Green winter

Pub date January 30, 2008

When I was in college, I was pleased to discover that spring in these parts began to make itself felt in February. The sun strengthened, the air grew mild — at least if it wasn’t raining — and people lay out to sunbathe. All this was very different from my native northern clime, in which winter nastiness often lasted well into April. April baseball games were sometimes snowed out, and May snow wasn’t unheard-of.

A warming world might soon be giving us reasons to rethink our understandings of the seasons, and perhaps Winnipeg will become a haven for snowbirds, but some of us have already made certain psychological adjustments. Spring for me — for instance — no longer means sunbathers in February but strawberries, asparagus, and artichokes, and while we await these delicacies, it’s the end of January, the Meyer lemon bush in the drippy garden is heavy with globes the color of summer sunshine, and markets are full of tubers and greens.

There are so many sorts of greens, arrayed in such abundance at farmers market stalls, that one feels a certain anxiety in choosing one kind but not another. Mixed baby salad greens are an almost automatic choice, since all they need is a splash of vinaigrette. Only slightly less demanding are baby spinach leaves, which can be wilted with some pine nuts, garlic, and currants to make a swift and classic Sicilian side dish. Romaine? You can make Caesar salads from it (and from its immature version, little gems), but I also found it turning up, braised, in a friend’s exquisite posole last week. I must make posole, I thought — a kind of chili made with hominy instead of beans — and I might or might not put romaine leaves in it, but I will try it with chickpeas.

Speaking, yet again, of legumes: lentil soup is a good place to stash all sorts of greens. I’ve put chard in there, and arugula, and even dandelion greens, though they have a bitterness that must be carefully handled. Dandelion greens work better in a pasta sauce, with garlic, chile flakes, sausage (poultry or soy if you like), some crushed black peppercorns, and a good grating of Parmesan or Romano cheese. The greens’ assertiveness matches up better with these comparably strong flavors. By the time you’ve cleaned your plate, it could be February, and strawberries for dessert.

Paul Reidinger