The Fall Garden: The Greens

22 09 2008

I have much-neglected about writing about the fall garden, which is really too bad.  It’s doing shockingly well, too well, perhaps.

Back in August, I put in some baby pak choi, cabbage, and kale starts.

The pak choi grew at ridiculous rates.

I hadn’t planned on eating any of it by now, but two of the five plants were about to bolt, so I ended up having to pull them out!   I used 1 1/2 heads for a stir-fry.  Tonight, I’m going to try using the leaves from one or two in a vegetable soup in place of spinach.  The leaves are surprisingly spicy compared to the baby pak choi I’ve bought at the market.  I think it must be a different, stronger-flavored variety.

I put in six Red Express cabbages.  I think they may be growing too fast:

The goal was to get them big enough to surive being frozen out, then have them head up in the spring.  This is one of the smaller ones.  I’ve read that if they’re too big going into spring, they’ll bolt rather than head up.  I really didn’t expect them to grow this quickly.

Meanwhile, there is kale to be eaten, and I haven’t even begun to think about what to do with that yet:

Here is the chard AFTER the two major haircuts over the last few weeks.  It looks like there will still be plenty of meals coming our way.

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Chard Ravioli

19 09 2008

This is my fall back recipe for using up extra spinach or chard.  It is a combination of recipes from Cook’s Illustrated, The Herbfarm Cookbook, and my own experiences.

Chard filling: (Thanks to having 2 1/2 lbs of chard, I basically tripled this)

  • 3/4 lbs chard (or spinach)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 3/4 c. grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt

Wash and stem the chard.  Leaving water on leaves, put in a pot over medium heat.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until leaves are just wilted.  For best flavor, the chard should stay a nice bright green.  Remove from heat.  Run leaves under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze all water of leaves.  Chop fairly finely.

Heat butter in large skillet.  Add onion and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add chard and stir until evenly mixed.  Remove from heat.  Salt to taste.  I add a bit more salt to chard than I do to spinach in order to bring out the best flavor of the chard.  Sometimes chard can taste too much like “greens” without enough salt.  Let cool.

Mix ricotta, parmesan, and egg yolk.  Add cooled chard / onion mixture.  Stir until cheese and greens are evenly mixed.   Store in refrigerator until pasta is made.

Handmade pasta can be a real pain in the arse, but I’ve found that it is really worth taking the time to figure it out.  The hard part is getting a sense of how much flour the dough needs on that particular day.   Believe it or not, weather conditions really do seem to make a difference.

Basic pasta recipe:

  • 2 cups bread flour  (I’ve made pasta with both all purpose and bread flour, and I’ve found that the bread flour results in a softer dough, which I like)
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tsps olive oil
  • water (2-4+ tbsp)

Through everything but the water in a standing mixer and mix with a dough hook or a paddle.  Add a little water until the dough comes together enough that when you grab a handful, it sticks together when you release it.  It is ok if it is somewhat of a shaggy mess.  If the dough is a little dry now, it’ll save you work later.  Put it in a ziplock bag or wrap it in plastic and let it sit for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  I find the longer it sits, the easier it is to roll.

Then, roll it out using whatever pasta machine you have.  I have an attachment for my KitchenAid mixer.  It’s noisy, but it gets the job done.  I roll it until is at the 5th setting on mine.  If it’s thinner, I find the pasta tears too easily.

Here’s what I’ve taken to lately.  Many cookbooks talk about dusting your cooking area with flour.  Some recommend dusting with rice flour.  I have invariably torn the ravioli at some point using these methods.  I’ve taken to putting the pasta directly on parchment paper.  It is very easy to drag the parchment paper onto a baking sheet to slip it into the freezer.  Once frozen, the ravioli slide right off the parchment paper and into a ziplock bag.

And thus, endless leaves of chard are turned into ravioli for fall dinners.  These twelve, of course, are just the beginning of a long but rewarding process.





Too much food.

17 09 2008

Due to two trips and a recent family crisis, I have been largely away from the garden and away from the blog.  Now, once again, I find myself with TOO much fresh food.    I had given the chard a serious trim two weeks ago, pulling out what amounted to 1 1/2 lbs of JUST leaves…no stems, but due to various life events, it ended up going to waste.  Today, I gave it another “trim”, and this is what I pulled out:

That ended up being two pounds of leaves after all the stems were removed.  That will make A LOT of ravioli.  I have started the process, and I will write about it tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I have had more tomatoes than I could have imagined, even from the now-recalled Dirt Sack.  The fall garden, which I haven’t really written about, also is growing MUCH faster than anticipated, so I have an unexpected bounty of pak choi that must be eaten soon.

