Brassica Greens

“Get Fresh”

Produce shopping is evolving into an art form, or perhaps more of a sport. The demands made of local markets are known to be rising to Portlandia proportions. Consumers would like to have fresh, imperfect within reason, sustainably grown, Instagram-worthy local crops that are bigger, better and juicier than their California counterparts—at all times. Perhaps global warming will get us there eventually, but while we wait for the fall of the environment to deliver us year-round growing conditions, enter the “cabbage flower,” or “cabbage top.”

Commonly confused with rapini, broccolini and broccoli rabe, the “cabbage top” is none of these, but more exquisite than all. Delivering on every front (see sidebar), the cabbage top is one of the few “new crop” local produce items you can buy ahead of the growing season. Purchased in a “bouquet,” it prepares quickly and simply and can stun your dinner guests with interest, visuals and, above all, taste.

Cabbage tops are in fact just that: the immature flowering tops of overwintered red or green cabbage plants going to seed. You won’t find a wealth of information online as they are new to the culinary spotlight, but so deserving of it. Available in abundance locally, but typically only in markets buying directly from local farms or at farmer’s markets themselves, the cabbage top is a nutrient- rich delicacy taking the food scene by storm. With a taste that is, of course, cabbage-y, it is milder, only slightly peppery and intensely sweeter than cabbage itself. Begging for a braising, but also lovely raw, simple preparations most complement the cabbage top: good olive oil, shallots, local garlic and chili flakes tossed into a hot cast iron pan and plated with curls of a hard Italian cheese. This will be the star of any spring dinner.

After a winter highlighted by squash and root vegetables, the vibrant flavour of simply prepared cabbage tops is an embodiment of spring and a reminder of all the good that is to come. You can look forward to them as early as mid-March, but be sure to enjoy them before the chefs snatch them all up; their season is limited as they are only harvested until the flowers bloom, and the farmers need their fields for spring crops.

Every farmer that grows brassicas, and locally this will be most, will be familiar with the cabbage top. This leaves me wondering how they are only hitting the scene now? Is this the toiling farmer’s best-kept secret? These people without whose hard work we would starve have likely been enjoying this delicacy for generation upon generation. I envision them at the dinner table with their families tucking in to a steaming plate of sautéed greens with a gentle knowing smile on their faces. Maybe less their best-kept secret, and more their just reward.

“A cabbage top by any other name would taste as sweet. Also known as cabbage shoots, cabbage flowers, brassica shoots, brassica greens and any combination thereof.”

TASTE: Fresh, green, sweet, mildly peppery

TREND: You will see them gracing the menus of many farm-to-table eateries for good reason. But this trend is here to stay.

SUSTAINABILITY: Locally grown, this otherwise composted delicacy is merely the result of letting already harvested cabbage plants over-winter.

PREPARATION: Let their abundant fresh flavour speak for itself by complementing with quality ingredients and serving al dente.

SELECTION: These are coming directly from the farm and the season is short so you won’t have to pick through to find the good ones—they’re all good. Avoid open flowers and woody stems that could turn up toward the end of the season.

– By Daisy Orser

Daisy Orser is co-owner of The Root Cellar Village Green Grocer, an award winning locally-focused food market in Victoria BC.

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