Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

Years ago, at Le Saint-Amour, a great restaurant in Quebec City, the dish I ordered had these small strange-looking root vegetables sitting next to my roasted duck entrée. They resembled tiny twisted parsnips…or caterpillars! I needed to know what these things were, and so I asked my French waiter, who came back with a piece of paper that had the word “crosne” written on it. He said: “I don’t know how they say it in English.”
Back at the hotel room, I went right to the laptop and started a search online and discovered that crosnes (pronounced crones) are also known as Chinese artichokes, and although they are somewhat common in European gardens, they’re really difficult to find in the states.
The leaves look like mint, but don't have a fragrance.

The leaves look like mint, but don’t have a fragrance.

 

The plant is a relative of mint (though the leaves have no aroma), a perennial, is easy to grow, spreads on its own, and has those small, convoluted and delicious root clumps (known as tubers to gardeners.) So what’s not to like? Well, apparently, it’s not the gardeners that don’t want to deal with them…it’s the chefs! The tubers are very small and need a little extra effort to make sure they’re washed clean before cooking. They don’t need to be peeled (now that would be a pain) but to many chefs, even the washing is too much of a hassle.
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As a Master Gardener and food nerd, I found all of this pretty interesting so I searched for sources to buy crosnes plants. It took a while (most growers were in Europe or Great Britain), but I finally found a source in Oregon that sold the plants and I bought a few for my home garden.
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Much like mint, crosnes are pretty hardy and are tough to remove once well established, so they need to be planted in an area where you don’t mind if they take over. The tubers are ready to harvest October through November, and as long as I leave some in the ground over the winter, the crosnes will be back again the next year. Seems pretty low-maintenance for such a delicious treat!

 

 

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As for preparation, a light saute in olive oil and butter (or lard), and a little salt and pepper, is all they need. They also go well with a deep, rich demi glace reduction like I had with my duck at Le Saint-Amour.

I had a ridiculous harvest of shishito peppers in my garden this year, all from a mere eight plants. They were so prolific, I ate blistered shishitos almost every day for weeks on end…and that was after I gave away pounds of them to friends.

I was at my wits’ end. The season was waining, but I had bags and bags of shishitos in my fridge. Then on Instagram, my friend Ron exclaimed: “Pickle them!”

I had no idea you could do that!

 

Pickling shishitos…why didn’t I think of this sooner?

 

So, thanks, Ron. You saved the harvest! And by the way… While the pickling brine was boiling, I blistered and ate another batch of shishitos! (Needed to do something while I was waiting… )

 

Blistered shishitos gone!

 

The original recipe for pickled shishitos suggested that I boil the pickling spices and then combine them with sliced shishitos. But I didn’t like the idea of having whole peppercorns and other spices getting stuck in my teeth. I wanted their flavor, but I didn’t want to bite into them whole. (If you’ve ever accidentally bitten into a peppercorn, you know what I mean.)

So I strained the brining liquid after boiling, and then combined it with the shishitos. I got all the flavor, and none of the grit.

 

I cut the stem ends off the shishitos, then sliced them into rings.

 

 

2 cups vinegar
2 cups water
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons sugar (I use organic cane sugar)
2 tablespoons pickling spices
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 pound shishito peppers, sliced into rings

 

Boil a couple of Mason jars in a large pot to clean them. Let them air dry completely.

In a saucepan over high heat, combine the vinegar, water, garlic cloves, sugar, pickling spices, black peppercorns, and sea salt. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and let to boil for 5 to 8 minutes.

The take pickling liquid off the heat and strain it into a bowl. Discard the spices. Add the sliced shishitos into the pickling liquid, mixing well, and let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes.

Spoon the mixture into the Mason jars and seal them tightly. Let them cool to room temperature. (You should hear the lids of the Mason jars make a popping noise to seal properly.)

Once the peppers have cooled, place the jars in the fridge and let them sit in the fridge for a week or so until the flavors combine.

 

 

The pickled shishitos are great on salads, sandwiches, cheese platters, and anything else that needs a kick in the pants!

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it’s done right, gazpacho is one of the most delicious summer soups you’ll ever have. The secret, of course, is using super-fresh veggies. That’s why I crave it at the first sign of a vine-ripened tomato in my garden or a local farm stand. Now that the summer season is winding down, my tomato plants have dozens of ripening fruits on them every day. I eat some in salads…I make tomato sauce with others…but the reddest and ripest become gazpacho!

 

 

I never make this out of season, and I’m always wary of restaurants that do! Very often, they’ll try to hide the taste of older veggies by adding too much salt or lots of spice.

