Playing With Fire

0928_salsaIt would figure that POD’s record tomato harvest occurred during a year when my stomach is less than amenable to tomatoes. Even so, nary a tomato has gone to waste — unless you count the scores of fruits that the *$@%)$! squirrels nibbled, and then left to rot on the vine. The Hurricane’s lunches haven’t been tomato-free since April and the freezer is stuffed with roasted red pepper sauce, tomato gravy, and three gallon bags of plum tomatoes.

Yet the tomatoes keep on coming.

And coming. Although they’re slowing down.

As canning tomatoes is evidently tantamount to jaywalking across Lower Broadway when the bachelorettes still think they can drive, I’ll refrain from posting my very non-expert canning instructions and instead say: without messing with the acid-to-tomato proportions, I sort of followed these recipes:

National Center for Home Food Preservation
Simply Recipes
Ball Fresh Preserving

A Second Harvest

0928_zucchinireduxAfter it became clear that summer squash had made the Hurricane’s top-ten summer veggie list, we planted a second batch of zucchini soon after the first batch had tapped out. This time around, they occupy real estate formerly held by under-producing purple royal beans. Located at the edge of the bed — which seems to work well and allows them to drape down to the grass — they occupy about four square feet of space. The three young plants (seeded around 8/21) contributed to a delicious Moro side which accompanied the ridiculously chewy good burgers from Porter Road Butcher. And there are more to come. Both burgers and courgettes.

(Note: three plants may not be sufficient unto the day. The zucchini appear to take a little longer to mature in September than they did in July. And, well, three plants weren’t enough in July, either.)

Courgettes with Almonds
(proportions and ingredients customized to POD’s harvest, but adapted from Moro East) — feeds three as a small size

8 oz courgettes (AKA zucchini) topped, tailed, an sliced into thin rounds
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs blanched almonds (I’ve also used marcona almonds and pine nuts)
1 small garlic clove, thinly sliced
8-10 cherry or plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, halved, and seeded (optional) (confession: I have never blanched, peeled, and seeded a cherry tomato. Ever. I’m sure that the chefs would shudder, but come on, that’s crazycakes.)
1 tsp chopped mint (POD’s mint is recovering from a failed attempt at keeping it corralled in a container. Don’t worry, it’s gonna’ pull through, but I substituted fresh oregano last night and it worked like a charm.)

Toss the courgettes with the salt and place in a colander. Allow them to sit for at least 10 minutes over a draining board or sink, then pat dry with some paper towel.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the almonds and fry for a few minutes, until they just start to turn a pale pink-brown, then remove them with a slotted spoon and add the courgettes to the pan. (Keep on eye on the almonds as they will go from perfect to burned within seconds.) Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the garlic, tomatoes, and half the mint and continue to cook for about 15 minutes, until very soft, sweet and starting to break down. Now return the almonds to the pan an cook for 5 minutes more, squashing any bits of tomato tomato that are too large for your liking. Add the remaining mint, season with salt and pepper and serve.

First, Next, Then

92515_tomatotimeFirst there were tomatoes. Eight pounds of them.

092515_tomatosauce1Next there was garlic. 21 cloves.

092515_tomatosauce2Then there was gravy. Frankies Spuntino style.

For years I struggled to make a decent tomato sauce. In went the onions, the garlic, the dried herbs(!), the carrots(!), the vinegar, the sugar, the whatever. I’m Dutch. I’m not supposed to make a good sauce.

And I didn’t.

And then I moved to Philly and discovered gravy. Not just any gravy, but my Italian friend’s grandma’s gravy. Which is damn fine. And simple. But I still couldn’t do it right. And then I discovered Frankies Spuntino. Yeah, it’s sauce, but is so much more. With so much less.

