Posts Tagged ‘olive oil’

The Joys of Summer: Simple Lunches

july 2009 011
There are few things I love more than leisurely weekend lunches eaten on our back patio, with good food and sweet surroundings. I don’t like to fuss in the kitchen for these meals, though, and in this season there’s no reason to. With tomatoes and basil in the yard or at the farmers market, a bottle of olive oil, and a good loaf of sourdough bread, you’re set.

First, catch your tomatoes. Meaty beefsteak types are delicious here, but you can use any really flavorful tomato, including ripe sweet Sungold or Green Grape cherry tomatoes. If you have bland and blah tomatoes, do something else with them; this demands great tomato flavor. If you don’t bake your own bread, get a good loaf of crusty sourdough or a crusty baguette; in our area the baguettes from Sage Bakehouse are hard to beat. Make your basil into pesto according to your favorite recipe or use my own favorite below. During the summer, I usually have some pesto handy, and it will keep a day or two without much loss of flavor, making this truly fast food. It’s also good for a mixed group of omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans.

You’ll need (at a minimum) half a big beefsteak tomato or one regular tomato or at least a dozen cherry tomatoes per person. When you’re ready to eat, slice the tomatoes and spread them out on a plate. A lot of juice will probably run out on the cutting board. Make sure to pour it onto the plate. Juice is half the point here. Drizzle with pesto and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Drizzle on a little of your best olive oil. Slice the bread and toast or grill it. Bring the tomatoes and bread to the table on two separate plates, with a small plate for each person. The lucky eaters will need a spoon to scoop tomatoes and juice onto their crusty bread. They will also need to be sufficiently at ease to shamelessly rub their bread into the delicious juices on the tomato plate. Have plenty of napkins handy.
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Fava Beans, and Oyster Mushrooms

june 2009 017
Fava beans are a chic ingredient these days, but they’re more versatile than people realize. I learned this when I came across the leaves being sold at the beautiful farmer’s market in San Francisco as a salad green. I bought some and loved them, so this year I set out to grow my own.

In February I planted eight seeds of Broad Windsor fava beans in one of my large containers, about six inches apart. All of them sprouted, and I let them grow unchecked until they were nearly a foot high. At that point, I cut two of the plants and used all their leaves for an early salad, along with some romaine lettuce. The leaves are very mild in flavor and have an appealing tender texture. They marry well with a wide variety of other salad ingredients, including the delicate ones like butter lettuce, mache, and pansy leaves. Vinaigrettes that aren’t too strong and contain a little nut oil or a light, flowery Provencal olive oil work well.

I let the remaining plants grow until they had bloomed and set small pods. At that point, I cut off 6-8 inches of the tops of those plants, above the pods, and used the leaves in salads, which did no discernible harm to the maturing pods. As soon as the pods were filled out and I could feel beans inside about half to three quarters of an inch across, I picked the pods. A traditional Italian way to eat them is by themselves, raw on the plate, with thin slivers of young pecorino. It’s very good, but I thought they were great in this mushroom pasta. It’s vegetarian but has a substantial, meaty quality, and the slight delicious bitterness of the raw young fava beans is just what’s needed to give dimension to the flavor.

During the winter I grew my own oyster mushrooms but while the farmers markets are open I get them from Exotic Edibles of Edgewood, which is a good deal easier. You can find Scott and Gail, our local mushroom mavens, at the Downtown growers’ market on Saturday mornings.
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The First Garlic

june 2009 008
I think it’s underappreciated that garlic is as seasonal as any other vegetable. Sure, you can obtain it throughout the year, and personally I’m never without it, but the great dishes of sheer garlic debauchery- aioli, roasted garlic, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, etc.- were designed to be made with fresh garlic, the kind you harvest in early summer, before it develops the slight (sometimes pronounced) acridness that comes with storage.
I grow three kinds of garlic, and one of them is Chinese Pink, which I get from Territorial Seeds. It’s a nicely flavored hardneck type, and I grow it because it matures fully a month earlier than any other garlic that I’ve grown.

See my earlier posts on green garlic and using the scapes of hardneck garlic for other uses of the maturing garlic plant, but by June the Chinese Pink is mature and I’m ready for some garlic confit. The confit process involves long, slow cooking at low heat in fat, olive oil in this case. The result is soft, mellow, and intensely flavorful without the sharp punch of raw garlic. It will keep in the refrigerator for a good long time as long as you make sure the cloves are well covered with oil.

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Passing Pleasures: Artichokes

may 2009 019
      Artichokes are a wonderful addition to the New Mexico garden. They are splendid silvery architectural bushes for the cooler seasons of the year, and provide a rare treat to their enthusiasts.

       One of the overlooked aspects of front yard gardening is that neat greens like Swiss Chard can’t be used as edging because passers-by don’t know vegetables when they see them, or don’t care, and so they let their dogs urinate on anything along the sidewalk. I solve this problem by edging my front garden with artichokes: the edible part happens a few feet off the ground, and until a squadron of Irish Wolfhounds comes to my neighborhood, I’m safe.

     Now is the time to start artichokes from seed, to enjoy next spring. I like the common “Green Globe” best. The plants typically live 3-4 years in our area. The scaly buds don’t get as big as they do on the misty west coast, but they’re very delicious. A deep watering once a week is plenty once they’re established. They don’t produce over a long season, but for two weeks in late spring we revel in all the fresh artichokes we can eat, and a rare feast it is, too. If you’re interested in such things, artichokes contain abundant amounts of two antioxidants, cynarin and silymarin, which are found only in the thistle family. I’m not sure what this really means nutritionally, but it does mean that when I feel tired and out of sorts, I can eat a plate of artichokes, telling myself that a good dose of cynarin will fix me right up. It usually does, too, unless it’s the bagna cauda or the general abundance of the season that I’m responding to.
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