6.9.14 Spring seedlings and thinnings

6.9.14

“How insignificant our effort beside that of a seed.”
— Marada Cook, Crown O’Maine Organic Cooperative

Above: Agretti seedlings.
Seeds planted this week: Carrots, fun jen; second round of favas, radishes, arugula, salad greens. 

6.9.14

Above: Comparing transplanted fennel (left) with directly seeded (right).
Seedlings transplanted: Fennel, cucumber.

6.9.14

Still in the wings: Basil, tomatoes, eggplant, celeriac, leeks.

6.9.14 Garden thinnings

Thinnings: Salad greens (above) and kale.

6.9.14

Harvesting: Asparagus, rhubarb.

6.9.14

Preserving: Freezing rhubarb.

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2 Spring Pizzas: Asparagus + Arugula

2 Spring Pizzas

 Authenticity aside, pizza is a personal thing. It’s why, with so many places to choose from, we still make our own. In keeping with the season, we made up a pair of what we call spring pizzas, topped with pillowy soft mozzarella and whatever’s fresh in the garden — in this case, asparagus and arugula. For the first round (above), we layered dollops of basil pesto with thin slices of mozzarella, and scattered a couple of handfuls of chopped green garlic and asparagus on top. Tip: Cutting asparagus into bite-sized rounds allows it to cook with the rest of the pizza. If it’s too early for basil pesto, another such as pea greensgarlic scape or sorrel, will do; and if garlic greens aren’t available, scallions make a fine substitute.

2 Spring Pizzas

The second pizza was covered with a layer of mozzarella and grated parmesan, baked, then topped with a tangle of arugula that was lightly dressed with lemon and olive oil. The residual heat is just enough to wilt the arugula so it melds with the rest of the pizza. Tip: Toss the arugula with the lemon juice before adding the olive oil; coating the leaves with an acid first protects the cell walls and keeps the leaves from wilting too soon.

Lately, we’ve been using the recipe for Roberta’s Pizza Dough, which comes with an excellent video. There’s only a minimal amount of kneading, and, if you choose, an overnight rise in the fridge allows it to develop additional flavor. The mix of all purpose and 00 flour gives a thin, airy, and lightly chewy crust, with enough integrity to support the toppings, in keeping with the spirit of Roberta’s intent: “A true Neapolitan pie is so waifish that you have to eat it with a fork and knife. We think eating with your hands beats eating with a fork.”

Local ingredients: Mozzarella from Wolf Meadow Farm; green garlic from Meadow’s Mirth; asparagus and arugula from the garden.

Submitted to YeastSpotting.

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6.2.14 Kitchen garden herbs

6.2.14 Kitchen herbs and garden thinnings

“…there is nothing more inspiring than walking into a kitchen that is full of the aromas of herbs as their essential oils mingle with the food.”
— Jekka McVicar

By now, the herb garden’s had enough time to allow for any latecomers. After taking stock, we gathered up replacements for those that didn’t make it through the winter. There are the usual suspects, like parsley and basil, but we also take this as an opportunity to get familiar with some new ones. Into the garden this week:

Angelica (Angelica archangelica) — Perennial. History of use for magical purposes, from which it derives its name. Licorice-like flavor, stems often candied, and young leaves for salads. This is a new herb for us, and accompanies the recent planting of sweet cicely, another anise-like herb from the family Apiaceae that we’re still learning about.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) — Annual. This fragrant, tender herb doesn’t travel well as the leaves are easily crushed, but earns its place in the garden both as a companion plant to tomatoes and as an essential in summer cookery. Though it comes in many tempting varieties, we always make sure to put in a sizable planting of the classic Sweet Genovese. 

Holy Basil (Ocimum basilicum sanctum) — Annual. Also known as Sacred Basil or Tulsi; originally from Thailand, where its grown around Buddhist temples. Our first time with it, we found it at The Herb Farmacy.

