The very last tomatoes of the season are simmering into a sauce on the stove, waiting to be canned later today. The freezer is full and the shelves are bending slightly under the weight of canned sauce, salsa, chutney, and broth. Carrots, leeks, chard, chervil, the last potatoes, and some herbs are still outside. Not bad, given that we live on about 1/8 acre.
My interest is in encouraging more people to grow and cook at least a little of their own food. I have a website to promote “yard farming,” and I invite you to visit it at www.localfoodalbuquerque.com. The purpose of this blog is to explore and report some of the small pleasures that come up along the way.
Learning new things about familiar plants seemjs to have been the theme of my harvest season. Nasturtiums are high on the list. I started growing them because, in our fierce sun, they grow well in light shade. They go through a slightly ratty period in midsummer, but then come back strong in the fall and bloom until there’s a really hard frost. I’ve always loved the blossoms on salads, for their watercress sharpness with a sweet nectar twist as well as for their beauty. But until this year, I didn’t grasp the culinary possibilities of the leaves.
They bear a strong resemblance to watercress, although with a thicker meatier texture. Raw, they add bite to a sandwich or can be slivered into chiffonade and dressed with a fairly strong vinaigrette to make a nice sharp small salad to lighten a plate of pasta or steak. Cooked, they mellow a lot. I love to cook extravagant mixtures of greens, and nasturtium leaves can be up to half the total as long as the other half is milder-flavored material like spinach or chard. They also make wonderful stuffed dolmas, and bring a fresher quality to the dish than brined grape leaves. I consider leafy greens some of the healthiest vegetables that you can eat, and the wider the variety the better. See the “recipes” page on my website and click “greens” for some simple and good recipes, and the not-so-simple Nasturtium leaf dolmas. Or, just see below for the simplest way you can use this versatile plant.