Spring Greens

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(HOST) Green is the defining color of spring, of new leaves, but it’s also the defining flavor of spring – according to commentator Charlie Nardozzi.

(NARDOZZI) Ah spring, when a young man’s fancy turns to greens. Yes, spring greens are one of the things I crave starting in March. In Vermont, I have to wait to fulfill my desires until April or May, but it’s worth the wait. I like eating seasonally, gorging myself on whatever can be harvested at that time of year. My body actually craves the vibrant greens in spring, luscious vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and squash in summer, and the hardy vegetables such as carrots, leeks, pumpkins and potatoes in fall and winter. I think eating locally grown vegetables in season is more important than eating organically raised vegetables shipped in from places like California. Fortunately, in Vermont there’s a bevy of organic vegetable growers providing a variety of vegetables all season.

But I digress. Wild spring greens are free and ready for picking right now. While my neighbors may be griping about the plethora of dandelions in their lawns, I’ve been eating mine. Young dandelion greens taste great sauted with olive oil and garlic.
Plus, dandelions offer more vitamin A than carrots. If they’re tender enough I throw some in my salad for a hint of bitter taste. Eating bitter vegetables is a great way to get your digestion flowing before
a big meal. And even the dandelion flowers are edible.

Nettles are another favorite wild spring green. Yes, I’m talking about stinging nettles that grow abundantly in abandoned farm fields and pastures. When harvested young they make an excellent spring soup. I add potatoes, onions, vegetable broth, water and salt, along with a bagful of freshly harvested nettle tops. I harvest only the top 6 inches because they’re the most tender. Oh, and I wear gloves, because nettles will sting. The beauty of nettles is after cooking for a few minutes the sting is gone. Also, they’re loaded with vitamins such as C and K, as well as minerals such as calcium and phosphorous.

I do grow spring greens, too. Spinach is a classic green, and I’ve found a way to get a quick spring harvest: Instead of planting in early spring, I plant in late summer and early fall the previous year. The spinach germinates and grows well during the cool fall weather. Before winter I cover the spinach greens with a floating row cover and some leaves. I remove the cover in early spring, and by April I’m enjoying fresh spinach greens from the garden.

Other “wild-like” spring greens that are quick and easy to grow include arugula and mustard. I’ve found growing these in a cold frame is the best way to get an early harvest. They seem to jump out of the ground during a string of early spring, sunny days, and within a month I’m munching on them.

I could also wax poetic about mesclun mixes, looseleaf lettuce and other spring greens, but I’d rather be eating them; so I’m off to hunt for dinner.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all-around gardening expert with a special fondness for tomatoes and roses.

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