Spicy Globe Basil (Ocimum basilicum minimum) — Annual. Also known as Greek Basil, this bush variety grows in a compact mound, and is popular its size, flavor and tender stems. Its spicy sweet flavor lends punch to salads, vinegar, pasta, as well as pesto. We’ve struggled with different varieties of basil, and are trying to plant them later and when the weather is assuredly warmer. This is a new variety to us, and we can easily imagine a whole row of them edging a bed, forming an aromatic miniature hedge.

Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Horapha’) — Annual. More pungent than its Italian relative, Thai basil brings its own fresh brightness to such dishes as summer rolls and rice noodle salads, without which something would seem missing.

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) — Annual. Usually replace every several years, reseeds in between. Part of the French classic fines herbes, blended with tarragon, parsley and chives. Use fresh to enhance eggs, fish, green vegetables, and chicken.

Vietnamese Cilantro (Polygonum odoratum)  — Perennial. Also known as Asian mint, Vietnamese mint, smartweed, fragrant knotweed, laksa leaf and rau ram. Flavorwise, Vietnamese cilantro falls somewhere between cilantro and mint, and is considered a warm weather substitute when it gets too hot to grow cilantro. Though we grew this last season, we only recently became familiar with its culinary uses. It can’t tolerate temperatures below 32°F, and we treat this as an annual.

Green & Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) — Perennial. This non-bulbing herb is worth growing in addition to Florence fennel, as the fronds have a more concentrated sweet flavor. It’s sporadic as a perennial, and we’ve been replanting as necessary.

Hidcote Blue Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) — Perennial. Our original planting of lavender has declined, and we’ve been replacing them with ones more suited for culinary purposes. We look for augustifolia varieties, which have a sweeter taste due to lower levels of camphor.

Marjoram (Origanum majorana) — Perennial. When forced to choose between marjoram or oregano, we prefer marjoram for it’s finer, more delicate flavor. However, it’s not as hardy and we seem to need to replace it annually.

Flat-Leaf Parsley (Petroselinum crispum neapolitana) — Biennial. We never seem to have enough of this herb, and start the season with at least a dozen seedlings. One plant managed to overwinter this year in a place where it’ll establish a self-seeding patch. We especially like to use flat-leaf parsley combined with thinly sliced red onion, and dressed with red wine vinegar and good olive oil, for a salad-like condiment for grilled or roasted dishes.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) — Perennial. The herb for remembrance, we recently learned that “officinalis” in the latin name marks this useful for medicinal purposes. The piney, resinous flavor marries well with boldly flavored foods, and we especially love the fragrance it brings to a table strewn with sprigs of it. We’re envious of places were rosemary can be grown as a perennial, and where it can take on it’s fullest expression in the garden; here, we make do with annual plantings.

Summer Savory (Satureja hortensis) — Annual. Like a more pungent thyme, summer savory adds a peppery, slightly piney flavor. It marries well with meat and other strongly flavored dishes, and we often use it as a change from marjoram.

Winter Savory (Satureja montana) — Perennial. Similar to its summer twin in flavor and use, we save this one for cooler weather cooking and when the herb garden begins to fade.

French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus) — Perennial. Also known as buckler-leaf sorrel, this variety has a shorter, rounder leaf, and a less astringent flavor than the broad-leaved variety. We added sorrel after enjoying cooking with it this spring.

French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus sativa) — Perennial. Another of the anise-like herbs that when it’s in season dresses up a range of summery dishes, especially cold salads such as egg or potato. It’s struggled to get established, and added another as reinforcement.

Golden Lemon Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) — Perennial. We think of thyme as the Miss Congeniality of the herb garden — it’s friendly and never seems to mind where it’s placed; attractive enough to shine on its own with a warm, woodsy flavor; and gets along well with others, complementing all wherever it goes. Since lemons remain a challenge to grow here, lemon-like herbs like this one can take their place.

