A Red, Red Roast

081715_fztomsThree gallons of frozen tomatoes is a bit much. So the moment POD’s red peppers were actually red peppers, they were cooked.

Inspired by a recent menu option at Lockeland Table, five pounds of plum tomatoes, 10 oz of red peppers, two bulbs of garlic, and a generous handful of basil formed the foundation for a pretty darn yummy dinner featuring homemade cavatelli with roasted tomato, pepper and garlic sauce.

And, I have to say, the homemade cavatelli hit the spot, as quite inconveniently, our pasta maker died just prior to our departure from the pasta heaven that is South Philly.081715_roastedsauceIt’s easy (hot, but easy): Preheat the oven to 400. Brush some olive oil on two-three bulbs of garlic (yes, two, maybe three, entire bulbs) and roast them for 40 minutes. Reduce heat to 35o and stick two baking trays of tomatoes in there (you’ll have halved and painted the tomatoes with olive oil while the garlic is roasting) for 45-60 minutes. You’ll want them to be good and smushy. Remove the tomatoes , crank the broiler to 13 and placed your quartered and seeded peppers in the fiery inferno. Which is to say: broil your peppers until the skins are black. Placed blackened peppers in a plastic baggie. While the skins are steaming off, scrape the tomatoes into 081715_roastedsauce2a saucepan, squish the roasted garlic over the tomatoes, skin the cooled peppers and toss ’em in. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a handful of basil leaves, and a splash of balsamic vinegar to the pot. Using an immersion blender (or blender or food processor), whiz until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and warm that roasted deliciousness up and serve over pasta of your choice.

 

A New Leaf

081815_carrotsThe mighty cucumber is no more. After producing at least 100 fruits the workhorse was retired.

Weep not, dear gardeners! Rejoice, for the time of fall planting is at hand! Behold: four short rows of rutabagas have taken its place. (Pictured to the left, though, are carrots. Sorry.)

Anyhoo, rutabagas are a new addition to the POD lineup. According to the UGA Extension, this turnip-like brassica is easy to grow and needs to be planted about 60-90 days  prior to the first heavy frost. At 75 days, we’re good.

Also on deck? spinach, carrots, daikon radish, and a second attempt at zucchini. All of which (with the exception of 081815_zucchiniIIcarrots) are new for POD — and the notion of a fresh start in August helps alleviate the sting of back-to-school sales, shortened days, and cool pre-fall nights.

Tomato Time

East Nashville’s Tomato Arts Festival may already be history, but the tomatoes here at POD are in full, glorious swing.

And unsurprisingly, we’ll do things differently next year. Notes to self:

Raised Bed
Mr. Stripey, you are delicious071315_leaningstripey, but you do not work so well. Planted on May 9 this plant never had the vigor of the two hybrids planted in the front. I think the religious applications of Tomato-Tone have been the saving grace. Thus far, one fruit has been harvested and although it looks like a few more will make the cut, next year it’s time to look into a different variety.

I’d be willing to give another indeterminate a shot here, though. Next year, consider planting tomatoes towards the back of the planter — because even though the leaves never quite hit their stride, the plant’s height shaded the bush zucchinis that resided behind it into soggy oblivion. Also, figure out a better staking method! the 42″cages were so not up to the task. And finally, alas, tomatoes that are low in acid must also be part of the equation. Mike McGrath has some great suggestions on this front.

South Side

Because I had a couple of extra starts, I decided to hack out a swath of garden along the southeast side of the back yard, because why not? It’s largely devoted to herbs, but we threw a couple of tomatoes and a watermelon out there, because why not? Aaaannnd, forgetting entirely that I, you know, blog about the garden from time to time, I manged not to note the exact variety of yellow tomato that we planted. Or when, exactly, I planted them. (Around Mother’s Day?) But hey, we currently have a dozen of these sweet guys taking up precious kitchen counter space!

We’ve gotten three Mr. Stripeys off this plant, but we’ll still be in the market for a new pet next year.

