Whether you’re looking for new flavors to tickle your taste buds or something else to grow in your garden, small vegetables are better than obscure and sometimes weird looking vegetables, says Mark Diacono.
One of the pleasures of growing your own food is to go beyond the supermarket shelves and discover a new world of taste in the kitchen.
Every year I grow two things that are new to me, a tradition that has, over time, introduced me to kai lan, Babington leek, yacon, Egyptian walking chives, parsley root, and more.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of nurseries growing these unfamiliar vegetables. Here I have selected a few of my favorite unusual treats, and I hope that after trying them, you will want to continue.
I gave up growing cauliflower: do it right and it still might explode the day you turn your back. Romanesco – cauliflower, broccoli, or whatever, depending on who you’re talking to – has taken its place in my garden. It’s just beautiful: imagine a teddy boy’s sock-colored conical sea coral arranged in a series of self-similar logarithmic spirals, so that when observing the whole flower or miniature, you see a spiral peak composed of smaller spiral peaks. Its flavor is nuttier and brighter than cauliflower, and fortunately it rarely goes bad.
As with cauliflower, romanesco is beautifully roasted whole or split into florets and then drizzled with oil and lemon juice for serving, or, like broccoli, finely chopped and sautéed in oil with plenty of chili and/or garlic for sauce. paste.
I first ate a triangular leek ten years ago: a friend came with a couple of handfuls of this long, thin leek, whose triangular stems give it its name. We grilled them, the heat transforming their tough texture and adding sweetness to their fatty garlic-onion flavor. Since then, they have become real favorites.
You can very well see them growing in the wild anywhere from the edges of the woods to your local park, where while they are easy to collect during the first half of the year, there is always the risk of dog urine – so growing your own can be attractive. It is illegal to dig up bulbs in the wild, but you can find them at an online nursery; However, be aware that the triangle leek is invasive and self-seeding easily, so grow it indoors if you don’t want it to spread.
Agretti, also known as monk’s beard, is related to samphire, a succulent coastal vegetable, and has much of its texture and mineral flavor. A native of the Mediterranean coast, it prefers well-drained soil. I plant under cover in late winter or right in early spring as it needs cool to germinate: leave 50% more than you think as germination can be erratic.
Once planted, it will take about two months to reach a crop size of about 1 foot across and 2 feet high. I use a “cut and come back” approach, leaving enough core to produce new shoots that can be harvested over the next weeks. You must make several cuts before the plant loses its succulence. The light saltiness and fresh crunch of Agretti are especially good with eggs and seafood, either steamed or raw and lightly seasoned.
Good King Henry
Also known as poor man’s asparagus and Lincolnshire spinach, ‘Good King Henry’ is a tall, deciduous perennial that produces two delicious crops. Growing vigorously from the first sign of spring, the early shoots reach 20 cm (about 8 inches) in height by the end of March, when they can be cut and enjoyed like asparagus. The leaves make a great substitute for spinach, and the unopened flower buds are really excellent, cut in the summer like warm-weather sprout broccoli.
I plant Good King Henry right in late March – it’s not picky about soil or relative shade – thinning seedlings to 30cm (about 11¾ inches) apart. I let them take root during the first year, taking only a few leaves and flower buds until next March, when I will be properly rewarded.
Like the potato, the oca is a South American tuber. It looks like a new lipstick-stained potato, full or spotted, but it tastes very different. In its raw form, it has a light lemon flavor, a bit like sorrel; leave the tubers in the sun, and they do not turn green and spoil like potatoes, but gradually sweeten. Raw or cooked, lemony or sweeter, oca is equally delicious.
Another advantage it has over potatoes is that oca is a perennial perennial: you just leave some of the crop to plant next year. Buy it once and you have it forever. Sowing in the spring after the threat of frost has passed, oca at intervals, like potatoes, produces a low mat of leaves reminiscent of juicy clover. When frost knocks down the leaves, it’s time to pick up the tubers. They are especially good fried or boiled, absorbing strong flavors well; try oku bravas.
Salsify was the first thing I grew without trying it, being interested in purely description. These long, thin roots taste like a cross between an artichoke heart and asparagus. I sow it along with its black relative Scorzonera right in the spring, just like carrots, which allows it to develop roots over a long season that can reach 40 cm (16 inches) in length. Due to their fragility, they are best lifted with a fork rather than pulled.
To get the best results from salsify or scorzonera, I usually boil them for 10-15 minutes until al dente, then submerge them in cold water, after which the skins slide off easily. Most often, I then either fry the chopped roots in a pan with butter, cream, parsley and parmesan, or add them to gratin.