The process of breeding greens for winter-tolerance takes many years. Each spring, after the grueling winter winds have dissipated and the snow has melted, Farmer Brett inspects his fields for survivors. In a field of thousands of plants, maybe 10 have withstood the elements. Before the plants begin to flower, he transplants them within 50 feet of each other. When the plants flower, several weeks later, the bees can pollinate them. And after the plants flower, they generate seeds for subsequent years’ plantings. After several years of breeding out weak plants, Brett has robust and flavorful plants.
Last week, Brett came north to the New England Fruit and Vegetable Conference to talk about cold hardy greens and how New England farmers can adapt this process to the more severe winters.
He brought with him several varieties of greens for sampling and also for cooking dinners at the end of the meetings. The greens are spicy and full of flavor and texture. The overnight frosts that Maryland experienced (before the two feet of snow from two days ago), causes a chemical reaction in the plants which makes them sweeter.
The recipe for Savory Potatoes and Greens comes from his Winter CSA cookbook. I used basil from my garden (that I froze in August) to season the dish.
SAVORY VEGETARIAN GREENS AND POTATOES
3 average sized russet potatoes, washed but with skins on
salted water to cover
1 bag (gallon) any of our cooking greens
3 – 6 T mix of olive and neutral oils
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 t black pepper
½ to 1 t salt
½ bunch scallions
fresh herbs, or 1 t dried oregano, basil, or rosemary
1. Gently boil potatoes until just cooked (skins aren’t all coming off, and a sharp knife inserted into spud encounters a teeny resistance). Remove from pot with a slotted spoon. Let cool, then chop into bite-sized pieces. Use same water to barely blanch greens, and be sure to shock in an ice bath. Drain in colander, and push out all extra water. Chop coarsely. Set aside. In a heavy skillet (works best in seasoned cast iron), sauté onion and garlic ‘til barely soft. Add potatoes and fry, scraping pan bottom often and adding more oil if needed. When potatoes have started to brown, add greens, herbs, and chopped scallion. Cook two minutes more. If needed, season further before serving: this should be hearty, not bland.2. Can nicely be served with a dollop of sour cream, or of home-made guacamole, or with grated cheddar or Monterey jack, on top. Also really good with 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed (added to skillet right before spuds go in) in lieu of or in addition to other herbs. Hot peppers complement the latter approach well.