The consistency of gazpacho is a personal preference. I like mine a bit chewy…not chunky like salsa, but not watery like soup…somewhere in between the two is perfection.

All the work is pretty much in the slicing, peeling and chopping…so I do it carefully.

 

1 large Vidalia onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
6 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup olives, drained  (I like kalamatas)
1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a large lemon
3 tablespoons white vinegar
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

An easy way to peel tomatoes is to turn them upside down and make an X with a knife, puncturing the skin. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds, and the skin will start peeling away from the meat. Scoop the tomatoes out of the water, and immediately drop them into a bowl of ice water, letting them cool for 5 minutes. The skin will peel right off. Cut the tomatoes in half and (over the sink!) gently press your thumbs into the seed compartments, popping them out. Give the tomato a little shake to remove any last seeds, and it’s ready to be chopped.

 

Make an X, then drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds.

 

While the tomatoes are cooling, you can peel and chop the other veggies.

Peel and roughly chop the onion and carrot, and place them in a food processor. Let it run for about 10 seconds.

Add the peeled and seeded tomatoes, the peeled and seeded cucumbers, and the sprigs of parsley and continue processing.

Add the olives, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, sea salt and black pepper.

 

 

Process until the veggies are finely chopped, and you’ve got a soup. Store it in the fridge for at least one hour to chill before serving.

 

 

Garnish with a sprig of parsley and a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel or other sea salt.

I don’t have the patience to boil Mason jars and lids and all that crap. But I love me my pickles, especially when this year’s garden is cranking out cucumbers in record numbers!

This is such an easy way to make great pickles, it’s almost unbelievable…and no water is needed! The salt extracts just enough moisture, like when curing meat, to make it work. This method works great if you want fresh pickles to eat immediately, but you’ll need to use the old-fashioned pickling methods if you want to keep them for longer periods of time.

Fortunately for me, I devour these pickles as soon as they’re ready!

I originally used a plastic bag for this, but I found that using a plastic container keeps the pickles aligned better and it’s less messy.

 

pickles

 

 

fresh cucumbers
sea salt
handful of fresh dill
a couple of cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

 

Get a resealable plastic container.

Cut the ends off the cucumbers and then slice them lengthwise, in half or in quarters. Lay them neatly next to each other in one layer in the container, skin-side down. Sprinkle the sea salt over the cucumbers. Sprinkle some of the chopped garlic on top. Then, tear off some fresh dill and lay it to cover the pickles.

You should be able to get a second row of pickles on top of the first, again sprinkling with the salt, garlic, and topping with dill.

 

 

Placing the lid on the container, squeeze out as much air out of the container as you can.

Put the container in the fridge overnight. Making sure the lid is tightly sealed on the container, flip it over every few hours. (I always put a plate underneath it when it’s upside down in case it leaks a little.)

The pickles will be ready to eat the next day, but they’re even better after 48 hours.

 

 

 

 

 

The definition of a consomme is: “a clear soup made with concentrated stock.” I might add “mind-blowing” to that sentence, especially with this recipe. The key to success– and this is crucial–is to use absolutely garden-fresh, in-season ingredients. If you try this with greenhouse or supermarket tomatoes, you’re just wasting your time.

 

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4 1/2 lbs. of fresh garden tomatoes (my favorite is the heirloom: Brandywine)
1 large bunch of fresh basil, leaves and stems
1 2-inch piece of fresh horseradish, peeled
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I use Alessi)
2 oz. vodka (I use Tito’s)
sea salt and pepper

 

Remove the core of the tomatoes, but leave everything else, including seeds and skin.

Put all the tomatoes, basil, horseradish, garlic, vinegar and vodka in a blender or food processor. You might need to do this in batches if your equipment can’t handle it all.

Process until you get a kind of slush.

Line a mixing bowl with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the tomato slush mixture into it. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth carefully, and tie them securely so you can lift the bundle up by the knot. Hang the bundle from a hook over a clean bowl in the fridge so that it catches the liquid that drips out, and leave the whole thing in there overnight. The liquid that drips out will be clear. (You can place an optional slice of beet in the bowl to add color, but I choose not to, because I think it changes the flavor.)

 

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

 

To serve, chill bowls (or in this case: the sipping glasses) in the fridge. When ready to serve, ladle out the consomme and garnish with a tiny basil leaf. A drop of excellent quality olive oil is optional.

 

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

 

I tried using a synthetic cheesecloth for this recipe, and I found that it doesn’t filter out enough of the solids to make a clear consomme. You could use it along with real cheesecloth, just to use the stand, or just hang it all in real cheesecloth, as described in this recipe.

