Good King Henry and Spring Greens with Feta Cream Sauce over Pasta

left to right: chives, nettles and Good King Henry

left to right: chives, nettles and Good King Henry

Who could resist an edible green that tastes like spinach and also happens to be an easy-to-grow perennial? One that can be eaten as an asparagus-like sprout in early spring, as a cooked green until autumn frosts, and whose seeds (like those of its cousin quinoa) can be used as a grain in winter?

But many gardeners and local food lovers have never heard of Good King Henry, (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) a member of the spinach and beet family also known as Lincolnshire spinach, fat hen and perennial goosefoot (Chenopodium, its family name, means goose foot). Happily, Good King Henry is becoming better known, perhaps because nearly every book about permaculture and perennial vegetables mentions it.

I first discovered Good King Henry in the Fedco catalogue ten years ago; they still sell it for all of $1.30 a packet. Good King Henry seed, like that of many perennial plants, likes to be fooled into thinking it has been through winter before it will sprout. The trick is to “stratify” the seed by tucking it into a plastic bag along with a little moist potting mix, then popping it into the refrigerator for a few weeks. When the seed is returned to room temperature, it thinks spring is here, and comes up. Sometimes it takes two trips to the refrigerator before perennial seeds wake up; I’ve learned to be patient and ever-optimistic when trying to start finicky plants.

For years my home-grown Good King Henry, though it has a reputation for being a garden thug and over-running its neighbors, looked wan and spindly. Turns out I planted it in too sunny and dry a spot. When moved to a place with half a day of shade, it quickly began filling up the bed. Luckily I’d planted it alongside mint, another garden thug, and the two plants seem to have called a truce. Good King Henry also drops lots of seed that sprouts readily when exposed to the natural temperature fluctuations of a garden, so if you want to keep it in check, harvest the flowers (which are edible).

A bed of Good King Henry and mint

A bed of Good King Henry and mint

Like its cousin spinach, Good King Henry contains a great deal of oxalic acid, enough that eating it raw might make your stomach hurt and your teeth feel stripped of enamel, so it is always cooked. In early spring, its unexpanded sprouts are picked at about 5 inches tall and and then steamed like asparagus (hence another of its nicknames, “poor man’s asparagus”). In Europe gardeners blanch the sprouts by piling the Good King Henry bed with a deep layer of mulch in fall. When the white tips poke through in spring, the mulch is pushed aside to reveal harvest-ready blanched sprouts.

Both the leaves and flowers can be eaten, steamed or blanched first to remove some of the oxalic acid. Use Good King Henry in any recipe that calls for its relatives, spinach, chard and beet greens. Or use it to replace wild greens, such as nettles and lamb’s quarters (another relative).

I have never harvested the seeds of Good King Henry to use as a grain, but I’ll give it a whirl this fall and report back. If you’d like to try them, keep in mind that like unprocessed quinoa, Good King Henry seeds are coated with bitter saponins and must be soaked and rinsed to remove them before being cooked.

Here’s a delicious way to use Good King Henry, a simple sauce made of spring greens cooked with garlic and olive oil served over pasta along with a contrasting silky sauce made of feta and cream. If you’re avoiding fat, skip the cream and just crumble a little feta over the top of the greens and pasta. And if you’re avoiding dairy, omit the cheese altogether. In any case, serve the pasta with a slice of lemon to spritz over the top – it adds just the right something.

Spring Greens with Feta Cream over Pasta

Spring Greens with Feta Cream over Pasta

Pasta Topped with Spring Greens and Feta Cream

  • 1/2 pound pasta of your choice
  • 1 recipe Spring Greens, below
  • 1 recipe Feta Cream, below
  • the rind of 1/2 preserved lemon, rinsed and chopped (optional)
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 lemon, washed and cut into eight slices

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Divide it between four plates. Top each serving with Spring Greens, then drizzle Feta Cream over the greens and pasta. Top with a sprinkling of chopped preserved lemon and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, if desired. Place a few slices of lemon on each plate, if desired, for diners to squeeze over the pasta to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves four.

For the Spring Greens:

  • 1 bunch Good King Henry or spinach (about 10 ounces)
  • 1 smaller bunch wild greens, such as nettles (harvest with gloves to avoid stings), lambs quarters, dandelion greens, etc. or chard or beet greens (about 6 ounces)
  • 1 bunch fresh chives (about 2 ounces, more if desired), cleaned and chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • hot red pepper flakes, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Put the lid on a large pot of cold, salted water and bring it to a boil.

Meanwhile, pull the leaves and flowers from the stems of the Good King Henry and wash in a bowl of cold water. Do the same for the other greens – if using nettles, be sure to wear gloves to harvest and prepare.