Silver-Edged Thyme (Thymus ‘Argenteus’) — Perennial. It’s hard to resist the many tantalizing varieties of thyme, and we confess that this was an impulse buy. Where the lemon thyme offers some clear culinary advantages to having it in the garden, we liked this one purely for the pretty, silvery color it brings to the herb garden. 

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) — Half-hardy perennial. We’re unable to grow lemon verbena to its full shrub-like expression, but its fragrant citrus flavor puts it on our annual list. It favors sweeter applications, however, it contains the compound citral, same as found in lemongrass, and we use it in much the same way — chopped finely for savory dishes, a little bit goes a long way.

6.2.14 Kitchen herbs and garden thinnings

We come to herbs from their use in the kitchen, and, though we may pick up a tip or two about their medicinal value, this remains our primary love for them. Here’s a small selection of references and links to resources we’ve found helpful in deepening our understanding and making the most of our herb garden.

References

Herbs: River Cottage Handbook No. 10 by Nikki Duffy — One of our favorite of the series and the one we first consult for general information; terrific advice on culinary varieties.

Wild Flavors by Didi Emmons — Learning from Eva’s Garden, a well-known source of herbs as well as foraged foods in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, from a cook’s point of view.

Cooking with Flowers by Miche Bacher — The flowers of herbs are another edible expression of the plant, and this is packed full of ideas on what to do with them.

Herbs & Things and Jeanne Rose’s Herbal Guide to Food by Jeanne Rose — While Jeanne Rose’s Herbal Guide to Food more specifically covers culinary uses, we’ve a sentimental attachment to Herbs & Things, which was our first introduction many years ago to herbs and their various uses.

How to Move Like a Gardener by Deb Soule — Though more oriented towards medicinal uses, this well-known herbalist offers advice specific to growing herbs in Maine, where she’s based.

Culpeper’s Color Herbal — Charming drawings and opinionated notes, this reference for traditional medicinal uses is especially informative for foraged plants.

Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs by Claire Kowalchik — A standby, we consult this for herbs not covered in other references.

The Complete Herb Book by Jekka McVicar — Along with Herbs: River Cottage Handbook, our go-to book for culinary herbs, which the well-known McVicar grows on her herb farm in the UK.

Resources

The Herb Garden at Strawbery Banke Museum — Just across the river from us, we use this local gem as a study garden when in season. The exceedingly knowledgeable and talented John Forti, Curator of Historic Gardens & Landscapes, is aided by the Seacoast Unit of the Herb Society of America in the maintenance of the garden as a teaching tool and community resource. A selection of references are available online, including Heirloom Herbs and their Uses, and a list of John’s Favorite Herbs.

The Herb Society of America, NorthEast Seacoast Unit — The NorthEast Seacoast Unit of this national organization is an active one, and offers an annual series of presentations. See the national website for an online guide to a selection of individual herbs, along with other resources.

• New Hampshire Herbal Network — A gathering of herbalists, herb growers and herb enthusiasts, their upcoming 5th Annual Herb & Garden Day on Saturday, June 7th, offers workshops, plant sales, and delicious food.

The Herb Farmacy — Recently selected Best Herb Nursery in New England by Yankee Magazine, Rita and Brooke offer a wide selection of organic herbs, vegetable starts, flowers, and native plants at their Salisbury, Massachusetts, location.

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Sorrel Fettucine + Sorrel Pesto

Sorrel Fettucine + Sorrel Pesto

Like “lemonade in a leaf,” sorrel’s tart and tangy flavor brightens this simple combination of sorrel fettucine dressed with sorrel pesto. Featuring this perennial herb in both the pasta and the pesto delivers a double dose of spring.

Sorrel Fettucine + Sorrel Pesto

Sorrel’s acidic flavor makes this European plant a sought after source of vitamin C, and is also known to aid digestion. When considering sorrel, the younger leaves are best used fresh, while the older ones are more acidic and better suited to cooking, which tames its bite. Culinary uses include tossed on its own as a salad, whisked into a vinaigrette, pureed into a creamy sauce, or cooked into a French-style soup. Smaller leaves may be used whole; the tough stems of larger ones can be removed much as one would with spinach, by folding the leave in half lengthwise and pulling the stem away.

