As a backyard vegetable gardener in the Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York State, the weeks ahead are my favorite part of the growing season.
Later in the summer there will be ripe, juicy tomatoes on the vine. There will be peppers, sweet and hot, and green beans that grow faster than can be picked. Shortly before that will be the zucchini, with their precious golden flowers for frying, stuffing and baking, chopping raw into salads or dumped by the handful into my own personal favorite: risotto con fiore di zucca.
But it’s these next several weeks in mid to late spring that give me the greatest culinary joy, as the brown expanse of garden soil begins to turn green, first with tiny flecks and sprouts, and then with rows and bunches of arugula, spinach, broccoli di rape and lettuces of varied shapes and colors. This is also when the first stalks of asparagus begin to shoot up from the dirt, pencil thin and delicious when cooked minutes after snipping at the base. And of course the herbs, perennials coming back from their winter slumber, and the annual favorites planted from seed in late March and early April.
When planting leafy greens, I always make it a point to over-seed the beds. The thinning that is required yields the most tender and tasty baby salads, which need only a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of lemon to enhance the intensely fresh flavors of the youthful greens. As the plants left in the garden begin to mature, heartier salads are composed, now with the beautiful pinkish-purple flowers of the chive plant, and the just-opening yellow florets from the broccoli di rape adding brilliant splashes of color to the deep green of the spinach leaves, and the light, vibrant greens and deep russets of the varied strains of leaf lettuce. These salads hold up to a more robust vinaigrette, whisked with balsamic, crushed garlic and some chopped herbs: marjoram, tarragon, thyme.
These are truly my favorite weeks of the year at the home table.
ed. note: With this post, I introduce my cousin, Bruce Sconzo, cartoonist, gardener, cook, musician, poet and more. I look forward to sharing more posts from Bruce in the future.