Produce of the Week - Cold Comfort
sponsored by Coleman Farms
When the nights lengthen and the temperatures drop that spells the end of many a crop. Even in nearly subtropical Southern California, a lot of Summer favorites wither and die, or move indoors, as Autumn moves into Winter. You won't any longer find such delicacies as free range tomatoes, basil and summer squash at the Farmers' Market, the lettuces are still there and still tasty, but you'll find different varieties and generally smaller heads, and hardy Summer types like Chaul and Amaranth have taken a long vacation.
This change can leave many feeling dietetically diminished, and, particularly if they've bought into the myth that it's always Summer in the Southland, they may seek solace in such things as imported hothouse tomatoes (I notice the Canadian ones are still around; Canada, a natural place for Winter tomatoes) and squash, but, if they listen to their palates instead of their eyes, are disappointed.
Facing reality is currently not favored in certain circles, but we're not talking matters of State here, we're talking about adjusting the dinner table to reflect the market stall table. This can seem a major undertaking because, while everyone knows what to do with a tomato or a zucchini, it's not clear what to do with their Winter replacements, or, perhaps, even what they are. So this week we'll talk a little about Winter greens.
Of course, I don't mean the triboluminescent candy, I mean the cooking greens that, although perhaps available at other times of the year, thrive in cooler, or even cold, weather. These are principally Brassicas - cabbage, the kales, collards, rapini and turnip greens, if you can find them, and the chards. Most of these - the major exception being rapini - are available year round in Santa Barbara markets, coming in Summer from the cooler coastal areas around Oxnard, Santa Maria and Carpinteria. In cooler weather, though, they flourish, having better color, more succulent leaves and a more developed sweeter taste. My own Cavolo Nero has perked up considerably in the last six weeks and has never looked happier than in recent mornings which found it covered with a thick layer of frost.
And as it happens, almost as if by design, these particular greens are perfectly suited to cold weather dishes, from soups such as Ribollita to stickier dishes such as Colcannon or Pasta Fagioli augmented with kale en chiffonade. And the notion that this sequence of vegetables was planned is furthered by the nutritional similarites between the tomato and and the brassicas, both being significant contributors of vitamin C and iron to the diet, as well as antioxidants, though doubtless of different kinds.
Cooking greens have a pretty hard time getting into a lot of kitchens. Greens of all kinds, and particularly, I think, cabbage, collards and mustard greens, are still often associated with the diet of the poor or of the immigrants most of us forget we once were, while the kales are still in many ways a specialty vegetable, as unfamiliar as broccoli was several generations ago. If you open your mouth, and then perhaps your heart, to them, it will help you see that Winter is not simply the end Summer, but also a beginning, another step on the seasonal suite of offerings from the Farmers Market.