Also? STAKE AND TRAIN THEM BETTER!!

Front
It would figure that in PODs version of shattering a bottle of champagne on the bow, tomatoes would christen the new land. Hastily purchased at the Home Depot and planted just hours after signing the papers on POD 2.0 (in mid- to late-April) the Juliet plum and Husky Cherry Red tomatoes went absolutely crazy in front of the house. So crazy, that the indeterminate plum totally overwhelmed the cage is hanging kudzu-like over the cherry laurel and spilling onto the porch. Not good for the laurel, very good for the tomatoes. So far, we’ve stuck about 10 lbs of plums in the freezer and the rest have rounded out the Hurricane’s lunches. The Juliet is just about the perfect tomato for lunching and saucing. I’m not totally crazy about the Husky’s flavor, although production is impressive enough.

Next year, select sweet determinate plants for the front and position them as close to the lawn as possible — they’ll eke out a few more minutes of sun and will be infinitely easier to harvest. These are the Hurricane’s tomatoes, so make ’em sweet and small.

POD’s Sorrel Soup

There have been a lot of role reversals around here. Instead of being the weekend cook, the gardener has become the weekday cook and the Endurer rules the grill on Saturdays and Sundays.

And, as my emerald green and abundant sorrel was about to be attacked by rogue, poorly staked tomatoes, I figured it was time to experiment with the newbie in the herb patch. Plus, we have leeks! And tarragon! And parsley! Oh, my! Which led us to this amazing sorrel soup. Which, in itself, is a bit of a reversal as I am not generally the one who cooks French-inspired foods (or soup). And, in the backhanded compliment department, the Endurer raved about this tangy, silky soup for days, calling dibs when leftover night rolled around.

POD’s SORREL SOUP

3 tbs butter (Go ahead, use a little more. Waistlines and dairy issues are under consideration around here, but we didn’t feel too cheated with this modest hunk of fat. Vegans, use olive oil.)

2-3 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced (may substitute onion, ramps, or scallions, but I think the leeks were part of what made this click for the Endurer.)

2 cloves garlic, minced

12 c. sorrel (A first for POD, sorrel is a very tart, tangy, zippy, mouth-puckering perennial. A little in a salad would go a very, very long way, although I can’t keep the Hurricane away from the plants. She loves the stuff. Although she also sucks on lemons.) 

4 c. chicken  or vegetable stock

1 medium potato, peeled and diced

a good bit of tarragon — at least 3 tbs (This is the secret wonder ingredient. Do not skip or scrimp.)

1/4 – 1/2 c. parsley (While the sorrel is beautiful in the ground, it turns army/dried pea green in the pot. The parsley mitigates the blah somewhat.)

2 egg yolks (If you’re interested in keeping this vegan, these can be omitted; however, they lent a beautiful silkiness and cut the acidity of the sorrel very nicely. You’ll probably want to add more vegan sour cream if you skip the eggs.)

1/2 c.  cream or creme fraiche (I used vegan sour cream to appease the dairy devil. Thank the cooking gods; butter seems to leave me alone.)

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Melt  butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks (or onion, ramps, or green onions)  and potato and turn the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot and cook gently for 10 minutes.
  2. While the leeks and potato are cooking, pour the stock into another pot and bring to a simmer.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high, add the sorrel leaves and a healthy pinch of salt and stir well. When the sorrel is mostly wilted, turn the heat back to medium-low, cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. Whisk in the hot stock and herbs and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Reduce heat to low.
  5. To finish the soup, whisk together the egg yolks with the dairy or non-dairy of your choice. Temper the yolk mixture by ladling a little soup into the eggs with one hand, while whisking with the other. Repeat this three times. Whisk the mixture into the pot and cook below a simmer — for a couple of minutes. Do not let it boil or the soup will break.
  6. Puree the soup with an immersion blender, season to taste with salt and pepper. It should be rather thin, but feel free to add a little flour to thicken or extra stock to thin.