Adapted by POD from The Frankies Sputino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual

1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
10-20 cloves garlic
8-10 lbs fresh tomatoes (I used a combination of plum tomatoes, Mr. Stripy and yellow tomatoes –which made for a lovely-looking gravy. But Romas are the way to go.)
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp salt

  1. Bring a very large, very deep pot of water to boil. Ideally a canning pot with a built-in colander. Score the bottoms of your tomatoes with an X and place the tomatoes in the boiling water for 30-45 seconds. Drain and rinse with cool water. Remove the skins.
  2. Combine the olive oil and garlic in a Dutch oven and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring or swirling occasionally, until the garlic is deeply colored — striation of deep brown running through golden cloves — and fragrant. If the garlic starts to smell acrid or sharp or is taking on color quickly, pull the pan off the stove and reduce heat.
  3. While the garlic is getting golden, deal with the skinned tomatoes. Pour them into a bowl and crush them with your hands. You’ll want fairly small chunks.
  4. When the garlic is just about done, add the red pepper flakes to the oil and cook them for 30 seconds or a minute, to infuse their flavor and spice into the oil. Dump in the tomatoes, add the salt, and stir well. Turn the heat up to medium, get the sauce simmering at a gentle pace, not aggressively, and simmer for 4-5 hours. Stir it from time to time. Mother it a little bit. (And, because I’m a Dutchwoman with a garden, I added some basil and oregano about halfway through the cooking. Because I couldn’t not. But you really shouldn’t.)
  5. Check the sauce for salt at the end. the sauce can be cooked with meat at this  point, or stored, covered, in the fridge for a few days or frozen for a long winter’s night.

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.

 

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.

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.

So Not Fried Green Tomatoes

FullSizeRenderWhich are gross.

A couple of weeks before the first below-freezing evening struck (um, last night) Plants On Deck managed to harvest a few cups of nice, green (and mostly green) cherry tomatoes.

But what to do with them? This simple, but correct, recipe from the NYT was absolutely perfect. And, assuming you season the lamb chops the night before, you’re looking at an honest-to-goodness weeknight meal.  GreenSliced

Eating Virtuously: Swiss Chard Goma-ae

062014_chardfaceLet’s hear it for Swiss chard. Each year, Plants On Deck makes a vow to plant enough of something, anything, to enjoy a real, substantial yield. Tomatoes, beans, peppers and cucumbers have all had their shots — to varying success.  This year, POD set expectations shockingly low and let Swiss chard have a run at the title.

And it’s working. Two 24″ pots, and a couple dozen plants easily feeds a family of three that likes to eat. Chard is a pretty versatile beast — think spinach with a kick — and can be prepared any number of ways. (Oh, hey, and it’s crazy healthy. It’s good for hair, eyes, has vitamins K, A, and C, and it’s a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and fiber. Yup, it cures cancer, too. Eh, probably not, but it’s all anti-oxidant and stuff.)

This is at least the fourth cutting (fresh seedlings are in the works), so the stalks are pretty tough and the leaves have a clear bite to them, but this preparation, lovingly honed by the Endurer, covers a multitude of sins.

72614_chardmolehillSwiss Chard Goma-ae
makes 1-2 c.

20-30 oz Swiss chard (or spinach), tough stem removed
2tbs sesame seeds, toasted
2tsp raw sugar
2tsp soy sauce

Blanch chard for a few minutes in a big pot of unsalted water. The leaves should be bright and tender. Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle, grind the toasted sesame seeds and sugar together. Whisk in soy sauce. Drain the chard, wring it out in a kitchen towel, chop it up a little bit, mix in the goma-ae (sesame sauce). Eat virtuously.

Here’s a couple more Swiss chard recipes from the POD archives:

Swiss chard and preserved lemons
Garlicky chard pasta

 

 

Paltry Peas

6_16_14punypeasOh, how we love English shell peas. This year was going to be the year that that an honest-to-goodness yield would be enjoyed. Approximately 15 of the 20 peas ‘n a pot plants germinated, but the plants were so teeny tiny (they rose to the dizzying height of 3-4″ — which is puny, even for a dwarf) that each produced one one or two pods, with 2-5 peas each. Which means we harvested about a 1/4 cup of peas.

Boo. Here’s the thing: if you can believe it, they may have been, GASP, over-watered. Excessive hydration is rarely a probably for POD, but the Hurricane helper happens to love hoses and water. So you know, things happen. For future reference, though, here’s a handy how-to from the University of Minnesota.

6_16_14peaharvestThese little guys were planted in mid-April and harvested this week. Which, thankfully, lined up perfectly with the bag o’ peas from Greensgrow’s CSA. Which mean’s the Endurer enjoyed a lovely Father’s Day dinner of seared scallops with uber locally-grown herbs, peas with fresh-picked mint, and lemon strawberry bars for dessert.