Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Roasted Summer Vegetable Salad

I feel so smug when I come up with a recipe that’s nutritious, like I’ve gotten away with something. This warm salad could be a complete meal in itself, although I served it alongside homemade pizza. It’s versatile, too; you could easily make it with fall vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, butternut squash, and potatoes. Roasted garlic would be terrific. Next time I might finish it off with some shavings of pecorino romano.

Roasted Summer Vegetable Salad

Ingredients

1 red bell pepper
1 medium eggplant
1 medium pattypan squash or zucchini
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon garlic powder
salt & pepper

1 cup cannellini beans (canned is fine)
2 cups baby spinach leaves, raw
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Preparation
Heat oven to 450°F. While you wait, roughly chop the pepper, eggplant, and summer squash into about 1½-inch chunks. Spread vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet, then sprinkle with garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle olive oil over and toss until vegetables are evenly coated. Roast for 15-20 minutes, mixing once halfway through cooking time. Remove vegetables from oven when they’ve started to caramelize but are still firm.

Allow vegetables to cool for about 10 minutes, then add to a bowl with the cannellini beans and spinach. Chop the thyme finely, sprinkle that over, and follow with the sherry vinegar. You’ll probably need another little drizzle of olive oil. Taste to see if any extra salt or pepper is necessary, and enjoy.

Serves 4.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Saucy

For all of my tears over the endrot on the tomatoes, production this year has been pretty good so far. Many of the damaged fruits were salvageable; we just cut off the ends and used those tomatoes for salsa or sauce. I wish I could post photos of their gorgeousness, but our camera is in the shop. I'd estimate that we've been harvesting about 5 lbs a week for the past two weeks.

Yesterday we had the singular pleasure of serving a deceptively simple insalata caprese at a little family party. Why do we even bother eating tomatoes at any other time of the year?

The Nyagous variety are almost black and terrifically sweet, with probably the best flavor I've ever tasted in a slicing tomato. They don't get huge, but I'll take flavor over size any day. The other winner this year is the Isis Candy cherry tomatoes, which are also incredibly sweet. I like them better than last year's Concords, but Mark thinks they're comparable. Regardless, we're growing both again next year.

In the plum tomato category, the San Marzano are definitely superior to Amish Paste. It seems there's something to the hype after all. We only had a few plants from Catalpa Ridge this year, but there will be more in 2009 for sure.

The Furry Yellow Hogs are just that--well, fuzzy and yellow, anyway. They look like strangely shaped peaches, and taste pretty good, too. Even so, they probably won't make the cut next year when we pare down. Mark only wants to do 16 plants, convinced that they'll produce as much as this year's 36 because they'll produce better when less crowded. I'm skeptical.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Rhubarb-Ginger Jam

I know rhubarb is supposedly a spring thing, but mine starts in May and doesn’t quit until the end of summer. Today I picked over 3 pounds, and I know exactly what I’m going to do with it—make rhubarb-ginger jam. Rhubarb bread and muffins are good and all, and I’ve been meaning to try some British recipes for rhubarb fool or trifle, but you just can’t beat this jam, which is so easy to make and turns out perfect every time. It’s a lovely balance between sweet and tart, and the ginger and orange flavors make it a little unique. Try it with some melting butter on a warm English muffin.

Rhubarb-Ginger Jam

Ingredients

1 pound sliced rhubarb
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger (about 2 ounces)
1 teaspoon grated orange peel

Preparation
Combine all ingredients in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until jam thickens and mounds on spoon, stirring often to prevent scorching, about 20 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Cover; chill. (Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Keep chilled.)

Makes 1 1/2 cups. Adapted from Bon App├ętit.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Status Report: The Epic Saga

Warning: This post will most likely be really boring to everyone but ourselves. Proceed at your own risk.

Basil: The Genovese and Thai basil never got big and robust as they did last year, perhaps because this year’s location is not sunny enough. They were under row covers for a long time, which was good in the beginning. But we left them on to keep off pests when we went on vacation, and the July heat may have stunted their growth. We’ll put them back in one of the boxes by the driveway next year. Mama needs her summer pesto fix!

Unlike the others the holy basil was in a pot, and it grew better than all the other basil, probably because it was in full sun on the deck. Ironic, since it was so anemic last season.

Beans: We got a handful of the Jacob’s Cattle, and it looks to be the same for the McCaslans, which we haven’t harvested yet.

Bitter melon: Has flowered, but no fruit so far.

Broccoli: The bastard groundhogs cutworms ate them all. We’re sprouting more now in an attempt to get a fall crop.

Carrots: Very enthusiastic so far; we keep having to thin them because the greens are getting so big. Hopefully this will translate into a good harvest.

Silverbeet Rainbow chard: We planted these in between the lettuces, which took over the box and hardly left the chard any room to grow. Mark pulled out the lettuce after it bolted, and now we have a modest crop of chard to get us through the summer.

Cilantro: Grew huge, but still bolted too fast. I swear, the window for harvesting cilantro must be about a week. Maybe plant it in a shadier spot next year? We’ve read the heat causes it to bolt. However, we waited until the seeds formed, then dried out the stalks and got some lovely coriander seed with a clean, bright flavor.

