Flowering gifts

Last fall, I planted rows upon rows of greens—mustards, collards, radishes, turnips, chard, escarole, rapini. I staggered them to maximize space, nestled the little seedlings with burlap covers, tucked them into a hoop house, and watched them struggle to gain footing. As usual, I had planted too late in the season, unwilling to pull up the still-producing tomatoes and cowpeas from the ground (golden globes still clutching their stems!!) and make room for the next season's plantings. But they were cozy enough to survive, and all the wet, cold months that followed, they grew almost imperceptibly, half awake, sleepily producing. And then suddenly, in March, with more daylight than darkness and something like warmth creeping in, they began to unfurl, sending out leaves with the fervor of someone who has a busy day ahead and accidentally slept in. Gardening offers almost nothing in the way of guarantees, but here is at least one certainty: overwintered greens will flower in the spring. 

Typically labeled "raab" at farmers markets for their likeness to broccoli raab (a misnomer—raab deriving from cime di rape, Italian for rapini, cime meaning tops and rape meaning turnips) and sold in sweet bouquets, they are both the previous season's sign-off (the plant's last gasp as it goes to seed) and a marker of the one to come. They deliver all of the flavor and character of their mature leaves with more sweetness and delicacy, our reward for all the sugar the plant stored over the cold months just passed. In early spring, they are pure antidote to the earthbound flavors of winter and a jolt of inspiration in the kitchen. 

Before I grew my own, I would buy practically one bunch per day of the week that they were in season, usually for 3-5 weeks in early spring. Now that I do, unburdened as I am by strict planting schedules, I harvest from them from the time they start flowering in early March until I put the tomatoes and cowpeas in the ground in later May. Very lightly braised, in a skillet with olive oil and a little water, they cook to exquisitely tender in minutes, leaving a few glorious tablespoons of pot liquor behind. Besides that, I add them to soups, stir them into brothy or porridge-like rice and grain dishes, even roast them, on occasion. But they are tender enough to eat raw, and I often find that a grain salad is just the right home.

The recipe that follows serves two, but it can be doubled, or tripled, or whatever you need. 

Rye berry salad with flowering arugula, favas, carrots, and lemon-harissa dressing

2/3 cup rye berries

5 cups water

2 medium-size carrots

1 pound fava beans in their pods

2 large handful flowering greens (florets and small leaves), preferably arugula (or substitute whole young arugula leaves or more mature leaves, chopped)

1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds, toasted

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon prepared harissa

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus additional to taste

Rinse and drain the rye berries. In a small, heavy pot with a lid, combine the rye berries, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 5 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and cook at a low boil, partly covered, until the grains are tender but still a little chewy, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Turn off the heat and rest for 15 minutes, drain well, and allow to cool. (If you soak the rye overnight it will take considerably less time to cook.)

Shell the fava beans, and drop them into a small pot of boiling water. Cook for 2-3 minutes, drain, and flush with cold water. When the beans are cool, slip them out of their skins and set aside.

Combine the cooled rye berries (making sure they are well drained) in a medium-sized bowl with the carrots, favas, arugula and pumpkin seeds. In a small bowl, dissolve the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt in the lemon juice, whisk in the harissa, then whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil until emulsified. Pour over the farro and vegetables and combine well. Serve.

(Alternately, dress the salad—except for the pumpkin seeds and arugula—and stir those ingredients in just before serving.)

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