It seems like the popularity of shishito peppers has exploded overnight. Once a rare treat that I could only get on the menu at one of my favorite Boston restaurants, Toro, now they’re everywhere: farmers markets, bistro and pub menus, and of course…my own garden!

 

Shishitos are on almost every menu these days!

 

Shishito peppers are mostly mild…but you can get hold of a spicy one every 10 peppers or so…kind of a Russian pepper roulette!

 

Shishitos straight from the garden!

 

Shishitos are incredibly easy to grow…just like any other pepper. They love a full day’s worth of sun, and lots of fertilizer. If you have success growing tomatoes, shishitos should be on your list. Plus, they’re really quite prolific: it’s not uncommon to find a couple dozen peppers growing on each plant!

Shishitos are also easy to prepare, and take just minutes. Ideally, if you’ve already got a charcoal grill going, you’re almost there. Simply place the shishitos in a bowl and drizzle in a little olive oil. Toss the peppers to coat, and place them directly on the ashed-over coals of the fire. Work quickly turning them over with tongs. You want them to blister, but you don’t want them to burn! They’ll pop, deflate, and get soft. That’s when they’re ready. Simply place them on a serving plate, and sprinkle some really good sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel) over them while they’re still hot.

 

 

If you don’t have the time for a charcoal grill, you can still prepare delicious shishitos by placing them in a pan. Sprinkle in a little olive oil, and toss them around to coat them. Turn the burner on high, and cook the shishitos until they’re blistered, but not burned. Cook them on all sides, carefully flipping them over with tongs. Like on the charcoal, they will pop, deflate and get soft. Transfer them to a serving plate and sprinkle immediately with salt.

 

To enjoy shishitos, you simply grab them by the stem and bite!

The heat of the summer always has me craving a cold beet soup my Mom made…

It’s interesting that an Eastern European country that is as far north as Newfoundland has one of the most refreshing cold summer soups of any country in Europe. It’s a cold beet soup called Šaltibarščiai (pronounced shul-tih barsh-chay) and it’s classic Lithuanian cooking at its best.

No summer was complete without my Mom’s Šaltibarščiai on the table, and my Dad always insisted on eating it with boiled potatoes on the side.

There are many different variations of this soup. For example, many Lithuanians today use keffir instead of buttermilk. My Mom insists buttermilk tastes better, and I have to agree.

 

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1 quart buttermilk
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
8 beets, cooked, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
1 scallion, finely chopped, greens only
salt
a pile of boiled potatoes (optional)

 

Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl. If it’s very thick, you can dilute it a bit with fresh water.

Peel and chop the eggs and toss them in the bowl. Peel, seed and chop the cukes…then into the bowl.

I love Love Beets, hermetically sealed cooked and peeled beets, ready to use, available in most supermarkets. (In the old days, my Mom would simply use canned beets.) I open a couple of packs of Love Beets, pouring the beet juice into the bowl. I chop the beets and add them as well.

Grab some fresh dill and chop it finely. Add it to the bowl. Finely chop the greens of one or two scallions and sprinkle some salt on them. Rub the salt into the scallions, mashing them a bit, softening them. Then add the to the bowl.

Stir everything together, put a lid on the bowl, and let it chill in the fridge for a few hours.

Remove from fridge, stir, and season with more salt if needed before serving.

 

I came up with this crunchy appetizer a few years ago, when I needed a tasty bite for one of our summer parties. I wanted something fresh that highlighted the veggies of the season, so when I spotted these baby bell peppers in the supermarket, I got the idea. I get requests for the recipe every year. (I  grow my own baby bell peppers, but when we’re talking about feeding a large party, it’s time to go to the supermarket! )

 

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Baby bell peppers
6 ears fresh corn, removed from the cob…or organic frozen corn
1/2 Vidalia onion, peeled, quartered, grilled, chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)
6 oz. feta cheese or Queso Fresco, crumbled
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of white pepper
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

 

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Cut the corn kernels from the ears, and sauté them very briefly in a little olive oil. Place them in a bowl and let them cool.

Peel and quarter the Vidalia onion, and throw it on a hot grill with a little olive oil to get some nice grill marks on it, leaving the onion still crispy, not soft. If you’re cooking indoors, throw the quartered onion in a hot pan with a little olive oil, and cook it until you get some brown marks on it. Remove it, let cool, then place it in a food processor and pulse it until the onion is chopped into small bits, just smaller than the corn kernels. Add the onions to the corn.

In a separate small bowl, combine the mayonnaise and the Frank’s Red Hot. Pour in the crumbled cheese and mix well. Pour this into the corn and onion bowl and mix well.

Add the lime juice, white pepper and parsley to the bowl and mix well again.

