In season: komatsuna

Ken Cook and his wife Patti own Spreading Oaks Farm in the southwest corner of Paulding County. Their son Jason is the farm’s operations manager. The Cooks offer a wide variety of vegetables to the customers for their April through November community-supported agriculture (CSA) program and those who shop with them Saturday mornings at the year-round Marietta Square Farmers Market. Come April, the Cooks will be at the Acworth Farmers Market on Friday mornings. Come May, they’ll be at the Kennesaw Farmers Market on Monday afternoons and the Rockmart Farmers Market on Thursday afternoons. They also sell through an online market with pickup on the farm.

Cook likes to encourage all his customers to think beyond spinach, lettuce and kale. “Right now we’re harvesting about 23 different vegetables, from root crops all the way to different varieties of greens,” Cook said. “We like our customers to try new things. Asian greens in general are something that are very good for you, high in nutrition and a good crop for farmers to grow. They grow fast and in our climate we have a long season for them.”

One of the Asian greens he’s growing is komatsuna, a member of the mustard family. Its dark green leaves look a lot like spinach, but the taste has more of a bitter bite.

“This is our third year of growing komatsuna. We started growing it mainly for our CSA customers. We like to give them a variety in their box. Most have really enjoyed it. Some use it like spinach and braise it or put it into stir fry or soup. But the smaller leaves also work well in salads.”

The Cooks do their first planting each fall in late September, counting on being able to harvest small leaves in about 35 days and then larger leaves maybe 10 days later. They do succession planting, seeding a new batch every two to three weeks and letting the plants grow throughout the winter. Komatsuna is fairly cold tolerant. Starting in February, they’ll plant again in earnest for their spring crop.

“We also sell to chefs and though that’s not a large market for us, Micah Pfister of The Butcher the Baker on the square in Marietta buys year-round from us and Gabe’s Downtown in Villa Ricca has purchased our produce,” Cook said.

The Cooks sell their komatsuna in half-pound bags of individual washed leaves. Like most things purchased at a local farmers market, the greens will keep far longer than what you’re able to buy at the grocery store, but the sooner you enjoy them, the better.

The Cooks enjoy komatsuna. “We use it mostly in braising, mixing it with some baby leaf kale to provide a different texture. And when we don’t have spinach available, we use it in salads.”

And they enjoy bringing it and other unusual vegetables to market. “That’s what we like to do, give you something new to experience. If we just grew broccoli and cauliflower, the things everybody sees at the grocery store, that wouldn’t catch your eye. Plus our vegetables are a whole lot fresher.”

Micah Pfister’s Komastuna and Cornmeal Spoonbread

A huge fan of the year-round Marietta Square Farmers Market, Micah Pfister of The Butcher the Baker on the Marietta Square enjoys using the produce and products of the farmers and food producers that gather there. In creating this recipe, he used komatsuna and eggs from Spreading Oaks Farm and feta from CalyRoad Creamery. He makes his own tasso for the restaurant. If you don’t have this Cajun Louisiana specialty ham on hand, he says bacon will make a fine substitute.

6 ounces tasso, cut into 1-inch dice (about 1 cup)

2 cups heavy cream

3 eggs

3 egg yolks

1 cup cornmeal

1/4 pound komatsuna, finely chopped (about 2 cups)

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup crumbled feta

Extra sauteed komatsuna, for garnish, if desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet in oven to heat.

In a large skillet, heat tasso over medium-high heat until fat renders and tasso is crisp. Drain tasso and set aside.Reserve any rendered fat.

In a large bowl, whisk together cream, eggs and egg yolks. Whisk in cornmeal. Stir in komatsuna and reserved tasso. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Remove hot skillet from oven and add butter and any rendered tasso fat. Swirl to melt fats and coat bottom and sides of skillet. Pour komatsuna mixture into hot skillet. Sprinkle with feta. Bake 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the mixture comes out clean. Remove from oven and serve immediately. Serves: 8

Per serving: 411 calories (percent of calories from fat, 72), 12 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 33 grams fat (19 grams saturated), 269 milligrams cholesterol, 440 milligrams sodium.

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