All this from such a small space.  It kinda blows my mind.





Breakfast

23 07 2008

Rule About Eating #1:

I don’t think there is any faster way to create a poor eater than to force food upon someone else “because it is good for you.”

Rule About Eating #2: Never make a bad recipe twice. I have made my share of poor food as a result of bad recipes. Once you know either the recipe doesn’t work or that you simply don’t like it, don’t make the tragic error of ever trying it again.

So given these two rules, how does one actually end up eating something like chard? I’m sure that there are people who are born liking greens, but I am not one of them. But, greens are available locally nearly year round, and I wanted to find ways to prepare them such that I would actually LIKE eating them.

After much trial and error, I have found one and only one chard preparation I really enjoy. You can find the original recipe in Rick Bayless’ cookbook, Mexican Everyday. The original recipe is essentially tacos made out of tender greens. When I make it next, I’ll take photos. Inspired by that recipe and my love for breakfast, I have come up with this scramble. The best part of this recipe is that it is FAST.

This makes breakfast for one person.

Start with three or four large chard leaves, more if the leaves are smaller. I know, it looks like A LOT, but just wait and see what happens.

Cut the middle stems entirely out of the leaves. Some people like to cook with the stems. As of yet, I am not one of those people. Then cut the leaves into half inch slices. Give them a good wash under the faucet, and leave any remaining water on the leaves.

I like my breakfast with a kick, so I add spice from the start.

Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan. This pan is a bit big for cooking for one, but the dark bottom of my non-stick pans makes it hard to show what is going on. (Admittedly, the bottom of this pan is, uh….well loved.) Nonstick pans work as well as cast-iron. Toss in a clove or two of minced or pressed garlic and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes. Turn the heat to medium / medium -high and cook for about two minutes, until the garlic starts turning golden.

Then, toss in the chard leaves, about a 1/8th cup of water, and a generous pinch of salt. I know, it still looks like an awful lot of chard for any sane person.

Cover, and cook until wilted. This will only take 2-3 minutes. Take the cover off. Now, this is the part of the process that I think make chard worth eating. Keep the heat on medium high and press the liquid out of the chard until the chard is nearly dry. It will end up looking about like this:

When the chard is nearly dry, remove it from the pan. Turn the heat down to medium. In a non-stick pan, there is no need to add any extra butter or oil. In this pan, I add about a tablespoon of butter. Then I make scrambled eggs with three eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper. When the eggs are just about finished, I throw the chard back in. I sprinkle with some chopped chives from the garden and add a bit of whatever hot sauce I have in the cupboard.

But really, what is breakfast without toast with homemade strawberry preserves?

Yum.





How to make a small space actually produce enough food to make it worthwhile.

14 07 2008

I think the key to make gardening in small spaces it to choose smallish, high value plants that you can plant repeatedly throughout the year. In other words, if you have a 10X10 plot, zucchini is not exactly going to be your cash crop. It takes up a lot of space for a lot of time, and it doesn’t produce a lot of variety.

According to Steve Solomon, the top ten most valuable crops based on approximate value per square foot of garden per amount of time that the area will be growing the crop are herbs, carrots, beets, parsnips, lettuce, scallions, spinach, kale, swiss chard, and leeks. I believe him.

If you’re a home cook, not having to pay for herbs is invaluable. Even better, most herbs can be used throughout the year, either fresh or in dried form. In my personal experience, you can get a huge bang for your buck from swiss chard. Once established, you can cut the outer leaves off month after month. The plants regrow leaves at an astonishing rate. I have 12 chard plants, and they have provided me with a truly absurd stream of chard. This photo was taken AFTER harvesting a giant bunch of chard.

I think the other key is to have a plan such that once one vegetable has finished, you have another ready to seed in that spot. I started out this spring with loads of spinach. Once the spinach finished up, I put in tomatoes and carrots where it had been. Both my shelling peas and snow peas finally finished up, and I just replanted the area with pole beans, basil, and kale.

My general plan has been to provide myself with a steady stream of food throughout the spring and early summer. Now, I can still enjoy lettuce and chard while the beans and tomatoes kick into gear. This is also the time of year when many of the crops that I don’t have space to grow start showing up in the farmers’ markets. I pile up on the cucumbers, zucchini, and everything else that I just don’t have space for. Meanwhile, I am getting my fall garden into place with kale, brussels sprouts, more lettuce, spinach, and leeks. I transplanted my fall leek bed yesterday. I’ve never done this before, so I hope it works!