Category Archives: Herbs

On A Way to Garden

I just received the most wonderful book in the mail, one that is handsome and inspiring and filled with beautiful photographs in a stunning garden.  It is called A Way to Garden by Margaret Roach. Margaret has a somewhat obsessive bent for detail in her own garden, which serves as the subject of this book.  It’s a gorgeous book to look at, and even better to read.  An updated book written 21 years after the first version, she has found that so many things have changed in the world, especially the worlds of plants and climate change that A Way to Garden is really an entirely new book.

I’ve been a fan of Margaret Roach since meeting her on her weekly podcast and web-site by the same name five years ago, when my book Vegetable Literacy came out.  She is bright, hard-working, earnest, erudite and quirky, among a host of other good qualities.  The first book of hers that I read was called Backyard Parables; Lessons on Gardening, and Life. It made me laugh and it made me wince as I travelled with her through a year in her garden. Even though she was hardly just starting out, this new book has stronger legs, shows more maturity, and is based in more experience.  But all of Margaret’s books are wise books.

What pains me about A Way to Garden is that Margaret’s garden is very much an Eastern one. You can just tell that there is plenty of water and acid soil that support many plants that just won’t and don’t care for our highly alkaline New Mexican soil. In a way, it has nothing to do with us—our climate, our aridity, our winds, or the plants that like it here.  Still what I love about this book – really about Margaret— is that she makes room for other forms of life along with the plants in her garden. The book is filled with pictures of the frogs who live there. She can talk about a plant in terms of its ability to attract pollinators. She notices birds and their songs, moths and their patterns, spiders, insects, snakes, and more pesky critters such as squirrels, deer, and a bear. Her garden is far more than plants and this book is, as she says, a blend of horticultural how to and ‘woo-woo” – “the fusion of a science lab with a Buddhist retreat, or a place of non-stop learning and of contemplation, where there is life buzzing to the maximum and also the deepest stillness.” She is such a superb writer I had to use her words.

I encourage you to read this book. It might ignite a sleeping passion that will come to fruition regardless of where you live.

 

The Golden Glow of Meyer Lemons

Meyer Lemons in a Bob Brady bowl.

Meyer Lemons in a Bob Brady bowl.

A heavy box arrived just before Christmas, delivered by my trusty UPS man who always has a warm hello for my pesky little dog as he searches the big brown truck for cookies. It was from chef Charlene Badman of FnB, (as in Food and Beverage). Charlene is one of my favorite chefs. Anywhere. In addition to serving up some very good dishes, FnB also has a bodega where some of those good and unusual ingredients used in the restaurant can be bought, and a wine shop to boot. It makes such good sense. FnB happens to be in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Scottsdale is also a place where Meyer lemon trees grow along with other citrus fruits.

I suspected that this large, well-taped box might be filled with Gillfeather rutabagas, a vegetable Charlene and I share something of a passion for. But once I cut though all the tape that held the cardboard together, it was lemons that came tumbling out, lemons of a deep yellow hue, lemons that were exceptionally large and that spewed fragrant oil into the air when nicked with a fingernail or sliced in half. These were the lemons I grew up with in California. Charlene couldn’t have known – or maybe she did – how very happy her citrusy gift made me, especially in winter when I tend to be more homesick than usual for California produce.

Don’t get me wrong – we are grateful to have snow on the ground and we’re happy to have it be cold outside because fruit trees need their chill hours to bear fruit next summer. Nine degree mornings aren’t the easiest for dog walks, but the sunny cheer of these winter fruits seemed to warm up the air with their glow.

First I put them in a bowl –one of my favorites— (see the picture) and it’s made by Robert Brady in Berkeley (www.traxgallery.com) to admire. Nestled there, they lit up the darkness of winter. Even in sunny New Mexico we do have grey, overcast days. I also left some in the refrigerator so that they wouldn’t get slack and soft, and now that the official holidays are nearly over, my lemony lights will join them in the chill. I do treasure them so I know there’s a danger of keeping them far too long instead of using them, but I intend to overcome that, starting now. I know there are many things I can do with Meyer lemons, besides look at them.

There are lemon sorbets and ice creams to make, lemon curd and lemon tarts, which David Lebowitz (www.davidlebowitz.com) has recently written about, or, turning to one of my favorite dessert books, Lindsey Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts, I’m reminded of how to make a Meyer Lemon Meringue Pie and her Meyer lemon Ice Cream. And of course these fragrant fruits can be used wherever lemons are called for. For the moment, though, I will use at least some my lemons in sauces and vinaigrettes as the holidays have brought a surfeit of sweets and the beginning of the New Year does inspire a break.

