On our farm we also plant a variety of giant kohlrabi called Kossack, available from a number of seed catalogues. It’s relegated to the area where we grow storage crops to feed to the livestock. Because it looks no more appetizing than the red and yellow mangelwurzels (fodder beets) in the next field, it never occurred to any of us to eat it. Then one day some of our crew started cooking with it, and suddenly it’s our new foodie sensation.
Draw your sword, slice into a six-pound giant kohlrabi and — amazingly — you’ll find flesh as tender and crisp as that of a baby radish in spring. If you harvest it in late fall or early winter after some frosts, it’s nearly as sweet as a parsnip, and with a more gentle flavor. In fact, of all the brassica roots, this is the mildest, so much so that dairy farmers traditionally fed it to their cows as a winter succulent because it didn’t make their milk taste like turnips and rutabagas.
Fall is the best time to coax anyone, from the old and stodgy to the young and picky, to try a new brassica, because of the sweet taste the season brings. So we’ve started to offer these intimidating roots at the farmer’s market. We cut one open for folks to sample, and they buy them eagerly. I’ve set about finding the best ways to cook them, including creamy purees and root vegetable medleys. Cooked as french fries, in grapeseed oil, they lose much of their crispness but are still delicious, simply sprinkled with salt and pepper. I like them even better when sliced into pancakes, fried briefly in olive oil, then finished under a hot broiler, topped with breadcrumbs or parmesan cheese. I’d like to experiment some more, maybe pickling thin strips briefly in brine, then draining and seasoning them with vinegar, mustard seeds, garlic and a pinch of sugar the way my neighbor Mia does. I have all winter to try; our mound of these roots is taller than I am, with a few that are, yes, bigger than my head.
There’s a lesson to be learned here about the rewards of curiosity when it comes to vegetables, which should not always be judged by their looks. Now about those mangelwurzels . . .
Damrosch's new book ,"The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook," will arrive in March.
— Adrian Higgins