Culantro: We’re not sure what this is supposed to look like. It looks healthy, but the lower leaves are turning yellow. Mark is doing some research to find out if we can bring it inside for the winter, since it is a tasty herb—its flavor is very similar to cilantro.

Eggplant: The Caspers and Thai didn’t get much light and then got devoured by flea beetles. After those two strikes we aren’t very optimistic about production. The Sri Lankan and Chinese plants are small but starting to pick up momentum. One of the Chinese has flowers blooming all over it, so we’ll see.

Garlic: We couldn’t be happier with the results. They just sat there for nine months and produced a couple dozen big, fat heads. We won’t change too much next year except maybe plant more if we have the space, and maybe some of a softneck variety.

American Flag leeks: Looking great; about 1-inch diameter so far, about as big as our scallions, which look like they’re on steroids.

Lettuce: Very successful, both varieties producing for all of May and June. The head variety never really formed heads, though. Maybe we can plant them in a shadier spot next year; they might appreciate the cooler conditions.

Early Hanover melon: Three or four melons are developing right now, although we don’t know how big they’ll get. The largest is currently the size of a tennis ball.

Burmese okra: This might not be the best variety for our temperate zone; it’s just not hot enough. The plant is 12” tall, has about three leaves, and has produced a grand total of two pods. We gave one of our seedlings to some friends who live nearby, and they have had the same result.

Onions: They never really got a great chance because the seedlings were disturbed so much by squirrels in the beginning. A few cipollini have surfaced, tiny but edible. So far we’ve resisted the temptation to pull any sweet Spanish onions up. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Parsley: Last year’s parsley went to seed and grew like a weed this year. The main stalks are tough and inedible, but the outer leaves taste fine, and we use them frequently. Sadly, we can’t say the same for the seedlings we got from Well-Sweep, which got some disease early on and never really grew.

Amish snap pea: This is one of our favorite vegetables; we snack on them straight off the vine. They produced well all through June. Next year we might start them two weeks earlier. The pre-sprouted seeds didn’t grow any faster than ones planted right in the ground. Go figure.

Purple Coffee pepper: These are producing wildly and look awesome. Of course it would be the variety that’s too spicy to even eat. One of the plants has yellow peppers for some reason. They look like light bulbs.

Thai pepper: One of our best producers was grown from seeds we bought a year ago. All of Mark’s efforts getting them to germinate finally paid off.

Hot Lemon pepper: Doing great in pots on the deck. These are darn tasty; just the right spiciness

Kevin’s Early Orange pepper: These slowpokes have taken forever just to get to a decent size. We don’t even think they’ve got buds yet.

Aji Dulce pepper: Just starting to get flowers. May have done better in a pot, since it’s a low, bushy, compact plant and grows so slowly.

Ancho Gigantea pepper: A few peppers have formed, but none are ripe yet.

Ampuis pepper: We just ate the first of these this week. They’re gorgeous and red, the size of a plum, but thin-walled and thick-skinned. The flavor is great, but Kate is not crazy about them.

Mystery pepper: After all of the planning and organizing, we ended up with some peppers that we can’t identify. They tasted great, though—fruity and spicy and bright red. Maybe it’s not our fault and the plant is a mutant. We’re definitely saving the seeds.

Potatoes: Just ate the first Purple Viking potatoes tonight for dinner, and man, are they good—fluffy and crisp and clean-tasting. We harvested a few because the plants turned yellow and died, so we pulled up the roots to see what was up. We got four baseball-sized purple potatoes, so we’re optimistic about the rest. Hope the fingerlings are doing as well.

Scallions: Unlike last year, when they stayed all sad and spindly, these are doing wonderfully. They’ve gotten really big, but they’ve stayed nice and fresh, and Kate just pulls a few out of their box whenever we need them, exactly as she’d hoped.

Monnopa spinach: Produced wonderfully, and the staggered planting worked out great. Tasted great as well—none of that squeaky feeling on the teeth when you chew it. We’re delighted that Nico loves to pull off leaves and eat them right out of the garden. Now we just have to stop him from pulling all the leaves off the plants and trying to eat them.

Delicata squash: Has one good-sized squash so far, looking good.

Tomatoes: Ah, the tomatoes, our pride and joy! Mark had so many new ideas this year, and since there were so many variables we’re not sure what worked and what didn’t. We were devastated to return from our vacation and find that about half of the fruits were afflicted with end rot. Fortunately, we have so freakin’ many tomatoes that we’re still left with plenty of good ones.

Nyagous and Isis are the big winners this year, both super-sweet and delicious. Kate is just waiting to accumulate enough romas to make her favorite tomato confit.

Black Beauty zucchini: We’ve harvested—or rather, Nico has chowed down on—three good-sized zucchini in the past couple of weeks, but the plants are looking a little sad now because they’re just not getting enough light. You can see that this is a running theme, so stay tuned for a post in the recent future about Mark taking a chainsaw to all the trees on our property.