So here’s a simple Meyer lemon sauce from Local Flavors, Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers Markets, that I’m inclined to spoon over avocado and pomelo salads, toss with shaved fennel, or spoon over poached or roasted fish or use to dress a frikeh and beet salad—on the menu for tomorrow, I think. In short,  you can use this sauce wherever you want a complex tasting but simply made dressing. Now is one time I splurge on buying fresh tarragon, as mine has crisped up and fallen away with winter and its freezing temperatures.

 

Meyer Lemon Sauce with Tarragon

Makes 1/3 to 1/2-cup.

1 large Meyer lemon

1 shallot, finely diced

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more, to taste

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped

 

Remove the zest, juice the lemon and put both in a small bowl with the shallot, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let stand for several minutes, then whisk in the oil and add the tarragon. Season with a little freshly ground pepper. Taste and add more oil if needed. Meyer lemons are generally sweeter and less acidic than Eurekas so 2 tablespoons might be enough.

The Zucchini with Ribs

Costata Romanesco zucchini, whole and sliced.

Costata Romanesco is hands down my favorite zucchini.

I know that might sound strange, for zucchini isn’t the most interesting, vibrant, or glamorous of vegetables. Plus everyone likes to complain about how they have just way too much of it. I say to those lucky complainers, “You don’t have squash bugs, for if you did, you’d treasure each and every squash and blossom!” For some of us, the effort to grow zucchini means encounters with hoards of creepy grey bugs and the inevitable early death of one’s struggling plants. So if I’m going to open myself to squash bugs and anxiety over the early demise of my summer squash, then I’m going to grow a zucchini I get excited about.  And Costata Romanesco is it.

There are three things that are special about this old variety. Each squash has ribs, the ridges that run along the long body of each one. A little hard to capture in a photo until you slice them, then you can see them as the ruffled, sculptured edges of each round of squash. I think they look wonderfully fetching and are truly so when a mass of the rounds is jumbled together. It doesn’t matter whether you steam or sauté them, either, because they will taste good.

Another virtue of the Costata Romanesco is its density. Somehow, this variety is less watery and the texture more firm, which makes it a much more satisfying summer squash to eat than others.  Add to that the flavor, and you’re home. The flavor is, well, simply more squash-like. Some describe it as nutty. I think of it as down-to-earth. In any case,  it’s there, and it has real taste, which cannot always be said of more modern squash.

The Costata (meaning ribs) is an Italian heirloom. Lots of companies stock seed packets for this gem. (Johnny’s, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Sustainable Seed Company, Fedco).  Like many heirlooms, it doesn’t always produce as heavily as other zucchini, but the plants are big and robust and if you don’t want a glut of zucchini, why not choose the best and go with what it produces? Actually, I’ve always found that mine make plenty.

And one squash makes a a fast and neat little lunch for one.

 

One Zucchini Lunch

A One-Zucchino Lunch for One

Time required: about 4 minutes

1 7-inch Costata Romanesco squash

Sea salt

Good olive oil

Fresh herb, such as dill, basil, marjoram

Pine nuts

Freshly ground pepper

Lemon if you wish

 

Slice the squash crosswise  into rounds about ¼ inch thick or a little more if you like it heftier.

Steam over boiling water for about 3 minutes —taste to make sure it’s done enough for you.

Turn it out onto a plate or better, a shallow bowl.  Season with sea salt, a drizzle of good olive oil, some fresh herb, a few pine nuts, some pepper and a squeeze of lemon if you wish.

That’s it. Sit down and enjoy. Mop up the juices with a piece of bread.

 

And this is just the beginning. You might add halved Sun Gold tomatoes, thin shavings of Parmesan or aged Gouda cheese, a shower of very young arugula leaves, a slivered squash blossom —or just leave it as is.

Little Stars of the Aster Family

Jerusalem artichokes in bloomm

One question people ask me when we’re talking about ‘Vegetable Literacy’ is, “What is your favorite plant family?”

“Do you mean to grow or to eat?” I ask.

“To admire for its flowers or for its curvaceous membership?” I wonder.

“Or for its eccentricity, or colorful stories?” I hope.

These botanical families are all quite wonderful and also, quite different, and it’s hard for me to choose a favorite. They’re all favorites.

Some are large, others small. Some common and trustworthy, others strange and eccentric.  But the family that is now captivating me most right now is the aster (daisy, or sunflower) family. The word Asteraceae, the name for the family, comes from the Greek word for little star. Think of an http://www.raybanoutletes.com/ asterisk (*), another little star, or an asteroid, a somewhat larger one yet quite little in comparison to our big star, the sun.  Jerusalem artichokes are in this family and I once wrote a piece in which I referred to them as “star flowers.” I didn’t know about the word Asteraceae meaning little star, or even what family they were in. They produced sunflowers, but lean and articulated ones, and they struck me somehow as stars, especially those on the ends of eight-food branches, nodding against the sky. How curious that they belonged in the family known by the same name. We know without knowing.

