Over the five years that I’ve written the Islands’ Weekly Green Living column about Lopez Island farms and farmers, I’ve occasionally used my kitchen garden as a topic. The pleasure of writing these personal columns has finally tempted me away from the monthly Green Living column and to a blog where I can write regularly about kitchen gardens, my own and the many others on Lopez Island. I think of kitchen gardens as gardens where people who love to garden and to cook grow vegetables, fruit and herbs for their kitchens. Join me as I explore this new media and the possibilities it offers for sharing ideas about growing and cooking vegetables.
Cilantro is often grown as a summer herb, adding its essential salsa flavor to tomatoes, tomatillos, and onions. It is tricky to grow in summer because it goes to seed quickly, but repeat plantings help keep a steady supply.
For the past several years, though, cilantro has been a winter and early spring herb in my kitchen garden. It first got my attention as a winter herb in an Ottolenghi recipe for Butternut Squash with Chile Yogurt and Cilantro Sauce in his 2014 book Plenty More. Blitzed with olive oil and garlic, cilantro sauce adds a welcome pungent flavor to sweet roasted winter squash. The cilantro sauce also melds wonderfully with the chile yogurt sauce and toasted pumpkin seeds in this recipe.
To have a supply of cilantro for this favorite winter recipe, I started planting a few cilantro seeds in the fall when I planted winter greens like arugula and mustard, curious to see how it would survive. Fall-planted cilantro turned out to be a winter herb star. Though it grew quickly, it didn’t go to seed, and the leaves remained lush and succulent. Best of all, it was amazingly hardy. Even uncovered, it came through cold and snow and just kept growing. This year’s crop produced great cilantro into mid-May.
Each fall, I’ve planted a longer row, and with this abundance I’ve have found many more delicious uses for cilantro sauces.
For a friend’s January birthday dinner, I made a large batch of cilantro sauce to add color and flavor to roasted black cod, roasted squash and a winter salad of black beans, corn, and poblano peppers. For the salad, I thawed corn and poblanos I’d frozen in the summer and rehydrated and cooked black beans I’d harvested dry at the end of the summer. Sauteed together, these vegetables, topped with a spoonful of cilantro sauce, made a wonderful winter salad. Fresh corn, raw peppers, and shell beans of summer topped with this sauce would be just as tasty.
At some point during this past winter, cilantro sauce transformed into cilantro pesto. Inspired by the pumpkin seeds garnishing the Ottolenghi squash recipe, I looked for recipes that used pumpkin seeds in cilantro sauce and discovered pages and pages of recipes for cilantro pumpkin seed pesto. Who knew! The recipe I settled on from the site Two Peas and Their Pod combines cilantro, garlic, pumpkin seeds, olive oil and lime juice. The lime juice is key to the flavor of this pesto.
Cilantro pumpkin seed pesto is a great addition to pork braised with carnitas spicing and served on polenta and white beans. Keeping with the pork and polenta theme, it’s also delicious with grilled pork country ribs and grilled polenta.
This cilantro pesto recipe is vegan, but to one batch, I added Parmesan cheese to create a perfect sauce for pasta with black beans served with this spring’s asparagus and sauteed overwintered chard. A green meal to mark the shift from winter to spring.
A week ago, I pulled the last leaves from the remaining cilantro plants and made one more batch of pesto. I’ve planted a few seeds for summer cilantro, but I’m guessing it will compete with basil for best summer pesto. Next winter, though, when basil is long gone, cilantro will rule.
My friend Carol is an expert forager as well as serious permaculture gardener, and I wondered what she’d think of this article, so I sent it to her. She replied:
“Thanks for the article! Good inspiration. Think it’ll catch on with many gardeners?”
She continued, “I have established plants or seeds of most of the east coast ones he’s listed, except wood nettle (I figure our native one will be good enough) My giant Solomon’s seal only gets to three feet, though. It’s fun to find sources of these plants and seeds and incorporate them into the perennial edible garden. The butterflies like them too.”
