Despair and Redemption

Late Spring Harvest.jpgAfter descending into a pit of election-related despair for a few long months, we have emerged winners! Thanks to a new job, fresh vegetables, a happier Hurricane, and a brand-new Beta fish named Squiggles, we’re looking on the brighter side of life.

In celebration of my folks’ 49th anniversary and my own 19th, we triumphantly harvested $12-worth of fennel, a priceless romanesco, baby carrots, French beans, and a few watermelon radishes for good measure. All of which went beautifully with a feast of filet, shrimp, and fish.

Fennel with Romanesco, Baby Carrots, Haricort Verts, and Radishes

6-8 baby carrots (peeled and halved or quartered into similar sizes as necessary)
3-4 fennel bulbs (thick stalks discarded and  bulbs cut into halves or quarters and then thinly sliced)
4 watermelon radishes (treat them as you would carrots. Totally optional, btw.)
1 head of Romanesco (washed thoroughly to remove loopers and cut into florets)
1-2 cups haricort verts (stem ends removed, snap them half if you absolutely must)
4 cloves of garlic (or 2 shallots) peeled and minced
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoons white wine
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
¾ teaspoon salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper


  1. Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 400 °F.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the minced garlic or shallots with the olive oil, white wine vinegar, white wine, Dijon mustard, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine carrots, fennel, romanesco and haricort verts. (Or whatever vegetables your garden has decided to provide)
  4. Toss the vegetables with the prepared vinaigrette. Arrange vegetables on 2 cookie sheets.
  5. Cover pan with foil and roast vegetables for 15 minutes, swapping racks halfway through the cooking time.
  6. Uncover and roast, turning occasionally for 10 minutes.
  7. Switch pans and roast until vegetables are tender and browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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.

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.


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.

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



First Yield

swiss chardEven with several consecutive days boasting a heat index of 100+, POD finds it hard to hate summer.

It helps that the first real container-grown harvests are coming in. A handful of bright green leaves (and orange- and red-stems) added an extra shot of color and a bit of something in one of the Endurer’s already perfect veggie meals.

Catalan Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Almonds

Serves: 4-6

Source: adapted from The Traveler’s Lunchbox and The Essential Mediterranean by Nancy Harmon Jenkins

2 (14oz/400g) cans chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and grated or finely minced
1 can (28oz/800g) plum tomatoes in juice, preferably Italian, drained and chopped
pinch sugar
generous pinch saffron threads
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup (50g) lightly toasted almonds
small handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bunch (6-8 oz) Swiss Chard, sliced into slender ribbons
2 cups (350ml) chicken or vegetable stock

juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste 

In a heavy frying pan, heat the oil over medium/medium-high heat and sauté the onion until it is golden brown and very soft, about 25 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and sugar, letting them fry until they melt into the onions and form a paste, about another 10-15 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat.

In a large mortar, combine the saffron, garlic, almonds and parsley and pound to a thick paste (add a little water if necessary to keep things moving). Add the paste to the onion mixture along with the stock and the chickpeas, bring to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce, about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and lemon juice to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature; you’ll find that this dish keeps developing in flavor the longer it sits.

Yes, Fried Pickles

fried picklesOh, sweet fatty goodness, yes. (Fry sauce, not batter, pictured.)

The point of this post is not to tell you all about how fabulous, I mean, fanfabulous deep-fried pickles are, all crispy and salty sour, but to share a long overdue update about last year’s pickling adventures. The pickles? They worked really, really well. Thanks, Endurer.

The deep fried pickles? Divine. Thanks, Endurer.

Crispy fried…(fill in the blank):
Courtesy, more than less, of David Leite’s The New Portuguese Table.

1 tbs kosher salt
1 lb asparagus (or PICKLES or beans or cauliflower or whatever)
3/4 c. plus 2 tbs flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
3/4 c. very cold seltzer water
1/2 tsp piri-piri sauce (or sriacha)
vegetable oil for deep-frying

fry sauce for dipping (mayo, ketchup, sriacha [or gochujang] mixed to your taste preferences.)

  1. Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large skillet.
  2. Stir together the flour and baking powder in a small, shallow dish, and season with a pinch of salt. Whisk in the seltzer and piri-piri [sriacha] sauce; don’t worry about any small lumps. The consistency should be like thin pancake batter; if the mixture is too thick, pour in more seltzer.
  3. When the oil registers 350 on a deep-fat or candy thermometer, dip 5 spears in the batter and turn to coat. Carefully slide them into the oil and fry until golden brown, 3-7 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the asparagus [or pickles or whatever] to paper towel to drain. Sprinkle withg salt while still sizzling, then place them on the rack in the oven to keep warm. [POD: Seriously, David? People, this is where you hover in the kitchen, wait for a few seconds, pick a tasty looking spear and gingerly but enthusiastically and toss it from hand to hand, hopping and blowing. Dip in sauce, chew with your mouth open, repeat.]
  4. NOTE: if using asparagus, first you’ll want to trim and par boil the asparagus for 2-3 minutes and then drop them into ice water to stop the cooking. Transfer them to paper towels to dry. Then you can heat the oil, prepare the batter, and move along as detailed above.