This family intrigues me. Its members are prickly, spiny, hairy, bitter, but with innocent looking daisy-like flowers along with variations on the composite flower theme, such as the tufted purple artichoke and thistle blossoms.

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Consider cardoons, artichokes, salsify, burdock, chicories and endives, lettuce grown in too warm a spot. These are plants that in many cases emit a thick, latex like liquid which, if you taste it, and I have, is bitter indeed. You can tear your fingers along the edge of cardoon spine or prick them on an artichoke leaf, and you’ll astonished at all the roots that sprout off a long root called salsify, which give it its other name, “goats beard.”  Sometimes my radicchio is almost too bitter to eat. And those strange subterranean creatures, sun chokes, will take Gafas Ray Ban outlet over your garden. They might have flowers like little stars, but they’re aggressive in their march towards dominance. Burdock dwells here, too. It was long considered a medicinal plant before it was regarded as a vegetable. Its root grows to such length that harvesting is the challenge. I was once sent a burdock root that was three feet long which said as much about the harvester as about the soil. It was like having a large snake it the kitchen.

The culinary herb in this family is tarragon, which also goes bys the name dragonwort.  Or dragon’s mugwort. Artemisia dracunculus. Why dragon? The name dates back to a time when the idea of the Doctrine of Signatures, a system that looks for correlations between a plant and its possible uses. As the roots of tarragon are snaky in appearance, it was thought they were useful for treating snakebites, which were thought of as small dragons.

The Milky Way seems especially well peppered with little stars against the desert night sky, my asters are already up though many months away from making their galaxy of lavender blooms, and there’s enough tarragon to use in an egg salad made with my neighbor’s perfect eggs. Spring is creeping, however slowly, towards its own lush moment.

 

Egg Salad with Tarragon, Parsley and Chives                 Makes about 2 cups

I had somehow forgotten about egg salad, but with the tarragon and chives emerging in the garden, eggs becoming more numerous with the lengthening days, and some very good bread in the house, egg salad suddenly came sharply into view. I also add a small, finely diced pickled shallot to egg salad just to insert a little zing into the creamy richness of real farm (or backyard) eggs.

 

6 farm eggs (likely to be on the small to medium size)

1 tablespoon minced tarragon leaves

1 tablespoon finely snipped chives

1 tablespoon minced parsley or lovage

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small shallot, finely diced and tossed with a little vinegar

chive blossoms, if available

Cover the eggs with cold water in a saucepan, bring them to a boil Ray Ban outlet and boil for 1 minute.  Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let stand for 7 minutes. Pour off the hot water, rinse with cool, then peel and chop the eggs.

Put them in a bowl with the herbs, and mayonnaise.  (If you used commercial mayonnaise you might not need much salt.) Taste, add ¼ teaspoon, then taste again. Season with pepper.

If you want the zesty hit of the shallot, toss it, once diced, with just a few drops of vinegar and let stand for a few minutes. The color will change right away to a soft pink. If there is excess vinegar, drain it off and add the shallots to the mix.  Pile the egg salad into a serving bowl and garnish with chive blossoms, if you have some.

Sage and Winter Squash with Sage

As on other plants, the (older) leaves turn yellow or fade, but the younger tips stay sagey green all winter.

As on other plants, the (older) leaves turn yellow or fade, but the younger tips stay sagey green all winter.

Sage with winter squash is my winter equivalent to basil with tomatoes. Carrots with thyme. Artichokes with Tarragon. It’s a combination I have a hard time getting away from, which is good because winter squash is coming on and my sage plants – bushes really – are full and glorious. Not surprisingly I’m thinking about both squash and sage and, coincidentally, how good they are together, and how many months they’re going to be with us.

Sage is a plant I’m especially fond of, not just culinary sage, but many others. Cleveland. Jerusalem. Pineapple. Mexican sage. White sage. There are sages with powerfully fragrant cheap oakley leaves and flower bracts stacked one above the other with little mint-like blossoms of blue, purple, yellow—even red— bursting from their calyxes. I’ve just brought my more frost-sensitive sages indoors where they thrive in the sun and give off their desert-sagey smells. While the sages (Salvias) are not the sagebrushes of the desert, (the Artemisia genus of another family), they do share some similar properties, namely that rough, resinous perfume.)