My Beautiful Thing

After years of disappointing yields, POD is swimming (or drowning) in garden-fresh produce. What a deliciously beautiful thing.

Harvest TimeMy days as a container gardener were rewarding, for sure. I loved pushing seeds into the soil with the Hurricane’s tiny fingers assisting, we loved watching those tender shoots push through the deluxe organic-by-the-bag soil, and we loved June. We loved how healthy and vibrant the young plants looked, we loved the possibilities and the promise, and we loved having the only garden on the block. Heck, one of the only gardens in all of Pennsport.

For all the pleasure, those days were also pretty demoralizing. What I didn’t love so much? July and August. And aphids. Given the scarcity of delectable gardens in the neighborhood, each and every pest and squirrel came a’callin’ each and every year. Still, we managed to eke out enough of a harvest to come back for more, year after year, but only barely.

And on the menu for this week?

And on the shopping list? Lamb and Surryano and not much else.

Hitting Reset

071305_silverqueengrabThis is, apparently, something of a recurring theme for me lately. As loyal readers know, Plants On Deck recently relocated to East Nashville after over a decade on a 10×10 deck in South Philly, leaving dozens of pots and containers, a couple of orphaned blueberries, and a much-loved but aging and slivered little blue deck behind.

Philly’s unrelenting sun, dead calm 71615_melondays, and the harsh heat reflecting from endless miles of pavement and cheek-by-jowl row homes that felt like brick ovens, along with murderous hot nights and long dry weeks, made it tough going for landless container gardeners like myself. Water had to be hauled up the sladder two to three times per day, and despite the well-intended efforts of neighbors, friends, and house-sitters, returning from vacation always marked the beginning of the end: it was simply impossible to water enough and the ever-present aphids, finding the one patch of green in Pennsport, were unstoppable.

070405_tomatohunt3Nashville is hot. Damn hot. But honestly, the brutal edge that made August in Philly feel like what I imagine Mercury must feel like is largely absent here. (Granted, it’s still July.) And the soil here, it grows stuff! This year, returning from vacation meant harvesting nearly 40 cucumbers, 10 cups of basil, three muskmelons, a quart of plum tomatoes, a generous bunch of chard, a half pound of green beans, and heaps of luscious herbs.

Now, after several delicious Silver Queen centered meals, I’ve yanked the corn and spent beans, rerouted the feral Kentucky Wonder pole beans to the property-line fence and have planted a dozen more Royal Burgundy bush beans and spinach seeds. A second garden in late July may be too much to hope for, but then again, pretty much everything about this patch of land, right down to the arrowhead, has been a surprise.

Speaking of reset, while I recognize that Plants On Deck may no longer be the most appropriate name for these gardening meanderings, it’s here to stay. Put the platter on the deck, lower the needle, and keep on rocking, Music City.

The Pleasures of Chard

062905_chardfordinnerOne of the more reliable crops for POD has always been chard. This year, magically, we managed to plant the perfect amount. Six plants per square foot (for a total of 12 plants) have kept this little family, and our neighbors, comfortably fed with crisp, brilliantly red chard.

And, a bit surprisingly, it’s turned into on of the Hurricane’s favorite veggies. Upon seeing a pile of chard in the Endurer’s motley summer salad, she plucked up a fork and snatched a few off his plate.  Last year’s hit, Swiss chard goma-ae, has been trumped by a couple of new recipes. Enjoy.

A Soup of Lentils, Bacon, and Chard

This recipe is brought to you courtesy of the wonderful and envy-making (the book I would hope to write were I a far better writer, gardener, and cook) Tender, by Nigel Slater. If your passions are evenly divided between your harvest and your snug kitchen, you must add this book to your shelves.  It’s so satisfying to wander out the back door and gather a basket brimming with chard, parsley, and mint. This is a man who looks at his bounty and puts it to noble use.

a large onion
olive oil
garlic — 3 or 4 cloves
unsmoked bacon or pancetta — a good handful, chopped
flat-leaf parsley — a small bunch
chard — a large bunch
Puy or Castelluccio lentils — 1 1/4 cups (250g)
stock or, at a push, water — 4 cups (a liter)
a bay leaf — optional
juice of a lemon
mint — a small bunch

Peel the onion and chop it finely, then let it soften in a deep pan over medium to low heat with a little olive oil. Peel the garlic, slice it thickly, then add to the onion with the chopped bacon or pancetta. Chop the parsley and stir it in.