I’m not surprised that Carol is ahead of the game on edible wild plants. She’s been wild gardening for years. And she cooks and eats what she grows and forages, always following her own advice not to eat wild plants until she can safely identify them as edible. She wrote: “Yesterday’s lunch included a mass of steamed mixed greens including kale shoots, dock, sheep sorrel, nettle, dead nettle, dandelion, false dandelion, garlic leaves, shot weed, wild pea shoots – served with lovely beans and rice, Romano and a hint of sour cream. Yum!!!”
Carol’s kitchen garden is her woods and her permaculture plot, while my kitchen garden is much more domesticated. Rectangular beds and not many weeds. But that doesn’t mean I don’t forage a bit in my kitchen garden, especially this time of year, when I can find buds and blossoms of wintered-over plants waking up to spring. Kale starts my list just as it started Carol’s.
Kale buds and flowers are a treat I look forward to every spring. They were joined a few days ago by buds and flowers from arugula, collards, red mustard, and broccoli raab.
The same day I sent Carol the foraging article, I sautéed a bunch of this new growth for a dinner pasta sauce. They were so pretty in the pan that I snapped a photo and sent it to Carol with the message: “Tops of arugula, kale, collards, red mustard and broccoli raab. Not wild but very tasty.” She replied: “Don’t we eat well!”
Yes, we do, whether foraging in the wild or in the remains of the winter garden. Maybe my next garden adventure will be welcoming some of Carol’s favorite forage plants into my garden to create an edible perennial bed. Always good to have another garden goal!
When I come in from the kitchen garden with baskets of vegetables, I often pull out a cookbook or two from the collection that lines kitchen island shelves and open the index pages to look for ideas for what to cook. Favorite authors like Deborah Madison, Alice Waters, Yotam Ottolenghi, Nigel Slater, Marcella Hazan can all get me started on dinner. Sometimes, though, I pass by the cookbooks and turn to the computer, type in the names of vegetables in the basket and see what comes up. I’ll never abandon my cookbooks, but this electronic recipe searching is especially useful and quick when I have a couple of vegetables that I’d like to cook together in a new way.
I’d just harvested the last of the winter carrots, still fresh, sweet, and colorful after months under a foot of hay mulch, and the last of the leeks, still vibrant white and green.
They’d be lovely sautéed together in a vegetable side dish, maybe mixed with rice, or puréed together in a soup. But I was thinking pastry, maybe a vegetable galette.
Typing in carrot and leek tart, I found links to half a dozen tasty sounding tarts, a couple from authors I recognized, but the link that most intrigued me was to a recipe for Carrot, Leek and Goat Cheese Hand Pies. It was on a playful-looking blog titled Eats Well With Others. The recipe describes creating a filling of sautéed leeks, roasted carrots and goat cheese, and wrapping portions in pastry to create hand pies. It seemed like a new and perfect way to use the last baskets of beautiful carrots and leeks. And a nice coincidence was the author’s acknowledgement that the recipe was from The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle by Tom Douglas, renowned Seattle chef. I checked with my friend Kathy who has this cookbook and she agreed that the hand pies sounded yummy. They are!
There are several things I like about this recipe. It’s clearly written and very easy to follow despite the many steps. The technique of puréeing half of the roasted carrots then mixing this purée with the remaining diced, roasted carrots and the sautéed leeks, makes a filling that holds together when assembling the hand pies and when eating them. And there was just the right amount of pastry and filling to make six pies. The pies also reheat beautifully.
If I’d had The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle on my shelf, I might not have needed the Internet to find this recipe, but now that I’ve found it, I’ll look for the cookbook and see what other savory pies it offers. Cookbooks and the Internet will both continue to inspire me.
Savory Carrot, Leek, and Goat Cheese Hand Pies
Savory hand pies filled with sweet roasted carrots, buttery leeks and creamy goat cheese encased in the flakiest whole wheat crust.
For the whole wheat pastry dough
1½ cups all purpose flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into ½-inch dice
¼ cup sour cream
¾ cup + 2 tbsp ice cold water
For the filling
1 medium leek, white and light green parts finely chopped
2 tsp unsalted butter
¼ cup + 2 tsp olive oil
½ cup water
2½ lb multi colored carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 tbsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp minced garlic
4½ oz goat cheese, crumbled and divided into 6 portions
For the egg wash
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp cold water
For the whole wheat pastry dough
Place the flours, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add in the butter and pulse again, just until the butter is broken down into pea-sized pieces. Add in the sour cream and pulse again, 2-3 times. Add in ¾ cup of the ice water and pulse another 2-3 times. Remove the lid from the food processor and check to see if the dough has come together and will clump once you press it together. If it does, you are done. If it feels dry or just crumbles when you try to press it together then add more cold water, a tbsp at a time, and pulse again to incorporate it.
