Green, in February, is a very welcome sight. It is especially welcome when it comes in the form of Chinese cabbage and pak choi and pea tendrils and crispy crunchy salad mix, and when it finds its way through a shower of creamy balsamic dressing onto my lunch plate. When it does that, it feels a lot like an August house guest who washes their own towels and sheets and makes the bed and empties the dishwasher before they leave. As in, it's a you-can-stay-forever-if-you-like! sort of a thing.
Generally, I'm a sucker for brighter colors like reds and yellows and oranges, but this time of year, I think they're a little overdone. Greens are the new heirloom tomatoes, or the new juicy peaches—that kind of thing. You know, at least they aren't winter squash. I think everyone can agree on that.
Not that winter squash is such a bad thing. It's just that, especially in leap years when Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow and you're going to have not just six more weeks of winter but actually Six Weeks And One Day, anything with the word winter in it starts to get a little old. Which is why it was nice that when I went to the Plymouth Winter Farmers' Market a few weeks ago, Silverbrook Farms had a good supply of greens on hand.
Actually, one other stand—the one I mentioned the other day, Allen Farms—had greens as well—pea tendrils—but those were the only two. (Everyone else had important things like storage onions and carrots and granola and bread and cheese and potatoes and winter squash, which I probably should have bought more of since the greens lasted all of a week, but sadly I did not.) Instead I picked up a bag of pea tendrils from Allen Farms and then headed over to chat with Bianca Meleo who was standing in front of the pak choi and lettuce mix and Chinese cabbage over at Silverbrook Farms. It turns out the greens were sort of a last-minute, fast-growing thing for them—something they've experimented with in the past, but that they just started seriously for the winter market this fall. Bianca's the farm manager, and the one you see at the markets alongside Andy a lot, and she's also a newly converted winter greens nut. After the terrible growing conditions in June and July, this winter's actually been better than the summer was for things like lettuce and cabbage and spinach, she says. She was telling me about how they keep they crops warm—how they plant them inside in greenhouses, but without any heat, and then cover them up with frost clothes to prevent moisture from landing on the leaves. This is what kills them—this getting wet and freezing. It actually isn't the cold temperatures, unless it gets so chilly that their roots freeze, which is pretty rare.
We also spent a lot of time chatting about what Bianca likes to do with the greens, which recently, has been very much focused on a pak choi-chicken combo, with avocado spread on sandwiches and peanut oil in stir-fries. She says it works because the pak choi is a little bit nutty, but also a little bit sweet. We talked about pak choi for so long, in fact, that you might have heard us talking about it on the radio today, right before my producer said something about me having a recipe for chinese cabbage and pak choi stir-fry for you today.
I do not.
Following a rather disheartening mishap involving a box of cornstarch and waaay too much white powder dumping into my wok and a tearful meltdown that I'd rather not discuss, that recipe is still a work-in-progress. So instead, what do you say we talk about that creamy balsamic dressing I mentioned up top instead? Because that has never let me down, and it is an equally good way to dress up your plate with green.
In fact, beyond Bianca's winning description, I don't know why I ever mentioned anything about pak choi stir-fries in the first place, because this dressing has been on my plate every day at noon for the past fourteen days straight, ever since I stocked up on greens at the Silverbrook Farms and Allen Farms stands. It takes all of about three seconds to make, and best of all, it is so good and so simple that drizzled over a bowl of top quality, sweet, winter greens, the two make a salad without any need for anything else. It isn't at all fussy, and it certainly doesn't involve a wok or any cornstarch.
Instead, it gets its thickness from heavy cream and a sweet, oozy balsamic glaze. The only other ingredient is olive oil, preferably a green, spicy, newish variety like the one we brought back from Italy, and then if you like, a pinch of salt. You mix everything together with a fork, the cream acts as an emulsifier and binds everything into a light brown, creamy river the exact color of a nice pair of suede boots, and that's it. You're done.
So the next time one of these winter markets is open—the one in Plymouth, or the new one starting this! Saturday! in Marstons Mills, or even if you live a little further afield the well established one in Providence—keep your eye out for the little green patches. Then buy out the supply as quick as you can and ask in your most fervent tone for them to Keep On Planting More.
CREAMY BALSAMIC DRESSING
This is so simple that I am a little bit embarrassed to offer it as a recipe, but what it lacks in grandeur it makes up for in taste. The important thing is to make sure that your base ingredients—since there are only three of them—are of top notch quality. The olive oil should be a greenish, almost spicy extra virgin, the newer the better. The balsamic glaze is that thick, syrupy balsamic you see at specialty food stores that costs an arm and a leg but is worth it because it goes a really long way. (We use a brand called Acetum that we found at Phoenix Fruits in Orleans.) As for the heavy cream, don't do something silly like substitute half and half. The consistency will be all off, and the dressing won't emulsify like it should. If you get the ingredients right, though, it's very hard to go off track. The measurements below are just approximate, so go ahead and experiment with the proportions until you get it to taste. I tend to do it by eye, so it changes every day.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon balsamic glaze
salt to taste
Combine the first three ingredients in a small measuring cup, and whisk them together until they form a thick, creamy dressing. Add a pinch of salt, taste and adjust as necessary, and once you have the dressing where you like it, pour it over a big bowl of salad greens. Toss well, and serve at once.