Mint Fizz

mint fizzIt’s hot. POD-tenders need treats, too.

Recipe courtesy of food52 — SERVES ABOUT 2 QUARTS

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves, washed with stems removed
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ice
  • club soda

Make mint simple syrup by combining sugar, water, and mint in a saucepan and bringing it to a boil then immediately allowing it to simmer for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Strain the leaves.

To assemble the limeade, add about 1 ounce each of the simple syrup and lime juice in a tall glass filled with ice. Top with about 6 ounces of club soda. Stir. Garnish with fresh mint or a lime wedge.

(POD modification: add rum, gin, or vodka. Now that’s a treat.)

The Fever

Ashley and Arugula
Ashley and Arugula

Sure, there’s a column to be written. But it’s gorgeous Sunday. And Plants on Deck would waaaay rather garden than write about gardening. [Yet here I am, writing about gardening but not writing about the gardening I’m supposed to be writing about. Hmmm.]

Rasishes_MayBesides, it’s time for a reseeding update as  the fruits of the earliest labors are already being harvested! Last night’s dinner featured a salad composed entirely of Ashley lettuce, arugula, winter cress, and a variety of random radishes saved from last year’s supply (all planted around March 13). And a couple weeks earlier, the wonderful husband made his last-meal roast chicken and mashed potatoes with healthy doses of POD-grown thyme, rosemary, and chives. herbal harvest(This umami-tastic miracle meal is surely what this eater would choose should she have only one meal left on this earth. Preferably with a healthy side of More Vetri than Chang Brussels Sprouts. Hence, the “last meal” business).

While the peas aren’t sprouting nearly as quickly as hoped for, they’re not getting yanked. So, committing long-term to them, Scarlet Nantes carrots have joined the Maestro on deck to maximize the container’s use and the Prussian Blues can do what they do out front.

Bartram's Winter Cress
Bartram's Winter Cress

Strangely, for the second year running, the Baker Creek pepper cress failed to emerge (thankfully, the Bartram’s Winter Cress is doing just fine) so that widow box has been reseeded with a second round of radishes and tennis ball lettuce.

And, finally, a brave tarragon that spent most of the winter hibernating in an office window sill, joined the chives, thyme, and oregano in the well-used herb planter recently relocated from the little blue deck, to the plants out front.

Because you know you want it:

More Vetri Than Chang Brussels Sprouts
20ish small Brussels sprouts
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced into thirds lengthwise
1 tbs grape seed oil
3 thick-slice pieces of bacon, cut into lardon-sized pieces
1 tsp sherry vinegar
2 tbs butter
salt and pepper

1) Trim the root end of each sprout, and cut in half lengthwise. Rub the flat side of each half with the cut sides of the garlic clove.

2) Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add the sprouts and shake the pan to coat them with oil. Turn the sprouts cut side down and scatter the pancetta in the pan. Cook undisturbed for 6-8 minutes, or until the sprouts are deeply browned (almost black) on the cut sides.

3) Add the vinegar and butter, tossing to coat the sprouts. Season with salt and pepper.

4) Oh my.

Gumbo z’herbes


Go ahead, say it. “Ze’hairbbsz.” Now say it again. It’s fun, right?!

Gumbo is good. Sooo good. Preferably served up with chicken and andouille. Even better? When it’s consumed after a cocktail at Arnaud’s and after a big, juicy plate of Gulf oysters. When not in Nola, though, our own Philly-bound stews have to do.

As much as we love it, the CSA tends to leave us with lots of leafy greens that we’re hard-pressed to used inventively (mmm. collards. bacon. mmm.) and the occasional veggie that evokes a shrug and an “eh” (like zucchini).

Fortunately, the house is brimming in cookbooks and this particular Mark Bittman recipe  made use of late-season homegrown herbs. The result? Well, shrug and “eh.” Until a healthy shot of vinegar, salt, and spice were added to the mix, that is. Oh, and a real roux replaced the cloying olive oil-based travesty called for by the original.

Green Gumbo with Potatoes and Zucchini
(inspired by Mark Bittman and roux by John Besh)

Serves 6-8

1/4-1/2 lb andouille sausage, sliced into 1/4″ coins
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. flour
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2-3 tbsp. minced garlic
salt and black pepper
6 c. chicken (or vegetable) stock
1 tbsp. fresh thyme
1 tbsp fresh oregano
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. cayenne, or to taste
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika, or to taste
1/2 tsp. celery salt (optional)
1 lb leafy greens (like dandelion, mustard, or radish)
1 large waxy potato, peeled and chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
1/4 cider vinegar, or to taste
parsley for garnish

  1. Saute the andouille for a couple of minutes in a large heavy-bottomed pot and set aside. (Do yourself a favor, avoid the Whole Foods stuff and go to a real butcher. If you’re from Philly, check out D’Angelo Brothers or even better, Martin’s Specialty Sausages.)
  2. In the same pot, make the roux by heating the oil over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil. It will immediately begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate and continue whisking until the roux takes on a deep brown color, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic and raise the heat to medium. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have softened, another 10 minutes or so.
  4. Stir in the stock, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, cayenne, paprika, greens, potatoes, and zucchini. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. Add the vinegar and taste for seasoning.
  5. Garnish, serve.