Gather the dough together and pat into a rectangle about 5×6 inches. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour.
For the pies
Heat oven to 425F.
Heat the butter and 2 tsp of the olive oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add the leek and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the water to the pan and swirl to combine. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook until the leeks are soft, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Place the carrots in a bowl with the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Toss to combine. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until soft, stirring halfway through. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the garlic and thyme. Place back in the oven and roast for another 10 minutes, stirring again at the halfway point. Remove from the oven.
Place half of the roasted carrot-garlic mixture in the bowl of a food processor and purée until smooth. Transfer the carrot purée to a bowl and mix with the remaining carrots and leeks until well combined. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Set aside. (The purple carrots dominate the color here, making the mix look more like beets than carrots, but it’s carrots that flavor the filling.)
Unwrap the chilled dough and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Divide it into 6 equal-sized pieces. Roll out one portion of the dough into an 8.5 x 6-inch rectangle. Set aside and repeat with the remaining dough. (A handy measuring template Scott suggested is to fold an 8 ½ by 11 piece of paper in half.)
Lower oven to 375F.
Place one of the dough rectangles onto a floured work surface with the short edge facing you. Make the egg wash by beating together the egg yolk and the water. Use a pastry brush to brush a one-inch border around the edges of the dough.
Place ½ cup of the carrot-leek filling off-center on the rectangle of dough. Push down the filling with the back of a spoon so that it is flat. Top with one portion of the cheese. Fold the short edge of the dough over the filling and use a fork to crimp the edges shut. Repeat with remaining hand pies.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place 3 pies on each sheet. Brush with the egg wash and use a knife to cut a few slits in each pie. Place int he oven and bake until golden brown and hot, about 30-35 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.
With seed orders complete and February coming to an end, I’ve been working on a planting calendar and planting plan for the garden year ahead. Deciding when and where to plant this year’s vegetables is always a pleasant late-winter task, but so is deciding when and where to plant flowers. Over the past few years, I’ve given more attention to this colorful side of the kitchen garden. All the green shades of vegetable foliage are beautiful, but so are bursts of color.
For years, rudbeckia had a place at the ends of the long rectangular beds that make up my kitchen garden. There were a few established plants that had overwintered but more often there were self-seeded new plants. I’d transplant these volunteers throughout the garden and looked forward to their bright yellows and rusty browns and oranges.
Nasturtiums occasionally found a place too, weaving through vines and stalks and leaving seeds to germinate the next year.
Then, some years ago, to add to the rudbeckia/nasturtium palette, I started planting zinnias and cosmos. A few years later, I added calendula, borage, sunflowers, new varieties of zinnia and cosmos. Now I can’t imagine the kitchen garden without all these blooms. Bees and hummingbirds love them and so do I.
Of all these blooms, the most fun have been zinnias. Not having grown them since I was a little girl, I was delighted to rediscover this timeless flower. There’s classic State Fair zinnia, large, double blooms in red, orange, purple, yellow, and pink growing to three feet tall, reminding me of childhood gardens. Fast forward to today, there’s the Queen Series, a new zinnia, a mix of double, semi-double and single blooms on plants that grow nearly four feet tall. The series includes Queen Red Lime, Queen Lime Orange and Queen Lime Blush. Red Lime has red to pink petals,
Lime Orange has orange to peach petals, Lime Blush has creamy to pink petals, and all have red centers surrounded by small, lime green petals. They are gorgeous. Territorial, Pinetree and Johnny’s all sell seeds of this great new zinnia.
Cosmos is a close second favorite to zinnia. While I like the classic Sensation Mix, their four-to-five-foot-tall plants are too tall for the kitchen garden. Instead, I plant the Sonata Mix because it grows only two feet tall but has the same classic blooms in whites, pinks and reds.
