Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pickled Stems

The reduce, reuse, recycle mantra combines in my life with A WWII mentality that has survived two generations (we thought about many names that played on Liberty Gardens for this blog) to make me very, very reluctant to throw anything out. In spite of many assertions as a teenager sifting through my parents’ old plastic bags drawer at that I would never ever, I wash plastic bags and reuse them. I even hesitate to toss stuff into the compost, keeping bags of carrot peels and celery buts in the freezer for stock. It’s a little obsessive. But in a creative way. So, I’ve been really struggling with all of the wasted stalks that my kale salads make. Now, add to that the thicker stems of swiss chard, beet and turnip greens that pile up when I make platters of sautéed greens with all of the spring growth that I’ve been picking up at the farmers’ market. I found a few recipes for chard stems au gratin in old school Italian and French cookbooks, but while it’s true that pretty much anything tastes good when it’s doused with enough cream sauce and melted cheese, I can only take so much au gratin, and the stems keep coming. But then I saw a container of pickled asparagus that looked a little like my stems and I decided to try. For the first batch, I made up a sweet pickle that was okay but not my favorite. For the second batch, I modified a sour pickle recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling. The crunchy stems saturated with hot pepper, lemon, and ginger explode like firecrackers on the tongue.

Pickled Stems
Makes one small batch – double, triple, etc. at will!
Stems from 1 bunch of greens, leaves pulled off (no need to be super precise)
½ cup rice vinegar
½ cup water
3 medium garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
¾ tsp. salt
1 T sugar
Zest of ½ lemon
4 thin slices fresh ginger
1 dried hot “Chinese” pepper, opened
½ tsp. whole black peppercorns

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Toss in stems and boil for exactly one minute. Scoop out of hot water with a slotted spoon and put immediately into a bowl of ice water. Remove stems from ice water and cut into two-inch pieces. Put into a container with a lid. Mix remaining ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and pour immediately over the stems. Close lid and let sit for about 20 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to two weeks. Serve as an appetizer or chop finely and serve as a relish.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Alien Invasion

Garlic Scapes always look a little like visitors from a strange place and time, but when they’re making the wild arching double-curls that say they’re ready to be picked against a backdrop of pea flowers and other early bloomers, I really wonder what’s gotten into my garden. More likely global warming than an alien invasion. And I can’t help but notice the irony of offering a recipe, in a blog about local and seasonal cooking as a way in part to lower the carbon footprint of our food, that depends on a combination brought to us by global warming. This dish would work well with garlic cloves too, but as long as baby bok choy and garlic scapes are appearing side by sides in our gardens and farmers’ markets and csa bags, I hope I'm not too much of a Polyanna if I say, we might as well enjoy them.

Baby Bok Choy with Garlic Scapes
Serves 4

2 T toasted or black sesame oil
6-8 garlic scapes
4 heads of baby bok choy
½ tsp. salt

Finely chop the garlic scapes. Wash and very cut the larger baby bok choy leaves in two or three. Heat the oil until very hot and beginning to smoke in a large pan or wok. Toss in chopped scapes and cook, stirring until the just begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Toss in bok choy and salt and cook, stirring, until the leaves begin to wilt, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Kale, again? Again!

Sometime last Fall, I got on the Kale boat. I was already a fan of sautéed kale, and had figured out a few tricks like ripping the leaves off the stems with hands to get rid of the tough stems quickly and easily, and heating the pan super hot with olive oil before dropping in the kale, for a much better flavor. Then, I discovered massaged kale salad. I wrote about it. I made it. A lot. Kale was available all winter long at the winter farmers’ markets. I perfected a massaged kale salad formula: kale, something sweet (roasted sweet potatoes, dried cranberries…), something soft (avocado, feta cheese…), and something crunchy (toasted nuts or seeds). But after a while, Kale was the only green I was stocking regularly, besides lettuce and spinach. I am generally someone who likes variety. And then I hit a low: a massaged kale salad with an unfortunate combination of granny smith apples, feta, avocado, and toasted almonds. Blah. Blah is even worse than unbelievably disgusting. At least, a nice amount of time later, I can laugh at unbelievably disgusting. So when I saw more piles of kale at the first Spring farmers’ market last weekend, I was not so thrilled. And the one bunch of kale I bought anyway was the last farmers’ market fare left in the bottom of the fridge at the end of the week. But then, I did it: a new and fantastically delicious combo featuring massaged kale. The only thing in the recipe that is local and seasonal is the kale, but part of the point of this blog is to feature local and seasonal in combination with other things to make our lives easy and our palates happy. Yum. Yum is way better than blah or unbelievably disgusting.

Massaged Kale Salad with Watermelon and Feta
1 bunch kale
1 tsp. salt
2 cups chopped watermelon
½ cup crumbled feta
1/8 cup sherry vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Rip the kale leaves from the hard middle stems. Wash and dry in a salad spinner. Shake 1 tsp. salt over the kale. Massage the kale, in a kind of kneading motion, getting the salt all over it and mashing the leaves together. Let sit for 10-20 minutes. Toss with watermelon, feta, and vinaigrette.
Sherry vinaigrette
(Makes enough for about 4 salads)
½ cup olive oil
½ cup sherry vinegar
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground pepper
½ tsp. mustard
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

Put all the ingredients together in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake hard. You can serve this immediately, but it’s better after it has sat for about a day. Store in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving (the olive oil hardens in the cold). Shake hard before each serving.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rejoicing in the Farmers' Market

Yesterday was the first day of our local farmers' market. I'll confess, I had been looking forward to it since the last day of last year's farmers' market. It was so nice to see familiar faces manning the stands, hear people welcoming one another back, and be in a crowd of people equally as excited as I. I also officially marked the special point of just using the last of the frozen fruit from last year in a pie the week before and buying more produce to prep and freeze for the next winter (rhubarb).

I picked up bunches of vegetables that I had not put on my list, including beets, turnips, and baby kohlrabi. Their greens alone were about to overwhelm my compost container. So we washed them up and sautéed them and ate them with our grilled cheese made from farmers' market mozzarella and bread. The bounties of summer never get old.

The other thing that never gets old is my surprise at how much greens reduce when cooked. We started with a large mixing bowl overflowing with greens which gave us four healthy servings once cooked.

Sautéed Greens

Olive oil
1 clove spring garlic, coarsely chopped
Three larges bunches of greens (we used beet, turnip, and kohlrabi), washed and large stems removed
salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar

Heat a large frying pan (that has a lid) over medium low heat. Once hot, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom.

Add garlic and sauté, stirring frequently, 60 seconds.

Add greens, stir to coat with oil, adding more oil if necessary. Add 1/4 cup water and cover the pan.

Let greens steam until fully wilted, ~ 5 minutes. Stir a few times.

Remove from heat, add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with a thick, sweet balsamic vinegar. Stir and serve.