I just returned from 6 days visiting friends in Washington state. It was the perfect vacation - a balance of town and country, old friends and new, sun and rain, and lots of delicious food. I ate my way through Seattle, Port Townsend, and Woodinville, and enjoyed every last bite. One of my favorite things about traveling is food. Trying local specialties, checking out farmer's markets, cruising through co-ops, eating at independently owned restaurants - these are my favorite ways to see the heart of a community and satisfy my never-ending food curiosity. Washington is perfect for this. In addition to amazing restaurants and natural grocers and co-ops, the prevalence of road side produce stands and wild edibles makes this state like a big buffet. I saw slews of blackberry bushes and wild fennel growing along a sidewalk in Seattle for goodness sake. And unlike the gardens here in Minnesota (which were covered in snow this morning), the gardens around Seattle are already yielding beautiful produce.
I am resuming the planning process for moving to the Pacific Northwest.
One of the most interesting food items I saw for sale were bunches of rutabaga raab for sale at the Port Townsend Food Co-op. Rutabaga raab is nothing more than the flowering tops and tender leaves of the rutabaga plant. I laughed when I saw the bunches being sold for $1.99 each, because I generally pick the tender leafy flowering tops from my kale and mustard plants and use them right along with the greens. But you never see these in stores, and I never thought of using rutabaga greens! Rutabaga greens are not often used, or even available, and when you do find them, they never have the tender flowering tops. Because the rutabaga is better stored without the leaves, they usually get discarded before the rutabaga even gets to market. So, rutabaga raab is really something you'd only have access to if you were growing rutabaga yourself or, apparently, if you live in Port Townsend.
My friend Port Townsend-dwelling friend Aimée and I opted to prepare our rutabaga raab with other seasonal greens from her garden - flowering kale tops, kale leaves, and dandelion greens. We served it for breakfast with scoops of locally made kimchi and pork & elk sausages. Aimée cooked the greens in the sausage fat to make them extra yummy. Oh my, it was so good! I can't say that the rutabaga raab tasted much different than other dark leafies, but they were tender and tasty. It was a fun experiment and made me feel very happy about eating local springtime fare. Has anyone ever used fresh parsnip greens in anything? We thought about including the fresh parsnip greens from her garden in our sauteed greens (we used the parsnips for soup), but we opted against it as they were really bitter.
All this raab talk makes me wonder if "raab" is really even the correct term for this stuff. Broccoli raab, where I assume they draw inspiration for the name, is a seperate plant from broccoli all together, and is not just the flowering tops of the broccoli plant. Here's a little info about broccoli raab from What's Cooking America:
Although it has broccoli's name, broccoli raab is not related to broccoli. It is, however, closely related to turnips which is probably why the leaves look like turnip greens. Lots of broccoli-like buds appear here and there but a head never forms. It is grown as much for its long-standing, tasty mustard-like tops as for their multiple small florets with clusters of broccoli-like buds. Good-quality broccoli raab will have bright-green leaves that are crisp, upright, and not wilted. Avoid ones with leaves that are wilted, yellowing, or have dark green patches of slime.
Any thoughts? Naming confusion and questions aside, the rutabaga raab was definitely a seasonal food highlight during my trip. Make sure you use those tops from your turnip, rutabaga, kale, and mustard greens, that's for sure!
I'll write more about other foods I ate on my trip later.