Saturday, June 23, 2012

Herb Gardening

I’ve been gardening in Somerville in an utterly irresponsible way for about fifteen years now. I rarely plan ahead, and if I do I make four or five different plans for the same spot on random scraps of paper that I don’t consult when I’m buying seeds and seedlings. I don’t mark out plots with string, and I usually don’t even manage to put in little sticks saying what’s gone in where. Sometimes, I replant an area I’ve already done. Or, because I always end up with too many seeds, I interplant things that really don’t go together. So my garlic are poking out between my strawberries, there are beans getting ready to tangle into everything, and I lost my sage to aggressive mint. But, I end up with a garden of survivors: if something can make it in my garden, it thrives on overcrowding, intermittent watering, and general disregard. So fifteen years in, I have a set of staples that I can truly depend on. Many things volunteer (grow from dropped seeds from last year’s plants or from the compost): beans, tomatoes, mystery squash. But the most reliable of course are the perennials, and in New England, the perennials are mostly herbs: mint, thyme, oregano, chives, tarragon, lavender. Here’s what it looks like.

I’m trying to keep a few spots open for the cilantro and parsley seeds I always toss out in the Spring, but it’s getting smaller and smaller…

Occasionally, I look in envy at my neighbors’ neat rows of well-groomed plants, but then I realize, every time I look he’s out there, bent over them. If I had that kind of time, I’d love to do the same, but what I love even more is that right now, in the midst of working and mothering and all of the other responsibilities I keep taking on, I can let chaos reign in the garden and still carry up basketfuls of delight whenever I happen to venture out there.

All of the herbal loveliness of course fits into most anything you make, but with so much of it, it’s also nice to see it not as an add-in but as the star. It certainly is in herby green rice.

Herby Green Rice

Serves 4

1 cup (dry) rice
2 cups water
4 T olive oil
2 T butter
½ to 1 cup mushrooms, fresh or rehydrated
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch thyme
1 bunch oregano
2 large garlic scapes

Heat 1 T of the oil. Pour in rice and stir a few times, to coat with oil and toast very lightly. Add water. Bring to a boil Cover and lower to a low simmer. Cook 30 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the mushrooms into small pieces. Saute in 1 T olive oil with salt and pepper for about 15 minutes. Mince all of the herbs and the scapes, and cut the butter into 4-6 pats. Toss the rice, mushrooms, herbs, butter, and remaining olive oil in a large bowl.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Turnip Greens - good and good for you

During the winter I am very good about making a menu for the week. It helps with shopping and cooking during our busy lives, saves money, reduces waste, and aligns my otherwise scattered brain. But then summer hits, with the loveliest of produce coming into the markets and CSA shares, and my menu planning hibernates. I find myself dumping vegetables into my bags with little thought to when exactly we'll eat them, but knowing that when we do, they will be the heart of our meal, around which we'll build dinner.

This past Saturday was the opening day of our summer farmers' market. We are incredibly fortunate to have an amazing all-winter farmers' market full of root veggies, cold frame greens, brussels sprouts, cheeses, breads, etc., but there really is nothing like a summer market. It was raining sideways but Dave and I bribed the kids with a movie afterwards, bundled up in ponchos and headed down to make the opening bell. It felt like a homecoming, welcoming back old friends we hadn't seen all winter, emptying our wallets as we stuffed our bags with the perkiest lettuces, magenta radishes, strawberries, rhubarb, and turnips.

We enjoy turnips around our house, so get them all summer long. They come with gorgeous greens, which, in the beginning of the season, we keep on and pretend we'll eat. Midway through the summer we admit we are tired of cleaning slimy remnants out of the fridge drawer and ask the farmers to cut the greens off when we buy them.

It being the first market, we kept the greens and made a promise that they would be eaten that day or discarded. So we ate them, and wow! are they good. They are chock full of calcium and other important vitamins, so this is a win-win meal.

Sautéed Turnip Greens

1 bunch turnip greens
3 TBSP olive oil, separated
1 shallot, minced (~ 1 TBSP)
salt and pepper to taste
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar

1. Wash greens and set aside.

2. Heat a large sauté pan that has a cover over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Add 2 TBSP olive oil and the shallot. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Add greens, turn a few times, adding 1 TBSP more olive oil on top. Cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes.

4. Take off heat, drizzle with balsamic and stir.

Serve as a side to a sandwich or with eggs or just as is.