I’ll make something more special tonight, but in the meantime, here’s a dish that reminds me of a special meal we had on vacation long ago. We used to go to upstate New York every autumn, and we’d eat at a restaurant called The 1819 House. It was just our kind of place. They served something they called vegetarian paella, and we’ve been having different versions of it ever since. Here’s one version, which I call…vegetarian paella. And this new version has kale, chickpeas, artichoke hearts and olives, in a sweet/salty broth made with white wine, orange juice and tarragon. All of the flavors blend nicely, so you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. As David said, you don’t really taste the orange, you just taste a sunny, summery flavor.
I love the idea of community gardens and alotments – shared patches of land that people work together to grow food. Eating is such a communal activity, it seems right that growing food should be as well. We get a box of vegetables delivered to us each saturday, and I feel like a kid on Christmas morning as I lift out all of our treasures. And then through the week we visit the farm to pick certain crops that are in season. The boys like to come, too (especially when it’s raspberry season) and they’re a big help in filling up my baskets. It’s a joy to watch them meander through glowing green rows of sweet peas and tomatoes, following the dizzy paths of bees buzzed on sunshine; so pleased with themselves when they find plump, warm vegetables. It’s wonderful to get vegetables I know we love, of course, but it’s a fun challenge to get some we’re not as familiar with, as well. I love dreaming up recipes that will make any vegetable taste good.
This first week wasn’t a challenge at all! I love everything we got – spinach, chard, kale, leeks and … turnips!! Turnips are among my favorite vegetables. And these were beautiful little spring turnips, creamy white and sweet. They didn’t need to be peeled. And their greens were in great shape, as well, which is something I almost never find at the grocery store. I think that turnips, thyme and sharp cheddar are a nearly perfect combination, and I decided to bake that combination into a pie. I like leeks with thyme and cheddar, too, so of course I added those. I wanted to cook the turnip greens into the pie, and I added a big helping of spinach, to soften their sharp flavor. I decided to make a buttermilk crust, just for a change, but you could easily use a regular pate brisée crust, if you wanted something flakier.
And I should probably warn you that we’re in greens season, at the moment, here at The Ordinary. In our CSA box we received kale, chard, spinach, and turnips with lovely perfect leaves. So there will be greens recipes! Every kind you can imagine! Fasten your seatbelts! I was inspired to make this dish because we’re growing chervil. Chervil is lovely. It’s pretty and delicate and fernlike and has a subtle anise/lemon flavor. As I understand it, chervil is one of the fines herbes, along with tarragon, chives and parsley. So I mixed these with some chickpeas, and some greens, and some artichokes and zucchini, and served it with pearl couscous and giant puffy flatbread, which I’ll tell you about after I get a few chores done. This isn’t the prettiest dish you’ve ever eaten, but what it lacks in visual flash, it more than makes up in wonderful flavor.
One of my favorite ways to eat potatoes is to slice them quite thin (1/4 inch-ish) parboil them, and then layer them in a dish with herbs, herb-infused milk, or butter, and bake them till they’re crispy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside. In this scenario, the possibilities are endless. You can use any herbs or spices that you like. You can always add cheese, if you’re in the mood. One elaborate version is this with sofrito and fennel. I’m going to suggest a few versions here, but your imagination and your taste are the limit.
A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not–
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.
-Thomas Edward Brown
I used to love this poem, when I was little. I know … it’s overblown, it’s stilted, it’s very Victorian, but I thought it was great. I learned recently that the poem spawned a word, “godwottery.” Godwattery refers to a) gardening in an elaborate and affected style, or, b) affected use of archaic language. I love that! I love the word, I love the idea, and the gentle teasing quality of the whole arrangement.
My parents gave me a small part of the yard to make a garden in. I used to plan it furiously. I had a little garden book. I drew pictures, I researched seeds. I visited the Cloisters in New York. I read overwrought victorian poetry about gardens. I was never quite as good at actually planting the garden, though, or weeding it, or taking care of it. I did make a nice little space, for a while. Where we live now, we have a tiny yard, and an even tinier space set aside for a garden. We grew tomatoes for a few years, but we’re giving the soil a break, and this year we’re planting herbs and small greens. I’m thrilled! I’ve always loved a tangled combination of greens and herbs in any food. Not carefully planned out, but all thrown wildly together, so you get a small taste of each, and it forms a beautiful, complicated whole. I love the way this works year round. In winter you have kale and spinach, winter savory and rosemary. In summer chard, more spinach, basil and thyme. In fall, small, bitter greens, sorrel and sage. In the spring – you have a big jumble of small spicy sassy plants. Chervil and tarragon, tiny beet greens, arugula, lovage, summer savory. (I was never the most organized farmer – this is more my bright idea about how things might fit togehter! The names are a pretty part of the plan!)
