Monday, November 28, 2011

Harvesting Cold Day Salads Monday

The garden is a luscious salad bar this time of year until the real cold and snow hits which could be any time now. We are gathering cold hardy lettuce, kale, cabbage, fennel, coriander, kale, asian greens like mustards and bok choi, kale, arugula, the first corn salad/mache,* herbs, onions, more kale, bietina (particularly hardy chard in my experience) and chicories like radicchio.

Beautiful heading raddichio. I sprinkled handfuls of a collection of old seed beneath the apple trees last fall so I couldn't tell you the exact variety but it was tasty!

In fact, I debated calling this post for the love of chicory. Even the deer have expressed their appreciation by nibbling off the tops of some beautiful red heads revealing their mottled interiors. At least they left the roots to grow again next year. It wasn't until I started growing them that I learned to appreciate their pleasingly bitter taste from the deceptively named sugarloaf to the deep reds of classic radicchio to the buttery yellow of forced Belgium endive.

What's not to love? They are perennials.** In their first year, all going well, they produce heads that can be as lovely as flowers in the fall garden. In their second year, they produce a tower of sky blue flowers rather like the wild chicories that you may see along the roadway and like those wild flowers, they will happily seed themselves nearby the mother plants. These self sown seedlings along with those I've started in situ in the fall, have produced some of the most beautiful first year heads. Subsequent years will produce more greens and roots.

At my old place, sugarloaf chicory often made its way into the yawn. It's easy to remove but I often left it, getting a kick out of the contrasting giant apple green leaves. Cutting back the flowerheads prevents this or just aim them in a more appropriate direction.

You can eat the outer leaves but they are quite bitter or wait for cool temperatures to increase their sugar content. Digging up and storing the roots in the cellar will provide you with a winter feast of chicons - forced heads - at a time of year when fresh vegetables are thin on the ground. If you can't wait, then you can blanch the inner growing leaves by upturning a bowl or pot on them. This works for dandelions too.

Though they make a lovely base or complement for a salad, my favourite use is in pasta dishes. Fried lightly with onion, with or without other vegetables, then layered in a cheesy lasagna is delicious. The bitterness is transformed into depth. If you enjoy the way they cut sweet, then stir fry or grilling is also a nice option. Or layer raw on some fresh fall apples atop a shredded head of sugarloaf and a sprinkle of grated cheese.

This picture is taken later in the fall than the previous and you can see the deepening of colour in the heads.

Even my children will eat it though not on the plate. There is something about that circular eating zone that changes vegetables from tasty trail snack to dreaded barrier against leaving the table. The other day, my youngest was cutting up a sugarloaf with the odd leaf making its way into her mouth. I said, "You like chicory!" She smiled and replied "no" while continuing to chew.

* My corn salad is off to a slow start at the new place. I know that once it starts to self seed, I'll be in the corn salads for years but I sure do miss its mild flavour now. If you have a cold frame/polytunnel, you can harvest it almost all year too! The exception is probably after its seeded in summer along with days that your door is frozen shut. Otherwise, it's extremely cold hardy.
** I've also heard short-lived perennial. It may be but as I always have youngsters taking over from their flagging parents, I haven't noticed.

There are all kinds of chicory from loose leaf to ones with thick stems to those with tight conical or more pointed heads. Berton Seeds will give you a sense of their diversity.


!!Happy b-day to my baby gardeners who are 6 and 8 today!!


kitsapFG said...

Here's wishing a Happy Birthday to your baby gardeners as well!

Chicory is such a beautiful plant and I like it in small amounts, but the strong flavor gets to be too much for me if it is the centerpiece of a recipe. I love how you have it growing in a naturalized self seeding way.

Emily said...

We have both the sugar loaf (seeds from you) and radicchio in the garden right now. We tried them roasted in the oven but found it too bitter. We were able to use the outer radicchio leaves in a quiche earlier in the season when I couldn't remember what they were :) Maybe we should give them another try now that the weather has turned a bit cooler.

Ottawa Gardener said...

I really recommend it in a lasagna too. Something about the cheese and pasta, it's a nice complement. Yes, frost certainly helps! Also, forcing the roots in darkness makes it nicer too.

Daphne said...

I've been looking at bietina, but can't find out how cold hardy it is. No one seems to know. I'd love a chard that could over winter here.

Mary Hysong said...

I hadn't read about cooking with chicory before, thank you for that. I know sometimes in bought salad mixes it is too bitter, but other times a nice flavor. I will have to experiment with it in the garden.

what a beautiful harvest.

Stefaneener said...

Happy birthday to the crew! I am coming to appreciate, more and more, free-seeding vegetables. Generally it's the leafy ones I like -- not tomatoes! I find chicory too bitter for me. But yours is beautiful.

Ottawa Gardener said...

I'm not sure how cold hardy Bietina is exactly but it seems to fair better than the thicker stemmed ones which tend to show frost damage a lot sooner. Normally my bietina makes it through winter under our persistant snow cover and its still looking great in the garden whereas the other varieties are flagging. We've had temperatures briefly down below minus 10 and about 5cm of snow that melted within a few days.

Norma Chang said...

Beautiful heading radicchio. Like your idea of sprinkling old seeds in the garden and see what grows. I have just such a spot in my garden for my old Asian green seeds.

My Urban Gardens said...

Wow! So many good ideas to try here. Thanks! Happy Birthday to your little gardeners. :)


Katherine said...

love knowing about what grows at the end of the season - very bountiful!

Mr. H. said...

Many of my very favorite greens reside in the chicory family...I still remember when I first tried this weird little bitter red and white cabbage from the grocery store years and years ago...I didn't like it then but now we love our radicchio.:) I had to look up bietina, sounds like an interesting plant.