Cooking from the Farms: Yukina Savoy

I drove slowly up Southampton Road to Heron Pond Farm this morning.  Although already very warm at 11, the air was not as uncomfortable as yesterday and I wanted to take my time enjoying the cross breeze through my front windows.

Enjoy it, I did, but my love of these warm sunny days is an indulgence tempered with a little concern.  We haven’t had a lot of rain.  The Powow River in Amesbury’s Millyard, usually rushing and powerful, has become a placid, babbling stream.  While the conversation of New Englanders inevitably turns to discussions of weather, how crazy and unpredictable it is, I’m more than usually aware of the local conditions.  Now that I’m a shareholder in the farm and all.

I wondered as I drove how the plants at the farm were faring.  The farmers tell us they are working hard at irrigation, but nothing beats the efficiency of nature and a good, steady, soaking rain.

The crops in their bins looked good though.  The green beans, the farm’s earliest yield of beans yet, were stunners – slender, deep green, unblemished.  Though, sadly, not a CSA crop.  Green beans and I once were enemies but now are good friends.  Freshness matters.  I can’t begin to tell you how many canned green beans were served to me only to meet their end wadded up in paper napkins.

What I could choose from this week, to add to the de rigueur lettuce-tomato-scallion trinity, were:

1)  Peas – shelling, snap, or snow (I picked shelling);

2)  Thin-skinned squashes – yellow pattypan, yellow summer, or zucchini (I chose zucchini);

3)  Leafy vegetables – chard, radicchio, escarole, kohlrabi, komatsuna, or yukina savoy (I had no idea what to pick).

I had no idea what to pick. Hmmm.  Now that’s not exactly true.  I knew what I wouldn’t choose:  I didn’t want radicchio; I had a kohlrabi at home already; we could stand to take a little break from chard and escarole.  That meant my choice was really between komatsuna and yukina savoy, and yet – don’t laugh – I knew nothing about either of these two offerings.

It’s not often that I come face to face with a food I know nothing about.  Avid reading of cookbooks and a range of other food writing usually takes care of my education.  Rarer still is fessing up to a gaping hole in my knowledge; that’s hard for me to do in public.  But here goes:  these two vegetables I had never heard of, never read about, had no idea how to cook, and no clue what they might taste like.

I have had to do a little research this week.

From the cabbage and turnip family, both of these greens are known as Brassica rapa, with komatsuna having the qualifier var. komatsuna tagged on to that name.  Essentially it is a Japanese variety of the yukina savoy.  Both can be known as “field mustard” or “turnip mustard” and have a slight mustardy bite and the pepperiness of a good turnip. The seed is an oil seed, a close relation to the rapeseed that yields canola oil; the leaves can be cooked like spinach or added to stir frys.  In Puglia, part of the yukina savoy plant is used in a traditional regional pasta dish made with orecchiette.

But I knew none of this at the farm stand when I needed to make my choice so I ended up choosing yukina savoy, the name I liked best.  Never a bad option when faced with an impossible decision.

At home, though, my choice of dinner dish has been somewhat more strategic.  This morning I had just wrapped writing about a shrimp and curry risotto for another project, and as so often happens I started craving the very thing I was writing about.  Luckily I have shrimp on hand; I have Arborio rice.  I also had just wrapped my research, reading about the orecchiette dish made with yukina savoy buds, so Italian cooking is on my mind.  I could make a curry-less variation of my shrimp risotto using instead peas, scallions, yukina savoy and lemon zest.

So that is what I have done.

Shrimp and Yukina Savoy Risotto

I like to sear the shrimp before adding them in the final few stirs of the rice.  I like the color of caramelization on the shellfish, but it’s not necessary.  Simply toss your peeled and uncooked shrimp into the risotto along with the vegetables and the last ladleful of hot stock and they will cook at a gentle simmer over moderate heat.  Your call.

It’s also your call to include a final stir in of about a quarter-cup of parmesan cheese along with some black pepper after you take the rice off the heat and right before serving.  I belong to a tribe of Italians who believe cheese and fish never belong together, so I don’t use parmesan in this particular risotto.  You may believe differently.  Anyway, once I give you the recipe, it’s yours to do with as you see fit.

  • 1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined (21/25 size)
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 6 scallions, finely chopped, some of the green tops reserved for garnish
  • 1 ¼ cups Arborio rice
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 4-6 cups good quality chicken or vegetable stock, heated
  • 1 sprig fresh lemon thyme
  • ½  cup shelled fresh peas (or 1 cup frozen, unthawed)
  • 1 bunch yukina savoy greens, long stems trimmed
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Season the peeled shrimp with a little salt and pepper (or lemon pepper).  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet and sear the seasoned shrimp in batches over medium high heat, taking care not to overcrowd the pan.  You want a little color on the shrimp without overcooking.  This should take only a minute or two on each side over a good flame.  Remove shrimp from the pan to a platter as they are finished and set aside for later.

Heat the stock to a simmer in a small saucepan, and keep it on low heat next on a back burner.

Melt the butter and heat it together with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large dutch sauté pan set over medium heat.  Add the scallions and sauté about 5 minutes or so or until tender.  To the softened scallions add the rice and stir well to coat it with the butter and oil.

When rice is evenly coated and warmed through, add the wine and stir constantly until the wine is almost completely absorbed.  Continuing to stir the rice, add a ladleful of broth and the sprig of thyme.  Stir constantly until the liquid is almost completely absorbed.

The risotto method continues as follows:  Maintaining a moderate flame under the pan, add another ladleful of hot broth to the rice, stir rice constantly until broth is almost absorbed, add more broth and repeat.  You will be at the range, stirring the pot in this way, for a total of 30-35 minutes.  You may use some amount between 4 and 6 cups of your stock.  The only way to know when your risotto is done is to begin tasting at about 25 minutes.  The rice should begin to have a softer bite on the outside of the grain with a firm core.  Your goal is to reach al dente, where the rice’s core is still a bit chewy to the bite but has some give instead of a crunch.  At the end your risotto should be thick but slightly soupy, very creamy, with a nice gloss.

About five minutes before you estimate the rice is done, remove the thyme sprig leaving the leaves behind, then add the peas along with some broth.  Then, after a couple more minutes, add the yukina savoy leaves and a final ladleful of broth (if needed) and continue stirring until liquid is nearly absorbed.

Add the cooked shrimp and give it a few turns with the wooden spoon to warm the shrimp through.

Remove the finished risotto from the heat, stir in the lemon zest, some freshly ground pepper, taste for salt and add some to taste if needed.

If you choose to add some grated parmesan cheese, add it off the heat right before serving.  Salt will probably be unnecessary.

Serve immediately in shallow bowls with a few chopped scallion tops for garnish.

©2010  Jane Ward