Sorrel Fettucine + Sorrel Pesto
Incorporating sorrel into a batch of homemade pasta and pesto takes advantage of its early season freshness. We had duck eggs on hand for the pasta dough, and their richness plays off the sprightliness of the sorrel. When making pasta, chicken and duck eggs may be used interchangeably, however, duck eggs, with their larger yolk, contain less water and may require an extra splash to compensate.

Sorrel Fettucine + Sorrel Pesto

For the pasta dough, we like using 10 ounces of flour to 2 eggs, a proportion adapted from Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand. We find it’s a large enough batch to make the effort worthwhile, serving 4 amply or 2 with leftovers, yet manageable enough to turn homemade pasta into an everyday affair. This recipe takes easily to experimenting with different flours, just substitute from 2 to 5 ounces of the white.

Sorrel Fettucine

10 ounces all-purpose or 00 flour
2 chicken or duck eggs, about 4 ounces, lightly beaten
½ cup minced sorrel
1 tablespoon water, more if necessary

- Place the flour on the counter or in a bowl, and make a well in the center. Add the herbs and eggs to the well, and stir to combine. Drizzle the water over the mixture and stir again until it forms a shaggy mass. Mix the dough until it feels tacky and fully incorporated, then, if using a bowl, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead until the dough loses its surface moisture, is a uniform color, and springs back when depressed, about 4 to 5 minutes. Cover the dough with a small bowl, and let it rest for at least 1 hour before rolling and cutting. Makes 4 portions.

Sorrel Fettucine + Sorrel Pesto

One of the characteristics of sorrel is that it becomes muted in cooking, both in flavor and color, and a pesto helps retain as much of its vibrancy as possible. While the sorrel fettucine and sorrel pesto can be served on their own, we like the delicious affect of layered flavors they create when tossed together.

Sorrel Pesto

1 clove garlic or 2 stalks green garlic, chopped into 1 inch lengths
⅓ cup pine nuts or walnuts
1 cup chopped sorrel leaves
1 teaspoon lemon juice
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

- Place garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, then add the nuts and repeat pulsing until well ground. Add the sorrel, lemon juice, olive oil and salt, and pulse until it forms a creamy consistency. Transfer the pesto to a bowl, and stir in the cheese. Adjust seasonings to taste. Best served fresh; may be refrigerated several days.

Local ingredients: Sorrel from Stout Oak Farm; duck eggs from Cracked an Egg Farm; and green garlic from Meadow’s Mirth.

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Sakura or Cherry Blossom Jellies

Sakura or Cherry Blossom Jellies

Spring is the most ephemeral of seasons in New England. We spend the long winter looking forward to it, then in a flash, it’s over. Take the case of our cherry tree — it sits outside our front door and each year, as it starts to bloom extravagantly, we make plans to salt cure the blossoms, but the flowers always drop before we have the chance. We kept a closer watch this time, then found we’d missed the best time for curing, when they’re still in the bud stage.

Sakura or Cherry Blossom Jellies

With the tree in full bloom, we quickly considered other ways of preserving them, and discovered Sakura Jelly and Cherry Blossom Jam. Unlike what the names would imply, both are prepared with agar agar, a gelatin-like base, to make a kind of Japanese sweet. In place of dried blossoms, we more than doubled the amount of fresh blossoms, then proceeded to gently simmer them in a mix of sugar and water. The simple syrup took on the palest of pink tints, but something seemed missing.

Sakura or Cherry Blossom Jellies

The Gardener then mentioned we had another ornamental cherry tree out back. Its location had made it easy to overlook, but our interest in discovering and exploring the edible plants already in our garden had us seeing it anew.

Sakura or Cherry Blossom Jellies

As soon as we harvested the blossoms, we noticed the difference — these were fragrant while the others were not, and gave the second batch a delicate note missing from the first, while also lending a deeper hue.