Wash the card thoroughly, set aside four beautiful stalks and their leaves, then separate the remaining stalks and leaves. Chop the stalks coarsely and set the leaves aside. Add the chopped chard stalks to the onion and bacon and continue cooking.

Wash the lentils thoroughly, then stir them into the onion and bacon. Pour over the stock or water and bring to a boil, skimming off any froth that comes to the surface. you can add a bay leaf or two if you like. Decrease the heat so that the lentils simmer merrily, then almost cover the pot and simmer until they are tender, but far from collapse — about thirty minutes, depending on your lentils. [I find that 20 minutes is usually sufficient for Puy lentils.]

Tear the reserved chard leaves up a bit. Stir them into the soup. Steam the reserved whole leaves and stalks until tender.

Season the soup with salt, black pepper, lemon juice, and the mint leaves, tasting as you go. Ladle the hot soup into warm bowls, add the steamed chard, and serve with more lemon and mint for those who want it.

POD’s Garden Farro Salad

10 ounces farro (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cups chicken stock (optional)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces green beans, cut into 1 to 2-inch pieces
8 ounces Swiss chard stems (leaves removed), cut into 1 to 2-inch pieces

1/2 cup pitted black olives
1 medium red pepper, cut into thin strips (about 4 ounces or 1 cup)
2 ounces Parmesan, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
1 small bunch chives, snipped
1 small bunch parsley, chopped

1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of stock and 2 c. water with the farro and salt (the stock is optional, but it adds a nice depth to the dish). Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the farro is almost tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain well (the remaining liquid can be saved for your next batch of farro). Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans and chard. Cook for 2 minutes. Transfer the cooked green beans and chard to a bowl of ice water and let cool for 2 minutes. Drain the green beans.

Once the farro has cooled add the green beans, chard, olives, red pepper, Parmesan, and chives. Stir to combine. In a small bowl mix together the sherry vinegar, olive oil, mustard, pepper, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine. Pour the sherry vinaigrette over the farro salad. Toss to combine and serve.

Plants On Deck: July 2015

  

Hey Self: Wenke Wink

Sometimes, I’m a little too Dutch frugal for my own good. Or for the good of my garden, for that matter.

hurricane plantsBack in May, when the lovely gentleman from the Gardens of Babylon dropped off $10-$15 worth of starts (from hometown nursery back in Southwest Michigan, Wenke’s) along with the shipment of soil, my little transplanted East Nashvillian (and admittedly cheapskate) heart skipped a beat.  I felt like I’d won a kismet lottery: free veggies! From Kalamazoo to Nashville! Clearly it was meant to be.

No, the corn wasn’t the variety I’d hoped to plant, nor were the 0623_dillcaterpillarcucumbers and peppers. Dill? Who needs dill? Oh, what the heck, I’ll find room. Lemongrass? Hmm, that could be useful. At any rate, the three bush cucumbers would only take up one measly square each and, so really, what could go wrong?

Well, those “bush cucumbers” weren’t really bush and two of them weren’t really cucumbers at all. Like I said, who needs dill? The bottleneck gourd is long gone, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pull perfectly healthy Athena muskmelons (Gah! Dutch strikes again.) And now, it’s far too late. The garden belongs to them.

PLANTS ON DECK 2015: Hey Self, revised and updated

0623_mrstripeyMr. Stripey tomato (1 plant/2 sf)

  • As of 6/23 the plants look pretty good (some yellowing along the bottom) and we have some blooms, but no fruits
  • Since mid-May he’s been fertilized, organically, twice a month
  • The two Mr. S’s planted along the south lawn are growing similarly.

