Let's get a little wild with our greens. I'm going start with mache. My Swiss friend calls it lamb's lettuce because she remembers harvesting it, in early spring, in fields when lambs were born. Mache has a mild taste and is great with eggs.
One popular Italian wild green is called Rucola or Ruchetta. The French call it Roquette and the English changed that name to Rocket. We know it as arugula.
While arugula has gotten a gourmet reputation, in the old country it's the poor man's vegetable, harvested from fields from fall till spring. Now it's a common component in salad mixes. There are even special varieties such as the heat-resistant Astro and the spicy-flavored Wasabi.
The truth is, any arugula stressed by heat, drought, or pests will have a peppery flavor. Arugula will bolt in the heat but the white flowers have a nice flavor and are great in salads.
And then there is chigottia or dandelion greens. While you can harvest them from fields in spring like my grandparents used to do on the farm, there are upright growing, cultivated varieties, such as Catalogna for the garden. These have the same taste and look as wild dandelions, but no yellow flowers. Italiko is an attractive red, mid-rib variety. I sautée dandelions all summer long with olive oil, tomatoes, and garlic.
These greens can germinate in 40-degree soils, so are good choices for early spring plantings. However, once the temperatures climb towards the 70s, arugula and mache will bolt. Cover plants with floating row covers to protect them from pests and freezing weather.
Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I'll be talking about hellebores.