Tuesday, March 28, 2017

In Season: Into Inflorescence & Other Spring Things

noun 1. The complete flower head of a plant including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers. 2. The arrangement of the flowers on a plant. 3. The process of flowering.

Spring is officially here. Not only is the light sticking around longer in the evening, but it's not pitch black when I wake up, stumbling half-awake in a coffee-deprived stupor around the yard with the dogs every morning. More light means more warmth, said Josh Alsberg, owner of Rubinette Produce, the greengrocer inside Providore Fine Foods, and that means we'll be seeing a lot more early spring greens popping up in store aisles and at local farmers' markets.

Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce.

"The thing that signals spring to me is purple sprouting broccoli," he said, pointing out that the seed for this variety was developed to provide an overwintering crop for farmers to take to market at a time of the year when there aren't a lot of other greens available. Another new-ish sprout that serves the same purpose are kalettes (top photo), a cross between broccoli and brussels sprouts that was developed by a British plant breeder.

All of the large family of brassicas—think cauliflower, broccoli, mustard greens, arugula, bok choy, turnips, rutabagas, kales and cabbages—send out sprouts when it starts to warm up, which means you'll see lots of raab (aka rabe or rapini) coming from area farms like Groundwork Organics, DeNoble Farms and Gathering Together Farm, among many others. (Read a complete treatise on raab, rabe, rapini and broccolini, then check out these recipes.)

Castelfranco chicory.

Chicories are another hardy crop that grows slowly over the winter and is ready to harvest when the ground is still muddy and wet. The dark red blades of Arch Cape chicories from Ayers Creek Farm have come and gone already, but some pale yellow and white heads of Belgian endive have been seen hereabouts, and Josh said escarole and treviso radicchio will be plentiful in a couple of weeks.

So-called "baby roots" were a new thing to me, but Josh said that they're gaining a foothold on restaurant menues around the city and in bins and baskets at our farmers' markets. Look for teeny versions of radishes, Hakurei turnips (also called white salad turnips), kohlrabi and other roots to show up soon, usually appearing fresh in salads and slaws because of their sweeter flavor and crunchy texture.

Calçots on the grill.

One other group that's on the way are the alliums like green garlic, spring onions and those delicacies from Spain, calçots. I'm definitely planning another calçotada in the back yard with plenty of the traditional Salbitxada sauce to dunk them in.

Filling out the soon-to-be-an-avalanche of fresh from the farm goodness that's coming our way are salad greens and braising mixes of kales, chard, mizuna, traditional mustard greens along with a new variety, Tokyo Bekana, a small Chinese type mustard-cabbage with bright lime green leaves and ruffled edges. Fast on their heels will be lettuces, early spinach, all kinds of microgreens and leaf herbs like tarragon, sorrel and chervil. There's not a lot of fruit due right away, but you'll see blazing red ribs of rhubard piled up soon. Sadly, Josh said the first strawberries are going back to their usual schedule, holding off until late April or May (which is still early in my book).

Excited yet? I sure am!

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