Chicago Greens

After traveling well over 2500 miles of the upper Midwest — by car, ferry, bicycle, and foot — POD has returned. While wandering our way through the windy city we discovered what might well be the best urban gardening store ever: Sprout Home.

Enjoying Chicago’s delayed growing season we sampled fresh peas, asparagus, and Swiss chard (along with roast chicken, lamb, lake trout, and short rib tortellini) at the new Nightwood Restaurant in the Pilsen neighborhood.  Excellent.  At Avec, the fennel and Brussel sprouts took the day and at the Publican the pork belly with fava was fabulous.

But oh good sweet dessert lord…the Baked Alaska with homemade strawberry ice cream, shortbread cookie, and wicked strawberry rhubarb sauce (served with a complimentary glass of Muscat — thanks, bartender guy) at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate wins, hands down.

Stay tuned for updates from the Little Blue Deck, but in meantime, enjoy this vision of lettuce and Swiss chard.

Chicago Lettuce
Chicago Lettuce
Fields of Green
Fields of Green

Spring Panzanella

Hey, fresh peas! And the asparagus looks awesome! Oooh, swimming in Swiss chard. What to do? What to do?

Ta da! Here’s a welcome-to-garden-fresh-produce panzanella-like salad. The bread was sliced off a lovely husband-baked loaf (both the husband and the bread are lovely, thank you) of French bread and POD provided the Swiss chard, basil, tarragon, and thyme. Coulton Organics via South Philly’s Headhouse Farmers’ Market must be thanked for the amazing little peas and toothsome asparagus. Genovese basil seedlings from Longview Farm joined the ranks several weeks ago.

Spring Panzanella

8 oz bread, cut into thick slices — stale is fine
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

¼ c. + 1 tbs. olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
¼ c. fresh basil, chiffonaded
1/3 c. parmesan
1 bunch fresh asparagusSwiss chard, basil, tarragon, thyme
3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
3 c. fresh peas
5 c. fresh spinach OR Swiss chard
salt and pepper

1 chicken breast (appx. 6 oz)
1 tbs. olive oil
3 tbs. fresh herbs (tarragon and thyme or basil and oregano, for example)
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

1) Marinate the chicken breast for 1-5 hours (ideally 2-3, but whatever works).

2) Prep the bread for the gill by brushing the crushed garlic clove over both sides of the bread. (Actually, try grating the clove on a small cheese grater — you get more of the garlic oil on the bread that way.) Brush the bread with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside

3) Whisk ¼ c. olive oil with lemon juice in a large bowl. Brush the asparagus with the sauce and place the asparagus in a grill tray (line the tray with aluminum foil so none of the tasty asparagus slips out – supposedly you can skewer asparagus, but it’s never worked for us). Leave remaining juice and oil in the bowl – add a little more if you like your panzanella wet. Toss in basil and parmesan. Stir.

4) Heat  remaining 1 tbs. olive oil over medium high heat. Add thinly sliced garlic and sauté until the garlic turns a light golden brown. Scoop the garlic out and set aside.

5) Place a few ice cubes in a small bowl with cold water. Toss the spinach or chard into the hot, garlicky oil. Sauté very briefly until barely wilted. Scoop the spinach or chard out of the pan and into the ice water to “shock” it. This will prevent further cooking and maintain a nice bright green color. Squeeze out most of the water and add to the big bowl of lemon juice and oil. Stir.

6) Bring to boil enough water to cover the peas. Throw in the peas. Cook until desired consistency. We like our peas tender-crisp – maybe 3-4 minutes. Drain the peas and add them to the big bowl. Stir. Add salt and pepper to taste.

7) Grill the asparagus until desired tenderness, grill the chicken until it’s cooked through but not puck-like – we usually cheat and slice open the center of the breast before turning off the heat and accidentally serving raw chicken. Grill the bread until it reaches your desired crunchiness.

8 ) Slice the asparagus and bread, mix them into the vegetable base. Spoon onto plates, sprinkling reserved garlic chips on top. Slice chicken on top of the panzanella.

Dinner’s On

I love growing vegetables. Why? Because I love eating.

Keep an eye open for recipes featuring garden fresh season ingredients. I’ll even try to remember to take pretty pictures…next time.

Not only that, but I’ll let you know when we cheat. This asparagus rice soup, for example, stars asparagus from Culton Organics found at Headhouse Square’s Farmers’ Market. I’m afraid the little blue deck isn’t sporting any asparagus this spring.

Asparagus and Rice Soup
– serves 4 –

Very slightly adapted from Nick Kindelsperger’s Serious Eats recipe

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onions
1/4 cup white rice
4 cups chicken stock
8 ounces asparagus, stems removed, sliced diagonally into 1/4 inch pieces
4 ounces bacon or pancetta, diced
Salt and pepper

1. Pour 3 tablespoons of the oil into a medium saucepan. Tun the heat to medium and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 10 minutes.

2. Dump in the rice and then pour in the stock. Bring to boil, reduce to a simmer, and then cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the rice is tender.

3. Meanwhile, add the bacon and cook for a few minutes, until some of the fat has rendered. Then add the asparagus and stir until the asparagus is coated with oil. Then cook, without stirring for about 4 minutes. Stir and cook for 4 minutes. The asparagus should be tender and delicious. Cook for 4 minutes more if it is not ready.

4. Dump the asparagus and bacon into the saucepan. Bring to a boil, cook for 1 minute, and then turn off the heat. Add lots of black pepper and season with salt to taste. Optional: add a dash of cream to each bowl for added depth.