In season: Mache

There’s one hardy green that defies the bitter stereotype of winter’s tough leaves. It’s mache, also known as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce. It’s sold in little rosettes of sweet, gentle (if you can use that term for a vegetable) cup-shaped leaves.

RJ Kessler, farm manager for Planted Rock Farm in Chattahoochee Hills, cultivates 4 acres of land, 2 1/2 acres in vegetables and 1 1/2 acres in fruit orchard. He planted 250 row feet of mache in late February and plans a big harvest just in time for the season’s opening this Saturday at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market.

Planted Rock also will have mache in its community-supported agriculture boxes available at a drop-off point in metro Atlanta.

Mache is a personal favorite of Kessler, and he’s looking forward to sharing his passion with his customers. It’s a little picky as to growing conditions, needing soil temperatures in the mid-50s to germinate well. A fall crop didn’t do so well for Kessler, but with his February sowing, he said he had 100 percent germination.

Mache is one of the few hardy greens that is sweet rather than bitter. Harvested as tiny rosettes, it needs only a quick rinse and dry to be ready for a salad. As a matter of fact, that’s Kessler’s favorite way to eat mache. He suggests his customers try it with vinaigrette that plays up the nutty flavor of the mache, something with a nut oil instead of the traditional olive oil. And he loves it paired with blue cheeses.

Mache may be new to your salad plate, but it’s reported to have been enjoyed by the French as far back as the 17th century. Treat like you would any other delicate green, rinsing and drying when ready to eat, and meanwhile storing it lightly wrapped in your vegetable crisper. Freshly picked and stored in moist conditions, mache should keep about a week in your refrigerator.

At local farmers markets

Cooking demos:

9:30 a.m. Saturday, April 14. Chef David Waller, Sol Catering. Morningside Farmers Market, Atlanta.

10 a.m. Saturday, April 14. Chef Chris Hall, Local Three. Peachtree Road Farmers Market, Atlanta.

6 p.m. Thursday, April 19. Chef Seth Freedman, Ruby Root Connections. East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, Atlanta.

11:30 a.m. Sunday, April 29. Chef Todd Richards. Grant Park Farmers Market, Atlanta.

For sale

Vegetables and fruit: arugula, Asian greens, asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, chard, collards, dandelion, endive, escarole, frisée, green garlic, green onions, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mache, pea tendrils, radishes, spinach, strawberries, turnips

From local reports

Mache in Parmesan Cups

Hands on: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4

Making the Parmesan cups is easy once you get the hang of it. Practice on a little extra Parmesan. The results will be delicious even if you don’t turn out perfect cups. Flat rounds are also fine, just not as pretty a presentation.

4 ounces Parmesan

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sunflower or walnut oil

4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 small shallot, minced

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

8 ounces mache, rinsed and dried

Grate Parmesan on largest holes of a box grater. In a small bowl, combine Parmesan and flour and toss.

Make Parmesan cups by heating 6-inch or larger nonstick skillet over high heat. Have a spatula, dishtowel, small jar or drinking glass and parchment-lined baking sheet ready.

When pan is very hot, sprinkle 1/2 cup Parmesan-flour mixture evenly in a 6-inch circle on the bottom of the skillet. Cook until cheese is melted and browning at edges, about 1 minute. Using a spatula, carefully turn melted cheese over and heat 10 seconds more. Holding a dishtowel in one hand, use spatula to transfer cheese to towel. Immediately place jar or glass in center of cheese, and holding jar or glass in place, lightly bend cheese around jar or glass to form a cup shape. Hold for 10 seconds, then put Parmesan cup on prepared baking sheet to complete cooling. Continue with remaining Parmesan mixture. This recipe should make 4 cups. Cups may be made up to a week ahead and stored airtight at room temperature.

In a small screw-top jar, make dressing by combining oil, juice, shallot and mustard. Shake well to combine. Taste for seasoning.

When ready to serve, arrange Parmesan cups on serving plates. Toss mache with dressing and arrange in Parmesan cups. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 274 calories (percent of calories from fat, 72), 14 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 22 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 22 milligrams cholesterol, 558 milligrams sodium.

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