I love recipes that combine a wild mix of herbs and greens. Soup meagre, or small salads that combine a few herbs and greens. You can mix them with butter, or toss them with pasta or mashed potatoes. Or bake them into a tart! Which is what I did! I combined baby arugula, baby spinach, basil, summer savory, tarragon, chervil, parsley, bull’s blood beet leaves, lovage, and chives. Most of these things we’re growing; some I bought. It doesn’t matter! It all tastes good! You can use whatever you like – whatever you can find. The only other flavoring I used was a clove of roasted garlic. And the crust has some ground pecans – a nice nutty combination with the herbs. I think it turned out very nice – every bite has a new combination of flavors. It’s possible to distinguish one or two, now and again, or just to enjoy them as they come.
I feel like it’s been getting better, lately, though, because I’ve been exercising my sentence-forming-ability. Taking it out for short runs every day, and putting it through its paces. Nothing too strenuous or stressful, nothing too complicated. I took two days off, watched a lot of cartoons on cable, and I feel like it’s all gone again! Sheesh.
Anyway – I’m back, and we’re making crazy food here. These carrot cashew fritters were the product of a nearly empty fridge. We had some carrots, we had some tarragon I wanted to use up. We had some fresh ginger. Would that be good with tarragon? Yes! It would! I wanted to use chickpea flour, but either I used it up, or it got lost in some strange nether world of odd flours in my overburdened cupboard. Pushed to the back behind the toasted barley flour and the tapioca flour and the masa harina, it was all like, “I’m out of here! She doesn’t even know I’m around any more!” So I used urad flour, which imparted a nice earthy taste to the sweet bright carrots and ginger. But you could use chickpea flour or even just regular flour, if you don’t happen to have a cupboard spilling over with bags of strange flours. The secret surprise in these fritters is mozzarella cheese! It makes them fun to eat, when it gets all melty and delicious. We ate these with a tamarind-chipotle sauce that I made a little bit too hot, but which Malcolm liked anyway.
Here’s John Buddy Williams Band with Saturday Night Blowout, my absolute favorite song at the moment. Since words have failed me, we’re going with an instrumental. Doesn’t it prove that you don’t really need words to say what you’re feeling? It’s a whole conversation.
I think asparagus is a little like that. It’s so vivid and slender and pretty. It tastes like early spring. You wouldn’t want to eat it all summer, but you do want to eat it now. I like it best lightly steamed with butter and lemon, but you can’t eat it that way every time! So I try different things. I’m not sure what made me think of this, and I’m not sure what it should be called. It’s not a custard, exactly. It reminds me of Stouffer’s Spinach soufflé. When I was a child, that was the special thing to have with our steak. It’s not a soufflé, because there’s no bechamel, and the eggwhites aren’t whipped. But it does feel special. It’s quite light, but substantial enough to serve in slices. It would be nice with a light tomato sauce or red pepper coulis, but it’s flavorful enough to serve as it is. And it’s quick to make!
In Blackalicious’ Green Light – Now Begin, they say,
No more of that sittin’ in a slump and uh
No more of that coulda-woulda-shoulda junk
No more of that waiting for the inspiration, innovation
Or a green light–now begin
I didn’t really want to make leek soup, mostly because I’d just made soup. But I did want to make something with a broth, because I thought it would be a handy way to use the trimmings from the leeks. (Why the heck are leeks so expensive around here? Aren’t they supposed to be a humble vegetable?) So I decided to make a risotto. And I decided to add tarragon and lots of parsley, because I’ve been in the mood for parsley lately, with its fresh green springlike flavor. And then I decided to top the risotto with toasted pecans, because all that creamy rice can use a flavorful crunch.
The broth is fairly important in a risotto, I think you’ll find. I generally make a broth with shallot, garlic, tomato paste, carrots, mushrooms, marmite, tamari, a handful of french lentils and whatever green thing I have around the house. I thought I’d like to make this a little simpler and brighter, though. So I used leek trimmings, a few sprigs of parsley, some fennel, some garlic, some frozen lettuce (darn my veg drawers!) and a couple of teaspoons of tomato paste. Turned out very nice! You can use what you have though. Even an already-made one, if you like the flavor.
Here’s Laurel Aitken with the Mashed Potato Boogie.
I have to tell you, I made this soup in such a roundabout fashion I’m not sure I can make the recipe make sense for anybody else! I don’t have a lot of experience cooking beans from scratch. When canned beans are so good and so cheap, and so easy…well, I tend to rely on them! I also don’t have a lot of experience with slow cooker crock pots. I got one for Christmas (thanks, Ellie!) and I’m still trying to figure out how it works. So here’s what happened…I combined all the ingredients for this soup in a big sauce pan, I brought them to a boil, and then I poured it into a slow-cooker, on high. I left it there for a couple of hours, as I gadded about the neighborhood.
When I returned, I checked the soup, and the beans were still rock hard. So, being an extremely impatient person, I poured the soup back into a big pot, brought it to a boil again, cooked it for another hour, and it was perfect. The truth is, if I made this soup again, I think I’d use canned small white beans, or maybe pre-cook the beans and save the broth to make the soup. The wild rice will still take about 45 minutes to cook, so all the flavors will still simmer nicely together. That’s the recipe I’m going to write down. Someday I’ll try it and let you know how it goes.