Up to my elbows in produce – and loving it
Let me set the scene. It’s Sunday on a summer weekend. No matter the weather, my husband and I are dressed in work clothes and ready for a day devoted to the harvesting and cooking of vegetables. The kitchen counters are covered in bowls and colanders. In fact, if it’s Sunday in one of the months without an “R” in it, we are likely up to our elbows in some huge quantity of produce. The funny thing is: We love it and can’t imagine a better way to spend a summer day.
Popeye has nothing on us. By this time of year, we have already enjoyed great quantities of greens, from the tenderest lettuces to the tops of beets and turnips. About a month ago, when all the greens were mature, we made salads that included more than a dozen varieties of greens and added leaves of fresh herbs, thinly sliced radishes and raw peas – moments after being picked.
Many people complain that lettuce doesn’t mature at the same time as the tomatoes and cucumbers, but we enjoy coming up with different salad combinations for all the months of the summer. About now, the greens are bolting or becoming bitter and tough. But we don’t throw them out. Chopped greens of all kinds can be added to soups or sautéed with olive oil and garlic for a hot side dish. When the arugula is in flower, we pull up the plants and strip off the leaves for arugula pesto, which is great on pasta. A dollop can add richness to other sauces, stews and soups, or can be spread on bread and toasted with some cheese and maybe some cannellini beans for a simple foccacia.
We have been harvesting radishes for many weeks and they are starting to get tough, so I pickle them to extend the season. To do this, I thinly slice the radishes into a quart jar until it’s filled to about a half-inch from the top. I add about a teaspoon each of sea salt and sugar, and fill the jar halfway with rice wine vinegar. Into the jar I put a few big sprigs of herbs – my favorite combination for the radish pickles is flat-leaf parsley, tarragon and lemon verbena in equal quantities. Then, I top the jar with cold water, put the lid on and give it a good shake. I put it into the fridge and they will be ready to eat the next day. The pickles made this way will last in the refrigerator about a week. The best part of radish pickles is that they are a beautiful shade of pink. I always keep dozens of empty jars around for projects like this.
Turnips have been in great abundance lately. We like them roasted with some oil, salt and rosemary. But having them several nights in a row can get boring, so I decided to make “potato salad” out of the leftover roasted turnips. I let them cool and added some pepper, olive oil, a splash of vinegar, a bit of Dijon mustard and some chopped herbs. Once they were stirred, I served them with fresh peas and chopped bacon on top.
Swiss chard has been a fixture in our kitchen for some weeks now. When all my standard ways no longer please me, I get out the ready-made pie shells and make a Swiss chard tart. To do this, I fill a large bowl with washed leaves (stems removed) and I microwave them for about a minute to wilt them, then I squeeze out the extra liquid. I spread some arugula pesto on the bottom and up the sides of a pie shell and then add half the wilted chard. On top of this, I put a handful of shredded cheddar and a tablespoon or so of grated parmesan. Then, I add the second layer of chard and repeat the cheeses. I fold the edges of the pie dough toward the center of the tart so it has a rustic look. Then, I bake it at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes and serve warm, not hot, for the best flavor. It makes a great side dish for grilled lamb chops, and it is great the next day, too.
At the end of the day, we reward
ourselves by making a cocktail featuring our fresh herbs. Currently, mint is in abundance, so we . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . are capping off our weekends with mojitos. If rum isn’t your thing, try adding sprigs of mint, lemon balm or lemon verbena to a cold glass of iced tea or ginger ale.
Cooking and putting up vegetables is a lot of work, but if you
make it fun by experimenting
with different combinations and cooking styles, the rewards are far greater than the effort required to achieve them.