A neighbor in my village built an amazing greenhouse last year. Cold air comes up from the bottom and cools it in the summer. In the winter it’s 80 degrees and climbing inside when it’s freezing outside. No wonder he put a bed in there – who wouldn’t want to be warmed by the sun heated room when the night digits plummet to 6 degrees? The problem is that the greenhouse has been so successful that Scott, who built it, has far more greens than he can possibly eat. This means that I, along with other people and two goats, have been the happy recipient of big bags of kale, chard, beet greens, spinach, arugula, and Romaine lettuce. These leaves glisten. They glimmer. They glow. And they are all as soft as flower petals. We enjoy them in soups, salads, braised, even in smoothies. Then I get to go back for more. To have fresh produce in winter is an unexpected joy and I am now seriously bent on putting up a greenhouse of my own.
When it comes to delicacy and cole crops, I have never really put the two together. It’s almost as if they wanted a blast of cold air to toughen up a little. I plunged them in cold water, then dried and refrigerated them thinking that would give them a little more backbone, but it didn’t. Not that there’s anything wrong with these greens just the way they are. They’re surprising, but I’m thrilled to have something from as close as down the road and picked as recently as this morning. This is food that’s alive!
Two weeks ago in Davis, California, I came across their opposites, you might say, while shopping at the farmers market. I bought a pound of mixed greens: kale (four different kinds), savoy cabbage (that January cabbage again), some chard and other brassicas. No protection had been offered these babies. They’d been outside growing through the California rain and chill, growing thick and tough and strong. Unlike the greenhouse leaves, these were so tough and bouncy that for a moment I actually wondered if they’d become tender in the pan? I took them back to my sister-in-law’s house and braised them with garlic and my brother’s olive oil and in fifteen minutes they were tender and succulent and so, so, very good. The greenhouse greens, cooked the same way, were also very good, but it was interesting to see the difference that actual weather makes in strength. The greenhouse greens collapsed to a soft, tender little mound. The field greens did too, but not nearly as much, and you could certainly discern one leaf type from another. If you were from another planet, you might think that you were looking at two entirely different mixes of vegetables. And in a way, you would be.
I gave the field grown greens another try and used them in a salad of cabbage and kale, finely slivered and tossed with the same good olive oil I had been using with the greenhouse greens. They started out tough, but ended up toothy-tender, and because they were strong leaves from the get go, they were good the next day, too. The greenhouse salad was soft, the leaves didn’t need to be slivered at all, it was best eaten as soon as it was tossed, and it wanted a softer oil and less acidic vinegar than those from the out-of-doors. But was one better than the other? They were different, and I’d be happy with either.
If you like kale salads, make your favorite and include some of that crinkly cabbage in it. And don’t shun those greens that are as thick as soft cardboard. They’ll be fine.