Though not quite as dramatic, culinary sage is no slouch, either. A mature plant is round and bush like with soft, silver-gray leaves. In the spring its violet flowers are almost sweet smelling, but not quite. There is a hint of mint, the family (Labiatae) to which sages belong, but it quickly disappears when blooms fade with the rising temperature of summer. But by fall it’s aromatic oils have turned muscular and complex, both savory and a little sweet at the same time, and that’s when those hard-skinned but sweet squash are around. I think they need each other, the squash and the sage.

I roast cubes of squash with garlic and sage. I chop sage leaves and cook them with onions until golden when starting a squash soup; I fry the leaves in olive oil until dark and crisp, then use them to garnish that soup once it’s finished, I also scatter them over seared wedges of Musquee de Provence squash or Delicata, or a galette made from Marina de Chioggia or butternut squash fried in olive oil. (No squash here, but I adore a pasta that’s tossed with handfuls of sage leaves crisped in olive oil with nothing more than salt, pepper and some good Reggiano.) Fried sage leaves give a textured edge to the tender squash as do breadcrumbs crisped with minced sage in olive oil or ghee then scattered over a winter squash risotto, puree, or another squash soup. However you use it, sage brings the http://www.oakleyonorder.com/ sweetness of winter squash, which can be considerable, into balance, dragging it down to earth. To me, it’s  hard to imagine squash without the tempering influence of sage. But then, rosemary and juniper are good, so is the bracing freshness of parsley, and pepper and pepper flakes, garlic, and so much more. Gorgonzola cheese spread over hot crostini and floated in the soup, below, is the best. What can I say?  (I tried to post a recipe but it came out too strange. Will try again in another post.)

Sage is an easy plant to grow. Buy a small one and soon it will be a large one. It will also drop seeds and make more plants. And a further bonus is that sage leaves make a Oakley Sunglasses cheap calming tea. Just pour near boiling water over them, let them steep for 10 minutes or so, then sip and inhale its now soft perfume. Why not have it with a piece of pumpkin (aka winter squash) pie, while you’re at it?

Sibley Squash


Ramped up Spinach Soup with Lovage and Sorrel

Ramps are an east coast thing. We don’t have them here in New Mexico, and we don’t see them at Whole Foods, which is fine with me. They belong where they grow, and the same is true of fiddlehead ferns, as delectable as they might be. This means that every spring for years I’ve watched food people getting all excited about something I’d never tasted or been able to get my hands on. But all that changed last week when I got some ramps in the mail from Robert Schuller of Melissa’s.

They arrived in a big box that was carefully padded and well packed, but no amount of paper or plastic could keep their garlicky leeky smell from seeping through the cardboard. There was no mistaking that there were alliums in that box. Hidden among the folded mounds of paper there they were, resting in Oakley Sunglasses cheap their plastic bag. I carefully pulled the big clump of mud-covered alliums out of their bag and looked at them.  It seemed they might not travel all that well, at least not for days on end as these undoubtedly had, from somewhere back east to Los Angeles and finally to New Mexico. The greens were a little funky but I immersed them in a tub of water and got to work cleaning them.  After a long time and many changes of water I ended up with a tangle of skinny little buggers with shanks and roots like leeks and leaves like lily of the valley, and smell that was as much garlic as leek.IMG_2034

Not wanting to waste anything of my one chance with ramps. I covered the trimmed roots with water and simmered them slowly to make, in effect, a ramp broth. I left it on the stove when my husband and I went out that evening, and when we returned he exclaimed, “What’s that smell? It’s like wood, mushrooms and garlic!”  It was interesting that just the roots simmered in water conveyed their homeland of woods and fungi, but I couldn’t smell a thing due to my encounter with juniper pollen late that afternoon. I woke in the middle of the night with the thought, “It was the ramps he was smelling! Of course!”

Once they were cleaned and wrapped in a dry towel and returned to the refrigerator, the next question was what to do with them.  I consulted Elissa Altman who sent me an older piece from her blog, Poor Man’s Feast, which featured ramps on toast with quail eggs. That looked very good, but no quail eggs here, alas. There were some other thoughts—risotto and ramps, sformata wit ramps, but I decided to use half my collection a http://www.oakleyonorder.com/ soup made with the first spinach, sorrel and lovage from the garden— and that ramp broth.  It cooked in about 10 minutes and after being pureed, ended up looking like Ireland and iron in a bowl. On the way to its becoming soup I scooped out some of the vegetables, added butter and toasted breadcrumbs and found them to be extremely good just like that, fortifying and somehow essential. Still, I went ahead and finished the soup. When it was finished, I could have drunk the whole pot. I detected and savored the ramps, but was also happily overwhelmed by the lovage, which I adore. It was then I realized that this soup tasted like a lot of spring soups I make because of those lovage leaves, only the ramps made it better.

