Late last summer I planted a couple of dozen brassicas - not with any real idea of what would happen but just to have something in the garden that didn't look entirely bleak.
Mostly they did nothing.
These plants had been dormant for months, surviving short days, cold nights, heavy snow, on and off frost, and the unwelcome visits of the neighbourhood cats. They simply sat in little dark green bundles, unmoved and unresponsive. Nature's way to cope with winter.
Then, just like in all the best tv gardening shows, they suddenly sprang to life. The days got a little longer, the air a little warmer and kerching! they were reaching for the sky and bulking out sideways, filling the available space. Amazing.
I must confess I did not know which would turn into what. I know there are four varieties - even I can see they are different collections of plants - but the magic of planting unlabelled things six months on is *surprise* and a big grin! The fastest to grow, and the first to be harvested, is curly kale, lovely matt green leaves belying their sturdiness by being all frilled at the edges.
I'm watching the rest. It is becoming apparent which are the cauliflowers - they are starting to have creamy white heads - small yet but growing. I'm fascinated - I have never before seen a cauliflower come into being.
This dinner was a celebration of the arrival of spring, a quirky mix of things from a recipe from the splendid table, another food mail I subscribe to. It's actaually an American radio programme which reads like it sounds amazing.
Pasta with tart greens and braised garlic
Note the recipe says braised garlic - you need nice big fat juicy cloves for this
500g greens, trimmed of thick stems and chopped into 5cm pieces,
Sauté and Pasta:
Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 large garlic cloves, cut into 1cm cubes – big chunks!
500g Orecchiette pasta, or other little ones but the ears are very cute
150g Italian fennel sausage, cut into 1 cm pieces
¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2/3 cup pasta water
½ cup toasted pine nuts or coarsely chopped hazelnuts
1 to 1 ½ cups shredded Pecorino Romano, or Ricotta Salata. Lacking either I used Parmesan
Have a large pan of salted water at a full boil, drop in the greens and boil, uncovered, 2 minutes, or until just tender. Lift out with a big strainer (you want to cook the pasta in the same vegetable water), drain, and set the greens aside. Keep the water at a bubble.
In a large sauté pan, pour enough oil to film the bottom. Add the ½ cup water with salt, pepper and the garlic. Heat over medium, cover and cook 8 minutes, or until the garlic is soft. Check that the garlic doesn't brown, adding a little more water if needed. Once the garlic is soft, scoop it out with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Have the pasta water boiling, then drop in the pasta and cook, stirring often, as you finish the sauté.
Have the sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the sausage. Sear it until it starts to colour, then lower the heat to medium. Cover the pan and cook the sausage about 5 minutes, or until it's no longer pink inside. Stir in the tomato paste and hot pepper and cook another minute, uncovered. Add the cooked greens and the garlic. Raise the heat to medium-high and sauté them for a few moments, tasting for seasoning. If necessary, set aside the sauté until the pasta is ready to be drained.
Before draining the pasta, scoop about 2/3 cup of the pasta water from the pot and set aside. Put the greens back on medium-high heat, add the pasta water and simmer a moment or two. You want them moist, but not soupy. Once the pasta is tender but still a little firm to the bite, drain it and add it to the greens mixture. Toss in the pine nuts and the cheese until combined, and taste for seasoning. Serve the pasta hot.
A word of warning - I tend to use lots of salt in the water to cook pasta which resulted in a fairly salty finished dish after I added pasta cooking water to the sauce.
Otherwise this was a great supper - lots of flavour and textures, little nubbles of toasted nuts and prickles of chilli and the garlic in the end is gently mellow. The greens were the best!