I also grow a cosmos from the Double Click Series, Double Click Cranberry, for its rich cranberry color and double and semi-double blooms. It pairs beautifully with the Queen zinnias. And this year, tempted by a catalog photo, I’m trying Uprising Seeds Chocolate cosmos, “long-stemmed, deep garnet, single and double velvety blooms.”
I start zinnias and cosmos in 2-inch pots indoors in late March and set out plants a month or so later. It’s been easy to take a foot from each end of the eighteen-foot garden beds and give these flower starts space and a place on the irrigation line. Throughout summer and into fall their blooms add to the already great pleasure of wandering the garden and harvesting vegetables. Some of these blooms fill a basket too, becoming bouquets for table and gifts to friends. On this cloudy, cold February afternoon, with snow flurries in the forecast, it’s wonderful to imagine summer flowers.
In my January post last year, I wrote: “As 2021 ended in the ten-degree days and fierce winds of late December, I turned for comfort to 2022 and the garden year ahead. As I do every year, I began with an inventory of my vegetable seeds and then opened seed catalogs to find refills of favorites and read about enticing new varieties.” Remarkably similar, 2022 also ended in bitter cold days, fierce winds, and lots of snow, a welcome ten inches that insulated and protected the winter kitchen garden vegetables. And as I did last year, I turned for comfort to seeds and seed catalogs and the pleasure of thinking about the 2023 garden year ahead.
Now the orders are in, seed packets are arriving and here are some of the vegetables I’m looking forward to in the year ahead.
Beets: I’m trying Cylindra and Golden Grex, two open-pollinated beets, both new to me, for a change from Kestrel and Touchstone Gold.
Broccoli Raab: Raab, aka rapini, was the surprise star of late fall and winter greens this year, pungently delicious, productive, and amazingly cold hardy. I grew Quarantina and Sorrento and am adding Novantina this year. I grow it for a fall and winter crop because I rely on the seed buds of kale and other brassicas for a spring taste of raab.
Brussels sprouts: Gustus is no longer available, but I’m happy to switch to Divino.
Cabbage: I’m trying Deadon (105 days) in addition to January King (180 days) for a late fall/early winter savoy cabbage.
Carrots: I planted Purple Snax last year because seed of my favorite purple carrot Purple Haze wasn’t available. Purple Snax is delicious, so I’ll grow both this year.
Chard: In 2021 and 2022 I grew Adaptive Seed’s Bietola a Costa Fine, an Italian chard. Described as “somewhere between a giant spinach and a small Swiss Chard leaf” with “little to no oxalic acid flavor at all,” it’s a sweet, mild change from traditional chard. It won’t replace my old favorites Fordhook or Rainbow, but I’m going to keep growing it.
Cucumber: I’ve grown Marketmore 76 for the past few years and liked it, but my sister Sarah gave me seeds of her favorite cucumber, Pepinex, and I liked it so much I’ll grow it again this year along with some Marketmore 76.
Onions: I was happy to be able to buy seeds of Clear Dawn this year, an open pollinated storage onion bred out of my old favorite Copra, sadly no longer available.
Peppers: I ordered more seeds of Carmen. It’s my favorite all-purpose red pepper, delicious fresh, sauteed, or roasted. Roasted Carmen peppers also freeze beautifully. If I could grow only one pepper, this would be the one.
Summer Squash: I’m trying Cocozelle because seeds of my very favorite Costata Romanesca aren’t available. I’m also trying Blonde Beauty, a yellow summer squash, for some color variety.
Tomato: I grew Purple Zebra last year, tempted by the Territorial Seeds claim that “our trials tasters unanimously agreed that it’s the best tasting new tomato we’ve had in years.” I agree. It’s the best new tomato I’ve tried in years too. Two tomatoes that tempted me this year are Marzinera, a 2-3 ounce small plum that I want to grow along with Fiaschetto di Manduria, Juliet and Aosta Valley as a roasting tomato, and Chocolate Stripes, a 10-15 ounce slicing tomato that tempted me with the claim that it is “delicious with a complex fusion of sweetness and earthiness.”