Cut the baby bell peppers in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds and membrane. Stuff the peppers with the corn mixture and garnish with cilantro or parsley.

 

If you’re preparing this ahead of time, refrigerate the stuffed peppers until you’re ready to eat, but allow some time for them to warm up to a cool, not cold, temperature.

 

Does anyone remember Art Ginsburg, also known as Mr. Food? His syndicated segments appeared on the news for almost 10 years. I met him back in 1993, and he was quite the self-promoter…but a really nice guy. Art passed away years ago, but I still have his old cookbooks, and his simple but perfect pesto recipe has been my guide for decades.
We eat a ton of pesto at home, and I’m amazed at how much my 10-year-old daughter loves the stuff. Most of the time, it’s simply mixed with pasta. But we stir it into tomato sauce and smear it on grilled chicken or beef as well.

The herb garden, with basil in the foreground. Happy cucumbers are growing on the trellis in the background.

 

Basil is the main ingredient in my pesto, and it’s growing rapidly under the summer sun in my garden right now. And that’s key to great pesto: when Mother Nature says the basil’s ready, be sure you have all the other ingredients and get to work!

Basil, ready to be picked.

 

Besides the fact that it tastes bad, the problem with store-bought pesto is that it’s expensive. Although homemade pesto isn’t cheap, you can still save a lot of money by making it yourself.
Some of my tips for saving money: buy good quality ingredients in bulk. My go-to olive oil is California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It gets high ratings, tastes amazing, and can be found in large bottles at most supermarkets and in quantity on Amazon.
There’s been a rash of articles about already-grated parmesan cheese that is 50% wood fiber. Stay away from that junk and buy yourself a nice chunk of the real deal: Parmigiano-Reggiano. Grate it yourself and taste the difference!
The most expensive (and questionable) ingredient in basic pesto is pine nuts. If you look on the back of the package (and you always should!) you’ll see that most pine nuts come from China. I don’t buy any food products from China…period. So sourcing “safe” pine nuts can be difficult. I make sure I’m getting quality pine nuts from Italy. They are expensive, but anything of high quality usually is.
One of the reasons you want real pine nuts and not some look-alike from China is something called “pine mouth” or “pine nut mouth.” A small percentage of people experience a reaction after eating pine nuts that makes their mouth taste like metal–imagine putting a handful of pennies in your mouth–and the taste stays in their mouths for a couple of weeks, ruining their taste buds for the foods they love. (Eventually, it wears off.) Some scientists say you get “pine mouth” by eating counterfeit pine nuts–varieties like those from China that are not the same species. Others say that you can get the reaction even from real pine nuts. Research on this continues, but all the more reason not to buy any foods from China and other questionable countries.
There are alternatives to pine nuts, and you’ll find many pesto recipes that substitute with almonds, pistachios or walnuts. I think those nuts change the taste of the pesto, plus they have a skin that leaves a gritty residue, which I don’t like. So I don’t use them. The one nut that I’ve found that does a pretty good job filling in for pine nuts is macadamia nuts, although they, too, are a bit gritty. They are less expensive and usually come from Hawaii. Just remember to buy raw, unsalted macadamias.
So here’s my sure-fire pesto recipe. I make massive amounts of it, store it in plastic storage containers with a tightly sealing screw-top lid, and put them in the deep freeze. They last all year, and thaw out easily.
2 cups fresh basil, packed down a little
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
When measuring the basil, I pick dry leaves from the garden and place them in a measuring cup, lightly packing them until I get 2 cups. Then I remove them from the measuring cup and wash them, tossing them in a salad spinner to dry. Then they go into the food processor.
Add the other ingredients in the food processor with the basil and let it rip!
 
The color and fragrance of freshly-made pesto is hard to beat! For me, a bowl of pasta with pesto is real comfort food.

Just because you’ve got a garden full of fresh veggies, it doesn’t mean you have to gorge on nothing but salads! Sometimes, a refreshing cocktail is just what you need after a long day of yard work. This one fits the bill!;

 

 

4 fresh cucumbers, peeled and seeded
Small ice cubes
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons granulated organic cane sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup vodka (I like Tito’s)
1 oz. orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

 

Peel and seed the cucumbers. Coarsely chop them and then purée in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Or, if you have one, use a juicer. Set the cucumber juice aside.

To a large glass pitcher, add the mint leaves, sugar and lime juice. Muddle the ingredients so that the mint leaves release their oils. Add 3/4 cup (at least) of the cucumber juice. Add the vodka and Cointreau. Muddle again briefly.

Fill tall drinking glasses with ice cubes. Strain the cocktail into glasses. Garnish with a cucumber spear or mint.