Y.
“What I love about this spinach pesto is that it stays bright green, unlike basil pesto,” Leslie says. It’s the lemon that helps it stay beautiful. She also makes this serving suggestion: “I tossed the cooked pasta and pesto with some chopped spinach leaves and some edemame.”
Courtesy Leslie Needham
Recipe: Spinach Pesto
- 1 clove garlic
- 4 cups spinach, stems removed
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- zest of one lemon
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- less than 1 cup nuts (pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts)
- olive oil
Finely chop garlic clove in a food processor. Add clean, stemmed spinach, Parmesan, lemon zest and juice, and nuts of your choice. Stream in enough olive oil to achieve a thick paste in the consistency you like. Add salt to taste. (Omit the cheese if you intend to freeze.)