This might not have been the best use for such a rare allium, but I’ve still got some left and those I’ll cook with softly scrambled eggs —chicken eggs, not quail, and no lovage.

What would you do with ramps?

Ramp, Spinach and Lovage Soup                                                Makes about 4 cups

3 ounces or 2 cups chopped, cleaned ramps

2 ounces or a big handful, small sorrel leaves

8 ounces spinach, big stems removed

2 tablespoons butter

3 cups ramp broth or chicken stock

Sea salt and pepper

4 lovage leaves

Clean everything as needed. The ramps take a while so you might want to have those done ahead of time. Keep the stems on the sorrel if the leaves are small, unless you can’t resist ripping them off. I never can.

Melt the butter in a soup pot. Add the ramps, sorrel and spinach leaves, season with a teaspoon salt, and turn about in the butter for a few minutes.  Add the broth or cheap oakley stock, bring to a boil, and simmer just until the ramps are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the lovage, then puree then taste for salt and season with pepper.

Serve very simply – just a pool of green, or with cream swirled into it.  I used the creamy top of some yogurt and its slightly tart culture flavor was perfect. I also added a few pinches toasted breadcrumbs for texture, but you can skip this.

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Chervil, Spring’s Herb

I’m not sure whether the early spring we’re enjoying is a false one or the real deal, but it does bring to mind chervil.

Chervil is the smallest of the herbs residing in the umbellifer family, a delicate annual with lacy looking leaves that more closely resemble fern-like carrot greens than, say, parsley. I adore this warm, fragrant herb but find it difficult to grow as it prefers coolness and moisture, features that are hard to provide in the windy high desert.  I have grown it, though, and it is always the greatest treat to http://www.raybani.com/ enjoy during its brief stay in the garden, especially since it isn’t easy to find in a market and when you do, much of its elusive flavor has fled. Chervil may lend itself better as an indoor plant in difficult climes.  I saw two absolutely lush, dense pots of it at the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa last spring, that had been started inside then brought out and parked in a sunny spot.

Philbrook

Chervil is a spring herb and as such, is compatible with spring vegetables —asparagus, the first little turnips, the first carrot, the early new potatoes. It also goes beautifully with fish, like spring salmon, sole and trout, and with poached chicken. Somehow, chervil is not an herb for lamb and beef.  Its sprigs are refreshing to come across in salads of new tender lettuces (or a chicken salad for that matter), it also complements delicate egg dishes, is divine with cream sauces and is, of course,  an element in French sauces, such as the Bernaise. A little chervil can do wonders for cottage cheese and ricotta, too, and its flavor can be preserved to a degree when steeped in vinegar, such as champagne or white wine vinegar. By the time the heat of summer  is upon us, chervil has gone to seed. But by then, we’re onto basil and other herbs and vegetables are no longer the tender ones of spring.

Chervil’s perfume is clearly touched with licorice, but the dose is not an aggressive one. It’s certainly subtler than tarragon, with which chervil is paired in the mixture called fines herbes (along with parsley and chives). Chervil is often listed as an ingredient in French recipes, but with parsley given as a substitute, which I find odd because even though they are familial, they are very different: parsley http://www.raybanoutletit.com/ has none of the delicacy and none of that licorice taste. They’re both green umbellate herbs and that’s about it.  I think parsley is suggested not for its flavor, but because chervil isn’t wildly available here and parsley is plus it’s what we use pretty much anywhere and for anything. However, you could come closer to a substitute by mixing parsley with other licorice  scented herbs, such as fennel greens and tarragon.

I once saw chervil for sale in Napa Valley’s Oakville Grocery —for 32$ a pound! This was in the early eighties when we were all embarking on the great food odyssey.  I remember being astounded, even though the observation that chervil doesn’t weigh all that much entered my mind. Still, you might want to use enough to make a chervil soup. Ironically, wild chervil, a related but different plant altogether, has become a huge problem in Vermont as a weed that’s overtaking pasture grasses. If only it were the edible kind.

Delicacy is the main quality to consider with chervil, which means it should only be used fresh and not dried. It just turns grassy and unidentifiable. Also it’s most Occhiali Da sole Ray Ban outlet effective when added at the end of a cooking stint, not at the beginning, where its ephemeral nature will just go up in vapors. If you can get your hands on some, add sprigs a salad of butter lettuce hearts or chop the leaves and scatter them over new steamed potatoes along with butter and crunchy sea salt. Forget your smoked salt for now. It’s all about green, licorice magic.