During the cold of January, a visit to a produce farm might seem bleak. In Southern Maryland, home to my friend Brett’s Even’ Star Organic Farm, temperatures linger around freezing. With gray skies, and the occasional appearance of the sun so low in the sky, sometimes it feels like it is always gloomy.
Despite seemingly harsh conditions, the farm is still in full production. Two green houses in the south field produce 30 cases of mesclun a week. The chickens continue to lay eggs, albeit at a slower pace. And the frost-bitten fields are lined with winter-tolerant greens: kales, mustards, collards and other brassicas. The field greens have superior flavor and texture to their greenhouse counterparts. When overnight temperatures drop below freezing, the leaves get frost bitten, which actually sweetens the flavor, leaving a gold-leaf edge. The winds and cold rains produce a leaf that his structure and texture. The combination of the conditions yields a mesclun mix in which each leaf has a distinct flavor and texture. As the leaves get bigger, they get tougher and make perfect braising greens.
Harvesting lettuce in the winter is not particularly fun – hunched over the fields with cold fingers, but the rewards are sweet. When the temperatures rise above 32F, the leaves thaw, and with a hit of sunshine, the excess moisture evaporates and the leaves rebound. Each leaf is harvested individually, taking care not to damage the plant. The smaller leaves will continue to grow.
The peppery greens make a wonderful salad or stuffing for roasted chicken.
Chicken Stuffed with Peppery Greens and Raisins
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 cup raisins
1 bunch mustard greens, washed and coarsely chopped
4 boneless chicken breasts, skin on
1 teaspoon canola/plain oil
salt and pepper to taste.
1. Melt butter in sauté pan. Add garlic. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, and add the curry powder. Cook for 2 more minutes and add the raisins.
2. Add the mustard greens. And cook until they wilt. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Cool before using stuffing.
4. To form pockets for stuffing., gently separate the skin from the meat from only one long edge (leaving the skin still attached on the other half of the breast). Fill the pocket with the stuffing and smooth the skin back over
5. Turn the oven on to broil. Brush the skin with a little oil and season with salt and pepper.
6. Put chicken under the broiler until the skin begins to crisp, about 7 minutes. Switch the oven to bake/ 350, and continue cooking the chicken for 10 minutes or until cooked through.