Just yesterday there was a billowy jungle in the backyard, towering, yellow-flowering stalks of kale and broccoli, Brassicas gone wild.
No longer compact and hefty broad-leafed plants, they were seven feet tall and graceful lanky versions of themselves. We’ve been eating their bolting florets for weeks, and in spite of ‘past prime’ they continue to be delicious. No embellishments needed, we’ve added handfuls to salad, and lightly steamed many a panful. Besides being versatile and hardy they’re chock full of healthiness which makes replanting them every August a no-brainer.
So, I thought I would photograph this Brassica jungle and then pick a bunch of florets to use in a pasta dish. My husband, however, had risen early daydreaming about planting tomatoes this coming weekend (they’ll have a protective cloche for a while), and made a place for them by taking out all of the flowering kale and broccoli plants. Landscape drastically changed and I had to salvage dinner from the compost pile, humiliating for me and the Brassica. (I think there’s a lesson here about spousal communication.)
With a pile of these flowering stalks, and another pile of random leftover cheese – doesn’t every fridge have some? – I concocted a pasta dish that we love and turns out it’s local: kale and broccoli florets from the backyard or a Farmers Market, a variety of locally made cheeses, and fettuccine from Cucina Fresca, a local pasta maker. The cheese sauce coats every inch of the pasta, the chives and leek add a tiny zing, and robust Brassica have always loved a cheese sauce. Bingo. With asparagus and radishes on the side, this is another mostly local meal.
Brassica Florets with Pasta:
Ingredients: 12 – 16 oz. pasta, butter and olive oil, 1 leek, cheese, milk, flour, Brassica florets, chives. Broccoli, peas or asparagus are also good instead of, or in combination with Brassica florets.
Get a big pot of water going for the pasta and then start the sauce. It will all come together in about twenty minutes, give or take, and make four smallish portions or two large portions.
Place 1T olive oil and 2 T butter in a saucepan, medium heat. Gently sauté’ the chopped leek in the oil/butter for two minutes. Add 2T flour and cook this mixture for two more minutes on low heat. Add 1 ½ – 2 cups of milk and whisk until the mix gradually thickens to officially become a Béchamel sauce. Keep the heat low – medium. Add more milk if needed – this should be a sauce that coats, but drips from a spoon and will eventually coat the pasta.
Turn off the heat and add 1 1/2 cups of cheese, which can be a mix of almost anything you like. If you want cheesier, add more cheese. I used a bit of Beecher’s cheddar, a piece of Golden Glen Creamery cheddar which I hadn’t tried before, and a small piece of Oregonzola. Grate or crumble the cheese into small bits, stir into the Béchamel sauce along with pinches of salt and pepper to taste.
When pasta is cooked, drain and toss right into the cheese sauce along with 2 cups of Brassica florets; the very thin stalks will ‘cook’ when stirred in with the hot pasta, larger pieces or broccoli should be lightly steamed in advance. Sprinkle with chopped chives and parsley.
On the local table, a little like Mac ‘n Cheese, but with fettuccine and the healthy kick of greens, this is classically comforting and delicious. And with radishes so red and crunchy.
More and more local cheeses are appearing on supermarket shelves in our region; Brassica florets have been available at Farmers Markets recently and will likely continue to be around for a while longer. Poppy’s posting on 4/21 is full of more information about these wonderful plants.