Sakura or Cherry Blossom Jellies

You might remember agar agar from high school biology, where it’s often used as a lab culture. It’s commonly found in Asian sweets and, as it’s made from algae or seaweed,is suitable for vegetarians. After infusing and straining the syrup, the agar agar is stirred in and brought briefly to a boil to activate its gelling abilities. The liquid is then poured into a thin layer in a shallow container, and sets up quickly once it’s in the fridge. In comparing the two batches, the paler one, while beautifully translucent, had a slightly grassy taste. The flavor of the second, darker batch was better balanced, with the sweetness playing against a haunting floral note, capturing a little bite of spring. It was also obvious how these could be cute into cute shapes, ready for a Bento box.

Sakura or Cherry Blossom Jellies

To turn jelly into “jam,” we blended them until each was transformed in texture. The pale jelly readily took on a silky, glossy quality, while the darker batch, which had simmered longer, had a harder set and turned out more granular.

Sakura or Cherry Blossom Jellies

There are tweaks to be explored, such as finding ways to infuse the syrup with more flavor, or increasing and controlling color. And though the cherry blossoms are now past their prime, the just blooming lilacs, another edible flower, could easily take their place.

Cherry Blossom Jellies

20 – 40 cherry blossoms
14 ounces | 400 grams filtered water
3.5 ounces | 100 grams granulated sugar
.17 ounces | 5 grams agar agar

- Wash the cherry blossoms; remove the leaves and as much of the stem as possible. Simmer the water and sugar together to dissolve the sugar. Add the cherry blossoms and continue simmering until the syrup takes on color, 5 to 10 minutes. Strain the mixture, whisk in the agar agar, and bring to a brief boil, about 30 seconds.
- Pour mixture in a thin layer in a shallow container, and cool in the fridge until firm. To serve, jellies may be cut into squares or shapes. To make a jam, place in processor or blender, and process until mixture is smooth and shiny, and slightly warm. Sakura jellies and jam may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Adapted from Dessert Professional.

Local ingredients: Cherry blossoms from the garden.

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5.26.14 All the leaves were calling me

5.26.14 All the leaves were calling me

I meant to do my work today —
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
— Richard Le Gallienne

Traditionally, we hold off much of our planting until Memorial Day weekend, at which point we’re safely past any danger of last frost. This year the occasion falls earlier than usual, and instead of rushing things into the ground, we’re trying to plant by following the phases of the moon rather than the calendar. From the The Old Farmers’ Almanac:

• Plant flowers and vegetables that bear crops above ground during the light, or waxing, of the Moon: from the day the Moon is new to the day it is full.

• Plant flowering bulbs and vegetables that bear crops below ground during the dark, or waning, of the Moon: from the day after it is full to the day before it is new again.

Above: Apple tree in bloom with what we now know are edible blossoms, but not too many.

5.26.14 All the leaves were calling me

By holding off transplanting until later in the week, the lunar cycle moves into a new and, hopefully, more amenable quarter, with the added bonus that overnight temperatures may finally budge out of the 40′s. Despite the slow start, there’s still lots going on in the garden. After spending several years of getting established, we hope to get some fruit from the beach plums (above) this season, and the generous profusion of blooms is a promising start.

5.26.14 All the leaves were calling me

The sea kale (above) is also flowering but we harvested only a few side shoots to sample. From Paradise Lot, as described by Jonathan Bates:

The tender spring leaves taste a little like collard greens, but a single plant yields a crop of only a half dozen leaves a year; eating more would put an end to the plant in short order. One alternative is to eat some leaves in the fall after most of the growing has taken place, but we have come to prefer the early spring broccolis. Along with the first six to eight inches of tender new flower stalk growth, the broccolis, or broccolitas, can be eaten raw, mixed into salads, lightly cooked with butter and salt, or added to a vegetable stir-fry.”

