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.