Cool season vegetables are those that need to mature before the weather turns hot, so need to be planted now. Summer heat turns the leaves bitter, causes plants to form seed, or shuts off production altogether. There are loads of delicious cool season vegetables that are easy to grow for the backyard or market gardener besides kale. While delicious, it’s been overplanted by many of our farmers and market gardeners. I’m hoping we’ll be presented with greens like escarole, sorrel, and broccoli raab along with the kale.
Escarole is a broad, flattish head of mildly bitter coarse green leaves, a member of the chicory family. When young and sweet, it can be used raw in salads accompanied by sliced apple or pear, goat or blue cheese, crisp bacon, olives or pine nuts. Much loved in Italian cuisine, escarole becomes meltingly tender when added to soups during the last 10 minutes of cooking. A classic Italian soup includes browned Italian sausage, white beans, onion and garlic mingled with chopped escarole in chicken stock. Garnish the soup with shaved Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. Ready in less than 30 minutes, the soup balances sweet sausage, bitter greens, and salty cheese in a satisfying, hearty soup.
Sorrel is a perennial green with strap-like leaves loaded with lemony flavor, making it a perfect foil for steamed beets and blue or goat cheese, lightly drizzled with a good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Toasted walnuts, pecans, or pine nuts make a nice addition. Sorrel can also be wilted in potato soup flavored with chopped leeks, onion, and garlic. Add rough chopped sorrel leaves during the last 30 seconds of cooking and serve with toasted croutons.
Broccoli raab is underused in this country, but much-loved in Europe. Sometimes called rapini, it is a leafy green plant with small clusters of broccoli-like buds at the tips of the stems. Eaten stems, leaves, closed flower heads and all, broccoli raab is best blanched in a cup of boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drained and rinsed in cold water to stop the cooking, then drained again. Heat olive oil with minced garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir in the blanched rapini to heat through and serve while still bright green.
Chopped broccoli raab also pairs well with white beans and can be served on bruschetta after a quick sauté with minced onion and garlic, then topped with shaved Pecorino cheese. Blanched and shocked, escarole or broccoli raab can be sautéed in olive oil with onion, garlic, raisins, capers and a squeeze of fresh lemon added at the very last minute. Either green can be tossed with hot pasta, cooked Italian sausage, a dab of crème fraiche and grated cheese.
Blanched and thoroughly drained, escarole or broccoli raab make an unusual topping for grilled or baked pizza. Place it on the pizza round with rated smoked mozzarella, and thin slices of red onion. Add a sprinkle of raisins or thinly sliced pear, if you like, and cook as usual.