Start hybrid broccoli and onion seeds about eight weeks before the last spring frost.
You’ve grown heirloom tomatoes. You know what it means to cook with superior ingredients. So take it to the next level. Enjoy roasted salad turnips with the slightly piquant base of the greens still attached, sweet baby broccoli tossed in garlic butter, tender mini beets, and grilled radicchio. If you can grow tomatoes, then there’s no reason you can’t grow gourmet delicacies in your backyard garden as well.
Or Just Harvest Them When Small
Growing gourmet vegetables can be as simple as harvesting the vegetables at a small and tender size.
Summer squash can be plucked with the flower still clinging to the baby fruit, stuffed with ricotta, rolled in egg and then breadcrumbs, and gently fried.
Beets, harvested at a tender 1-inch diameter and roasted, go beautifully with salad greens and goat cheese.
Baby greens can be planted in wide rows and cut at about 5 inches. Harvest the tender greens three, or even four times, in succession.
For an attractive and tasty salad, grow short rows of textured greens, such as lettuce, mizuna, arugula, and red mustard.
Hybrids of gai lan (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra, aka Chinese broccoli) and traditional broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) have the advantage of producing mini heads over a long period of time. You might encounter relatively new hybrids and cultivars as well, including broccolini (Brassica oleracea italica xalboglabra), ‘Aspabroc’, and ‘Brokali Atlantis’ and ‘Brokali Apollo’. By any name they are tender and sweet.
Grow: Plant seedlings 15 to 18 inches apart a couple of weeks before the last frost date. Harvest frequently, and be sure to plant flowers nearby to attract beneficial insects.
Eat: Simpler is better. Blanch the stems and heads for 2 minutes and then toss them in butter and garlic. A squeeze of lemon juice will amp up the flavor.
Try growing onions (Allium cepa) from seed. Cipollini and torpedo type onions, seed-grown shallots (Allium cepa var. aggregatum), and leeks (Allium ampeloprasum Leek Group) are worth the extra effort. Start them at least eight weeks before the last spring frost or buy transplants, offered online by some seed companies and specialty growers. Cipollinis and shallots are sweet and mild, and wonderful roasted. Torpedo onions are excellent raw.
Grow: Plant onion and shallot seedlings 3 to 4 inches apart in the garden, leeks at least 6 inches. Once plants are well established, weed the rows and mulch with straw. Most gardeners pull onions when the tops fall, but they can be harvested at any stage.
Eat: Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a skillet, add skinned onions and shallots and a teaspoon of sugar, and toss them over medium heat until they start to brown. Add some water or wine, lower the heat, and cover. Twenty minutes later remove the lid and reduce the liquid to a glaze.
Also known as corn salad, mache (Valerianella locusta) is a welcome cold-weather treat; with a little protection it will persist into spring. The flavor is mild and slightly nutty.
Grow: Sow mache seeds about 1 inch apart in late summer or early fall. It will not germinate in heat, so wait for a cool spell. If it is not up to size in fall, protect it with straw or a cold frame, and harvest in early spring.
Eat: Serve mache French-style, with beets and walnuts and a red wine vinaigrette, or use it as a salad green.
Radicchio and salad turnips are problem free in the garden.
The chicory clan is a varied group that includes endives and escarole. They have in common a distinctive bitterness, which some gourmands love, others, not so much. An understated chicory, radicchio (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum Radicchio Group) is mild in taste and beautiful in the garden – a real pleasure to grow and eat.
Grow: Start seeds indoors as you would broccoli, and plant seedlings about 12 inches apart a week or two before the last frost date.
Eat: Cut radicchio heads into wedges. Rinse with water, drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 400 F on one side for about 10 minutes until wilted, then turn to roast the other side. Then season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with balsamic vinegar.
Also known as Hakurei turnips (Brassica rapa), these mini turnips are the size and color of ping-pong balls, and so sweet they can be eaten raw. They are quick to mature, and the greens are not just edible, they are truly delicious.
Grow: Sow seeds about 1 inch apart from early spring through early summer, and again in late summer. Harvest the row continuously as the turnips grow to size.
Eat: Slice thin and use raw in salads, or cut them in half, leaving about an inch of green, and roast at 400 F with an assortment of other vegetables.
Tatsoi can be grown easily in a container.
You might recognize tatsoi (Brassica narinosa) as the Asian green from supermarket salad mixes. Sweet and mild, it can be cut leaf-by-leaf for salads, or harvested whole for braising. Not only is it delicious, it is packed with vitamin C and calcium.
Grow: Scatter seeds in a wide (about 8 inches) row or container, so that seeds fall about an inch apart. When plants develop their mature leaves, cut them individually, or wait and harvest whole rosettes.
Eat: Use in salads, or lightly sauté until wilted as you would spinach. Tatsoi is also excellent in soups, added at the very end.
A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Pamela Ruch.