Roma Tomato and Red Cherry (front of house, planted 4/25)roma tomato

  • They are just starting to go gangbusters; however, I’m a little worried that as the days grow shorter (morning sun only — in shade by 1:00 at summer solstice), their fruits will be cut short
  • Plant more yellow cherry and pear tomatoes

bush zucchini (3 plants/4 sf)bush zucchini

  • I love these guys! And so does the Hurricane. Looks like we have a new veggie vying for green bean’s top spot
  • Their location, in the south west corner, works well and although they’re cheating into the neighboring square a little, 3 plants/4 sf appear to be working thus far
  • Plant more

basil (4 plants/1 sf)

  • I mean, it’s cool to have basil leaves the size of your hand, but giant basil it is so not our favorite. It’s pretty and yes, gigantic, but it doesn’t pack the punch we like our basil to deliver
  • These got squashed in the first row, SW quadrant, between the tomato and the bush cucumber that isn’t, so lack of sun is slowing them down
  • Several were planted at the front of the house and have been transplanted to the herb garden where there is more sun.
  • Plant more, plant differently.

marigolds (8 plants/2 sf):

  • These French dwarfs didn’t stand a chance. Next year big, tall African marigolds need to keep the tomatoes company
  • Plant more flowers, not just marigolds. Need butterflies and bees

bush cucumber (3 plants/3 sf 1 mystery, full-size)

  • It is impossible to plant too crazed cucumbermany cucumbers — the Hurricane will eat them the day they ripen.
  • Yes, Endurer, you said this in April and again in May. When I thought I had planted three Spacemasters
  • I did not
  • Fortunately, rather than pitch any, I planted three along the south side of the house. (Go D-team!)
  • Plant more — bush varieties for the raised bed and trailing varieties for the south wall.

chard [seed] (16-24ish/2 sf)0623_eatenchard

  • Figure out what’s eating the chard — it’s not us and diatomaceous earth ain’t doing much
  • Designate one bed to be planted largely with spring vegetables and stick lotsa’ chard and spinach in it
  • This year I staggered the seeds —  8 plants maturing at one time is not sufficient, 16 should do the trick
  • Plant more

romaine lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)

  • These were terrific!steak caesar
  • We enjoyed the outer leaves on sandwiches for weeks and the grand finale — featuring Porter Road Butcher’s steak — Caesar was sublime
  • They are done and gone by early/mid June
  • Planted in the third row, these were sheltered in the front by the crazed cucumber and in the back by towering Silver Queen. An excellent location, actually. By the time they had finished, the zucchini, creeping cucurbit, and sprawling Purple Royalty were happy to take over the real estate.
  • Plant more (both in the spring bed and in the summer bed as described above)

butter leaf lettuce (4 plants/1 sf)

  • Meh
  • Plant more heat-tolerant varieties

purple royalty bush beans [seeds] (18/3 sf)0623_purpleroyalty

  • That staggered planting thing? Well, it’s a good idea in theory, but in this house, we need at least 18 plants/3 SF  sowed at the same time to yield enough for a meal
  • I thought that bush beans were pretty compact, it turns out they’re not. Not really. These princes have sprawled over the end of the bed, broken in the wind and choked out the peppers
  • Plant more, do not plant in the front row; try the second/third rows

Kentucky Wonder pole beans [seeds] ) (12/2 sf)Kentucky Wonder

  • Too soon to tell, but they have shot right off the ends of their 4′ poles and are smothering the 6’+ Silver Queen
  • Plant in the back row!

red bell pepper (3 plants/3sf)

Silver Queen corn (12 plants/4 sf)

  • It’s too soon to say
  • Consider planting along the chain-link fence?

muskmelon 2 4 plants/4 sf):athena cantelope

  • Oops
  • NE corner seems to be a great location
  • One musk melon should do the trick

Babies!

baby purple royalty  bush beansbaby zucchini with blossombaby cucumberdead cucumber beetleGardener+Baby Vegetables = Dead Cucumber Beetles