A rather nice dinner for one: a chicken thigh dusted with Moroccan seven spice and baked, shredded and piled onto Israeli couscous cooked with broth and vegetables (garlic, zucchini and Swiss chard), on a bed of fresh mizuna from the garden. I really enjoyed the bite of the mizuna with the sweet/spicy chicken. I poured myself a glass of New Zealand Sauv Blanc.
It just goes to show how unsuccessful my attempts at vegetable gardening have been the last few years, that I’m this impressed about actually having fresh lettuce in my yard. For whatever reason (thirty straight days of rain, maybe), my lettuce starts have performed fabulously this spring, and we’ve had a number of gorgeously fresh salads. The one shown above (accompanying Jon’s deeply savory meatloaf) was sprinkled with tiny sliced radishes and dressed with mustard and balsamic vinegar, while others have had chive flowers shredded into them. A real taste of spring.
I will always make room in my garden for herbs.
Also garlic, and spring bulbs, and maple trees, and iris (my garden is pretty full of stuff)…but if I could only grow a few plants, they would almost certainly be herbs. Pretty, hardy, easy to grow, and edible – what more could you ask from a plant? Not to mention how much a pack of fresh herbs costs at the grocery store. It’s cheaper to grow them yourself, and you know they’re fresh when you picked out of the back garden just a few minutes before dinner.
Here’s what’s currently growing in my garden:
I’ve always grown sage. My main sage bush came from a clump in my mother’s garden in Eastern Washington, unceremoniously dug out with a shovel and plopped into my first real garden over ten years ago. It gets straggly, but I simply cut it back hard and back it comes. I have several more sage plants, including a culinary sage in a pot on the deck, a large leaf sage mostly for ornament in the front yard, and a few purple sages for color. I hardly ever have dried sage on hand in the kitchen, because I can always go outside and pick some fresh, even in the snow.
I was so thrilled when I realized the Western Washington climate allowed me to grow bay laurel. I’m not sure I’d ever had sweet bay before, just the slightly toxic and harsh California bay sold in grocery stores. I adore fresh bay leaves, and use them in soups, braises, curries and roasts. A leaf in a simmering bechamel sauce gives it a great earthy scent. Going out to the patio in my bathrobe to pick a few leaves is a wonderful thing. My tree was enormous a few years ago, pushing up through the decking, but then a hard winter took it down and it’s currently reinventing itself with a forest of suckers. Sometimes when it needs pruning I’ll take a branch inside, so I’ll have dry leaves for blending into curry powders and sausage.
For the last two weeks I’ve had the latest issue of Food & Wine sitting on my kitchen table. It’s not that I haven’t read it – I have – but I don’t allow myself to keep the back issues and so I hate to recycle it until I’m absolutely done with it. I keep going back through it to make sure there isn’t one more recipe to cut out or one more restaurant review to make a note of. As a result, I’ve been staring constantly at a large front-cover photo of chicken salad with Green Goddess dressing. With predictable results.
I have actually never made Green Goddess dressing. I mean, ever. So this was sort of a duh moment for me, as I realized that I had fresh herbs all over the place, garlic and anchovies ready to hand, and a tub of sour cream in the fridge left over from our Monday night enchiladas. There was no reason at all not to make this. And I had the perfect vehicle for the dressing: a large bag of perfect, slender green beans from Blue Heron Farm. I cut the beans in half, blanched them in boiling salted water and drained them, then got to work on my dressing.
The tomato harvest this year has really blown me away. Normally, having just one or two vines in pots on the deck, I’m lucky if I have enough tomatoes to make the occasional salad, or to top a taco now and then. This year the stars aligned to produce showers of juicy little red Stupice tomatoes and bowlfuls of Sungold cherry tomatoes, including the single prettiest tomato I have ever grown. Look, isn’t it beautiful?
So, finding myself in the unusual position of needing to eat a lot of tomatoes all at once, I opened a few cookbooks at random and found a recipe: Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Thyme and Garlic, from James Peterson’s impressive tome Vegetables. I had a pile of freshly dug garlic drying on the front porch, a pot of thyme on the deck, and plenty of olive oil, so it was but the work of a moment to get a pan of this roasting in the oven. And then the work of an hour or two to wait for it to finish up…
All I needed to do was wash the tomatoes, cut them in half, and lay them cut-side-down in a pan filmed with olive oil.
At this point in the season, the rhubarb plants have peaked, attempted to bloom their heads off (and been thwarted by my Felcos), and are beginning to settle back into merely being a large green presence in the yard without actually attempting to overrun or squash anything. We’ve had rhubarb crisp, clafoutis, pie, compote, and muffins, and stowed away a large freezer bag of chopped stalks for later.
Despite all that, I’m nowhere near rhubarb burnout, and there are several recipes left that I want to try – for instance, I’ve still never roasted rhubarb. Or poached it in red wine. I have, however, braised it with green herbs, onion, tomato and saffron. Sound weird? It’s actually really, really good.
We had a little impromptu celebration the other night, in honor of my first published piece of food writing. Nothing fancy, just some rotini pasta tossed with garlic scape pesto from the freezer and some hot Italian sausages, a salad with balsamic vinaigrette, a bottle of Bonny Doon Dolcetto, and a bowl of all the ripe tomatoes left on the vine. Easy to throw together, and fun to eat while curled up on the couch watching a very stupid movie. Sometimes you don’t want to have to try too hard.
I’ve been growing garlic for years – it’s one of the few vegetables that I consistently have in my garden, and I can usually grow enough that we only need to buy a few heads in the spring to tide us over. I used to grow softneck, but I discovered Rocambole hardneck garlic about 5 years ago and have grown it exclusively ever since – I think it has a better flavor, and it’s often much easier to peel.
One major difference between softneck and hardneck is that hardneck puts up flower stalks in the spring. If you leave them on, the flowers turn into little clusters of bulbils, taking energy from the main bulb, so it’s best to cut them off – I haven’t always been good about this, but I usually make it out there at some point, haphazardly whack off the flower scapes and compost them.
But this year! This year I’ve been reading food blogs, and I’ve discovered something new. Turns out, if you pick the scape before it blooms and hardens, you can eat it! I have never seen this information in a cookbook, not even my Alice Waters book. Continue reading