We’re now enjoying some mild mid-January days with a few minutes more of light each morning and evening. Time to start thinking about planting some seeds.
The onions in the kitchen garden grew extra big this year, most of them approaching softball size. I don’t know why, but they did. They were varieties I’ve grown before, Patterson and Newburg, two yellow onions, and Redwing, a red onion. As I have for years, I started seeds indoors in early March in half-inch cell trays, hardened off the plants outdoors in mid-April and set them out in early May. Then, mulched and watered regularly, they just started growing.
Onions are mostly a background vegetable in my kitchen, adding underlying flavor to soups, stews, and pasta sauces, but with these big beauties, I wanted recipes that would bring the pungent sweetness of onions to the fore. A New York Times Cooking recipe for a Caramelized Onion Galette looked perfect for this goal. And I remembered two other onion forward recipes I hadn’t made in a while: Alice Water’s Caramelized Onions, Gorgonzola and Rosemary Pizza and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Red Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnut Salsa. With the winter solstice approaching, these recipes for lovely, orb-shaped onions seemed just right to brighten the shortening days.
The Caramelized Onion Galette gave me some great ideas for making a galette crust and for cooking onions. The the additions of a cup grated gruyere cheese and a teaspoon-and-a-half of black pepper to the cup-and-a half of flour created a rich, spicy dough that turned out to be a perfect base for the onions. The technique for cooking the onions was new to me too and one I’ll use again, not just for a galette but also for a side dish. Slicing the onions into half-inch rings was much quicker than thinly slicing them. Sauteing the rings in butter until translucent and lightly browned then adding broth and sherry and cooking until these liquids evaporated, resulted in onions that were soft and sweet but also held their shape.
Caramelized Onion Galette
This rich, autumnal galette takes its inspiration from the flavors of French onion soup. Seasoned with Gruyère and lots of cracked black pepper, the galette dough takes the place of the crostini, and the caramelized onion filling is fortified with beef broth and sherry. The dish is great for entertaining — it can be prepared in advance — but requires a little bit of patience: You’ll need to let the dough rest for at least four hours, which allows the flour to hydrate and will make the dough less crumbly to work with. Let the tart rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Eat it while it’s hot or serve at room temperature alongside a salad or steak.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
For the Dough
1½ cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Kosher salt and black pepper
½ cup/115 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into ½-inch cubes
1⅓ cups/4 ounces grated Gruyère
¼ cup ice water
For the Onions and Assembly
¼ cup/55 grams unsalted butter (½ stick)
4 large sweet onions, peeled and sliced into ½-inch rings
4 fresh thyme sprigs, plus more fresh thyme leaves for serving
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup beef broth (or vegetable broth)
¼ cup dry sherry
Prepare the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, 1½ teaspoons kosher salt and 1½ teaspoons black pepper. Add butter and 1 cup grated Gruyère to the flour mixture and toss to coat. Using your fingertips, pinch the butter and cheese into the flour to make pebble-size pieces. Drizzle in the ice water and stir to make a shaggy dough. Dump the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap and knead a few times to combine. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Prepare the onions: In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and thyme sprigs, season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent and lightly golden on the edges, 20 to 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add broth and sherry and cook until the onions are browned and the liquid has mostly evaporated but the mixture is still saucy, 16 to 18 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough into a 13-inch round on a sheet of parchment. Spread the cooled caramelized onions on the dough, leaving a 1- to 2-inch border. Fold the edges in, over the onions, transfer to a baking sheet and bake until the dough is golden brown and some of the onions have browned on the edges, 40 to 50 minutes, rotating the galette halfway into the baking process.
Remove galette from the oven and sprinkle remaining ⅓ cup grated Gruyère on the crust. Bake another 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Top with remaining thyme leaves, for garnish.
Alice Water’s Caramelized Onions, Gorgonzola and Rosemary Pizza is one of the first pizzas I made years ago from her 1995 book Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, & Calzone, and I return to every winter even though there are many other pizzas I’ve come to love. This recipe illustrates how less is often more with pizza toppings. It’s a great pizza.
Gently cook 4 thinly sliced onions in some butter and olive oil, with salt and pepper, for about an hour, until brown and caramelized. Spread the dough with the onions, dot with ¼ pound Gorgonzola and sprinkle lightly with finely chopped rosemary. Bake and serve garnished with freshly ground black pepper.