We’ll leave the majority of the florets on the plant, where they’ll bloom for most of the summer, then turn into crunchy seedpods, another edible part.

5.26.14 All the leaves were calling me

Every clove of garlic planted last fall came up, and each leaf represents a sheath around the final bulb — the more leaves, the better the protective cover when we eventually harvest and store them. Above: Music garlic.

5.26.14 All the leaves were calling me

Early spring plantings of lettuce greens and kales in the cold frames are waiting to be thinned, and will go into the first garden salad of the season — it’s like a bed of Vitamin Green.

5.26.14 All the leaves were calling me

There’s not quite enough rhubarb yet to make a tart, but we couldn’t resist snatching a few stalks (above) to make a batch of scones.

5.26.14 All the leaves were calling me

First of the season radishes (above), the leafy tops as precious as the roots. To store, cut the greens off and keep in a closed container in the refrigerator, separate from the radishes. The greens are edible and can be sautéed or stir-fried, made into a pesto or a soup; we especially like them in a spring frittata.

Harvesting: Steady supply of asparagus; first of the rhubarb and radishes; and a sampling of sea kale florets.

Preserving: Quick-pickled asparagus.

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Putting Up: Quick Pickled Asparagus + Preserving Round-Up

Putting Up: Asparagus

It may be the result of a late spring or that many local farmers are now growing it, but for the first time there’s enough asparagus around to consider putting some of it up. After considering our options (see Resources: Preserving Asparagus below), we decided on quick pickling them, an easy process that can be made up in one-jar batches and keeps much of the fresh crunch of whatever is being pickled. Ball’s 1½-pint jars — a new favorite size — are perfect for packing tall spears of asparagus, and will hold about a pound per jar. As a starting point, we used the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s infinitely variable Refrigerator Spring Pickles, which is more of a template than recipe, and were inspired by the choice of pickling seasonings at A Veggie Venture‘s (via Food in Jars). The following recipe will make up one of these jars, and, if you should be so lucky as to have that much asparagus, may be scaled up for larger batches.

Quick Pickled Asparagus
Makes one 1½-pint jar

1 pound asparagus spears
1 tablespoon peppercorns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 small dried chile pepper
1 cup white or cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon canning/pickling salt
1 tablespoon sugar

- Wash the asparagus, snap off the woody ends, and trim spears to fit in jar, leaving at least a half-inch of headspace. Pack prepared asparagus spears snugly into a clean 1½-pint jar or similar sized heatproof lidded container. Add the peppercorns, mustard seeds, garlic and chile pepper to the jar of packed asparagus.
- To make the brine, mix the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a small pot. Bring to a boil and let boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Carefully fill the jar with brine to within a half-inch of the rim. Place the lid on the jar and refrigerate. Allow the flavor to develop for 1 to 2 days before serving. Use within 2 weeks.

Local Ingredients: Cider vinegar from Ricker Hill Orchards; asparagus and garlic from the garden.

Putting Up: Asparagus

Resources: Preserving Asparagus

Canning — Whether in pieces or as spears, hot or raw-packed, you’ll need a pressure canner to process this low-acid vegetable: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_04/asparagus_spears.html

Pickling — The addition of vinegar to fresh-packed asparagus allows it to be processed using a boiling water canner: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/pickled_asparagus.html

• Quick Pickling — Easy to make up by the single jar, asparagus are covered with a hot brine, and stored in the fridge; includes how to vary the seasonings: http://umaine.edu/food-health/food-preservation/lets-preserve-refrigerator-spring-pickles/

• Fermenting — Curing in a salt and water solution produces lactic acid, which acts as a preservative: http://www.girlichef.com/2010/06/lacto-fermented-asparagus.html

Freezing — Blanching inactivates the enzymes, and helps to preserve color, flavor, and nutrients: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/asparagus.html

Drying — Same as for freezing, pretreat by blanching before drying: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/dry/csu_dry_vegetables.pdf

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