Blanch the greens in the boiling water for a few minutes, until they turn bright green. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the greens from the hot water and submerge them in cold water to stop the cooking. Remove them from the cold water, squeeze them to remove some of the moisture in them (but not until they are completely dry). With a chef’s knife, chop the greens a bit, then set them aside.

In a large, non-reactive skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the chives and garlic. Let them cook until the garlic is getting soft, then add the greens and lower the heat a little. Allow the mixture to cook until it is heated through, but not dry, then stir in the lemon juice. Add hot red pepper, salt and black pepper to taste. Serve hot over pasta with Feta Cream.

For the Feta Cream:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces feta, crumbled

Bring the cream to a simmer in a small pot over medium-low heat. Stir in the feta and let the mixture bubble for a minute, until the feta begins to dissolve in the cream and the mixture thickens. Serve hot over pasta with Spring Greens.

3 Savory Rhubarb Recipes

Pork Chops with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage; Rhubarb Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad; Fresh Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce

Pork with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage

Pork with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage

Rhubarb is spring’s own zucchini. By which I mean, even if you don’t have your own patch of rhubarb, chances are good you have a neighbor who is swimming in the stuff every year at this time, and who will eagerly foist some off on anyone who asks. That’s because rhubarb seems to live forever, and most folks who live in old houses in New England have an ancient plot that came with the deed. These well-established clumps produce a huge number of juicy pink stalks year after year without any attention at all – though they do like moisture, lots of sun and an occasional infusion of compost.

Rhubarb is sometimes called the “Pie Plant,” for obvious reasons. But rhubarb isn’t just for pies. In fact, it has the kind of versatility that most other edibles lack, happy in desserts as well as savory dishes, good both cooked and raw, delicate enough to take a supporting role in a recipe, and assertive enough to take center stage.

Though many people wrinkle their noses when contemplating the acidity of rhubarb, especially in its raw state, that acidity is probably rhubarb’s best asset. You might not want to eat rhubarb the way Scandinavians do – by the raw stalk, dipped in sugar – or as Chileans do – by the raw stalk dipped in salt and hot dried chile pepper. But if you think of rhubarb as a substitute for citrus fruits like lemons and limes, or as a balancing ingredient in recipes that feature rich foods like pork and shellfish, you will certainly find dozens of ways to substitute rhubarb into your favorite recipes.

Below you’ll find a few recipes I’ve developed for using rhubarb in savory dishes. The first, Pork Chops with Orange Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage, contains another of spring’s vegetable perennials, lovage. Lovage looks like giant celery and tastes like it looks, which is to say a tiny bit of it imparts a highly concentrated celery taste. Used sparingly, it is a wonderful addition to salads, soups and other dishes. Substitute celery leaves or parsley, if you don’t have any.

The second recipe uses rhubarb juice to partially “cook” fresh scallops, just as lime juice is used in seafood ceviches. The longer the scallops marinate, the more the acid will permeate the delicate flesh, and the less time the scallop will need to heat to be cooked through. If you like, scallops that have been marinated for 4-6 hours can be served cold, without the final cooking step. However, I prefer the lovely contrast the warm scallops create juxtaposed to the cold, crunchy fennel orange salad.

The final recipe is my take on a traditional sauce for oysters, mignonette. Usually mignonette sauce is made by combining red wine vinegar, minced shallots and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Here, to balance the tartness of rhubarb, I’ve substituted a mellow-sweet balsamic vinegar (buy a good one – it’s expensive, but worth it) for the sharper red wine vinegar. The resulting sauce is wonderful, not just on oysters, but with any rich food. I’m particularly fond of it spooned over a slice of crusty bread spread with a triple crème cheese, such as Saint André.

Pork Chops with Orange-Rhubarb Sauce and Lovage

  • 4 boneless pork loin chops (or a small loin roast cut into four slices)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter or cooking oil (you may need more if cooking in batches)
  • 2 large shallots or one small onion, minced
  • the juice of 2 large oranges (about 1 cup) and the grated rind of 1 orange
  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • 1/4 chopped lovage leaves plus lovage sprigs for garnish (you may substitute parsley or celery leaves)

If possible the day before serving, sprinkle both sides of the pork chops with salt and pepper, lay them on a paper towel on a plate, cover with another paper towel and leave in the refrigerator overnight. This dries the outside of the pork and allows it to absorb a bit of salt, which will cause the meat to brown nicely and remain juicy when cooked.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and melt the butter or heat the oil in it. Add the pork chops to the pan, working in two batches if necessary so as not to crowd the meat. When one side is golden, flip the chop and cook the other side, covering the pan to avoid splatters and to cook the meat more quickly. Thick chops will be done in about ten minutes total. Don’t overdo it, as the chops will be resting in a warm place while the sauce is prepared and will continue to cook from residual heat.