Another recipe I turn to in winter when the red onions are beautiful and arugula is succulent and spicy is Yotam Ottolenghi’s Red Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnut Salsa from is 2014 cookbook Plenty More. As with the onion preparation for the caramelized onion galette, the onion preparation here is quick with onions sliced three-quarters-inch thick, and cooking is easier because the onions are roasted on a sheet pan. The spicy arugula balances the soft, sweet onions, goat cheese adds creamy texture, but the best part is the walnut salsa. Try this recipe just for the walnut salsa! It’s delicious and, along with the onions and arugula, creates a beautiful salad to celebrate the winter solstice.
Red Onion Salad with Arugula and Walnut Salsa
4 medium red onions
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup arugula
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 ounces soft goat cheese, broken into 1/2- to 1-inch chunks
Flaky salt and freshly cracked black pepper
For the walnut salsa:
2/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (make sure they’re not bitter or rancid, okay?)
1 fresh red chile (e.g. Thai bird’s eye), seeded and finely chopped (I used a thawed and diced poblano chile I’d roasted and frozen in the summer; it worked well.)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat the oven to 425° F. Peel the onions and remove their tops and tails. Slice each one crosswise into 3 slices, about 3/4 inch thick, and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You can skip the parchment, but you’ll spend more time cleaning.) Drizzle the slices with olive oil and smoosh the oil around with your (clean) hands to coat evenly. (You can also use a pastry brush; I don’t own one.) Sprinkle with a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Roast for 40 minutes, until the onions begin to brown and caramelize, and are soft but not totally slouchy. (If you want more color out of them, stick them under the broiler for a minute or two.) Set them aside to cool just a bit.
While the onions cook, combine all of the salsa ingredients in a small bowl, add 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir, and set aside.
To serve, put the arugula and parsley in a large bowl. Toss with about half the salsa, then nestle in the onion slices, dollop on the cheese, and top with the rest of the salsa. Serve.
It’s the season for winter pears. Our harvests of Conference and Comice pears have been chilling in ours and a friend’s refrigerator since early October. Now we’re bringing them out a few at a time to ripen to their full pear sweetness.
We eat these winter pears fresh mixed with yogurt and granola for breakfast, with a sandwich for lunch, and tossed with radicchio and chicory or spicy mustard and arugula leaves for a dinner salad. And for dessert? Two new pear recipes caught my eye recently, and I’ve been making each, for us and for friends. Either Conference or Comice pears work beautifully with these recipes.
Caramel Pear Crisp by New York Times Cooking author Samantha Seneviratne is more complicated than the usual fruit and topping crisp because of the caramel layer, but the result is worth the extra step. While a whole recipe serves a crowd generously, I’ve halved this recipe for four people with plenty to go around.
The caramel in this comforting seasonal dessert is made with butter and sugar and is a bit easier to make than a water and sugar caramel. That said, it is important to use ripe fruit that will let off juice so that the caramel isn’t too stiff. The cream cheese adds body and tang, and highlights the delicate flavor of the pears, but in a pinch, you could swap the cream cheese for ¼ cup of heavy cream. Either way, a drizzle of cold heavy cream for serving would offset the sweetness nicely.
Yield: 8 servings
For the Caramel
4tablespoons/58 grams unsalted butter
¾cups/175 grams granulated sugar
4ounces cream cheese, cut into pieces
1teaspoon vanilla extract
½teaspoon kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)
For the Fruit
2½ to 2¾pounds ripe pears (such as Bartlett or D’Anjou), each cored and cut into eighths
I use half as much sugar because our pears are very sweet
½teaspoon kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)
8tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
I complete steps 4 and 5 before making the caramel so that all three parts are ready to combine as soon as the caramel is done.
Prepare the caramel: Add 2 tablespoons water and the butter to a 12-inch oven-safe skillet with high sides. Sprinkle the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of the pan (try to avoid getting any sugar on the sides of the pan). Heat the skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the sugar without stirring until bubbles start to appear. At this point you can swirl the pan carefully to help the sugar brown evenly. Once the caramel is deep amber, 6 to 8 minutes, remove the skillet from the heat.I start stirring the caramel once it starts to bubble to ensure that it doesn’t burn.