When the chops are cooked, set them aside in a warm spot while making the sauce. Add the shallots to the skillet in which you have cooked the pork – if there’s a lot of fat in the pan from cooking, you may pour most of it off. Or, if there is no fat left in the pan, you may add another pat of butter or bit of oil to it before cooking the shallots. Cook the shallots until they wilt, but don’t brown them.

Add the orange juice to the pan and stir well to scrape up the bits of cooked meat juice from the bottom of the skillet. Add the orange rind, rhubarb and raisins and stir well. Turn the heat down so the rhubarb simmers slowly. When it begins to break down after a few minutes, taste the mixture and add as much sugar as needed to balance the sauce. Stir in the heavy cream, taste again and add salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the sauce between four plates, top each bed of sauce with a pork chop, sprinkle a little lovage over the sauce and garnish the top of the chop with a sprig of lovage. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Rhubarb-Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad

Rhubarb Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad

Rhubarb Marinated Sea Scallops with Orange-Fennel Salad

  • 1/2 pound sea scallops
  • 1/2 pound of rhubarb, cleaned and chopped into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil plus a little more for cooking the scallops
  • 2-3 oranges, skinned and divided into sections
  • 2-3 baby fennel bulbs or 1 regular fennel bulb
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cut the tough piece of white muscle from the scallops (if necessary) and discard. Slice each of the scallops into three thin rounds. Put the rounds into a non-reactive bowl.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the rhubarb until it is pureed (you may also use a grater to turn it into a puree). Put the puree into a fine sieve over a bowl and press on it to extract all the juice from it (you may also do this by squeezing the puree with your hands.) You should wind up with about 3/4 of a cup of juice. Pour this over the scallops, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 6 hours. Discard the rhubarb solids.

Wash the fennel, then slice it into very thin slivers and toss with the orange segments. Mix together the chives, parsley, olive oil, hot pepper, a little salt and pepper and set aside. Remove the scallops from the refrigerator and drain, discarding the rhubarb juice.

Heat a skillet, add a little oil to it and then saute the scallops over very high heat, less than a minute on each side. The longer they have marinated, the less time they will need to cook.

Arrange the scallops and orange salad on 4 plates, drizzling them with a little of the oil and herb sauce. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce and Oysters

Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce and Oysters

Fresh Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette Sauce

  • 1/4 cup excellent quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup finely minced shallots
  • 1/4 cup finely minced fresh rhubarb
  • plenty of freshly ground pepper (to taste)
  • 1 dozen fresh oysters on the half-shell

Combine all ingredients. Serve chilled on fresh oysters or other raw shellfish. The sauce is also delicious on fresh crusty bread thickly spread with butter or a soft, rich cheese, such as Saint André.

Makes a bit more than 1/2 cup.

Puff Pastry Recipes

Puff pastry is a sublime demonstration of the power of mathematics. You begin by layering a block of butter between two layers of dough. Fold the dough in thirds, and now there are 3 layers of butter between the layers of dough. Let it rest, roll it out, fold it in thirds again and now there are 9 layers of butter. Repeat – 27 layers of butter. Repeat – 81 layers of butter. Repeat – 243 layers of butter. And one last time – 729 layers of butter, and 730 layers of dough (including the top and bottom layers).

As the puff pastry bakes, the butter fat melts, which separates the layers of dough, while the butter liquids turn to steam, forcing the layers apart and causing the pastry to rise in a spectacular fashion. And unlike a soufflé, which must be served immediately before it falls, properly baked puff pastry will maintain its loft even after it cools.

When golden brown and fully cooked, puff pastry is a delight in the mouth, melting almost as soon as it hits the tongue into rich, delicate shards. And rich as it is, puff pastry provides a neutral backdrop, working well with both sweet and savory fillings.

I think puff pastry’s reputation for being tricky to make has more to do with the cultivated mystique of the pâtissier than the reality of the recipe. It’s actually a pretty straightforward process, though it does require a cool kitchen and patience through all the resting and rolling. It also requires care in choosing ingredients – the butter needs to be cold, the flour needs to be bread flour.

It also requires care in measuring. I recommend weighing ingredients whenever you’re baking, for this recipe in particular. If you don’t have a scale, make sure you fluff up the flour, dip a measuring cup designed for dry ingredients into it, and then use a knife to level the cup (rather than tapping it on the counter, or pushing it down with your fingers, which compacts the flour). Here’s a link to my recipe for Puff Pastry.

The best thing about puff pastry is how flexible it is. Once it’s in your freezer, you’ll be able to throw together an impressive and delicious main dish or dessert in an hour or less. Here are links to three recipes that use puff pastry (either purchased or home-made):

Spinach Feta Tart

Spinach Feta Tart

A Rhubarb Tartlet

A Rhubarb Tartlet

A slice of maple tarte tatin

A slice of maple tarte tatin