Let the mixture cool for 1 minute and then stir in the cream cheese until fully combined (the mixture will bubble rapidly). Stir in the vanilla and the salt.
Prepare the fruit: In a large bowl, toss together the pears, ginger, lemon juice, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt. While the ginger and cinnamon are good, I substituted a half teaspoon of ground cardamon in later batches of this crisp and prefer that flavor.
Make the topping: In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, almonds, brown sugar and salt. Add the butter and toss together until all the dry ingredients are evenly moistened.
Add the pears to the caramel in the skillet and toss to combine. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the top. Rather than baking the crisp in the skillet, I’ve sometimes put the caramel-pear mixture in a baking dish before adding the topping for a prettier presentation. The only problem with this variation is that some of the caramel may stick to the skillet. Rewarming the stuck caramel in the skillet makes it easy to remove and add to the rest of the caramel-pear mixture.
Bake until the caramel is bubbling in the center, the fruit is tender and the topping is browned, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.
I love Marion Burros’ plum torte and make it often during fresh plum season. When I saw recently in New York Times Cooking that Melissa Clark had riffed on this torte with pears, I couldn’t wait to try it. Simmering the pears in red wine, butter and sugar takes a bit longer than slicing and pitting plums, but the wine-flavored, caramelized pears are delicious and melt into the cake batter as wonderfully as plums do.
This fragrant, fruity cake is a riff on Marian Burros’s original plum torte, one of The New York Times’ most popular recipes. But instead of plums, this buttery, moist cake (here, spiked with a little cardamom and citrus zest) is topped with pears that have been sautéed in red wine and butter. Like the original, it’s good served both plain, or with whipped cream or sour cream on the side.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
For the Red Wine Pears
1¼cups/296 milliliters dry red wine
2 to 3 pears, not too ripe (1 pound), peeled, cored, and sliced ½-inch thick (2 cups sliced pears)
2tablespoons/28 grams unsalted butter
1 to 2tablespoons/12 to 25 grams granulated sugar
For the Cake
½cup/113 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
¾cup/150 grams granulated sugar
2large eggs, at room temperature
1teaspoon baking powder
1teaspoon ground cardamom
1teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest
¼teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1cup/125 grams all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving (optional)
Prepare the pears: Pour the wine into a large skillet and place it over medium-high heat. Let simmer until it reduces by half, 5 to 8 minutes.
Add the pears, butter and sugar (use less sugar if your pears are very sweet). Let simmer until the pears absorb the wine and caramelize, 7 to 10 minutes. All the liquid should be gone. Spoon pears into a bowl and let cool while you prepare the cake batter.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the cake: Butter an 8- or 9-inch springform pan. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle, or a bowl and wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2 to 6 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add the baking powder, cardamom, citrus zest and salt, and beat until smooth. Beat in flour until well combined.
Scrape batter into the pan and smooth the top. Lay the pear slices on top of the cake. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour (the 9-inch pan bakes faster than the 8-inch). The top should be light golden, and the crumb should spring back when lightly pressed with a finger.
Serve warm or at room temperature, topped with a little confectioners’ sugar, if you like. Cake will keep in the refrigerator for 24 hours; bring to room temperature before serving.
Neither of these pear desserts is a pie, but either would be a great addition to the traditional Thanksgiving lineup of apple, pecan, and pumpkin pies. And as some would argue, there can never be too many desserts on Thanksgiving.
Late last fall, my friend Kathy offered to order some Ozette potatoes through Slow Food Seattle and have them sent to me. She said that she’d bought some Ozette seed potatoes for a friend several years ago at the Northwest Garden Show, that her friend had grown and served them, and that Kathy thought they were delicious. I gladly accepted her generous offer. I’d heard of Ozette potatoes over the years but had never grown them.
In early April this year, a pound box of Ozette seed potatoes arrived from Grand Teton Organics, the farm Slow Food Seattle has been working with “to continue the cultivation of the Makah Ozette seed potato for distribution.”
A few weeks later, I set out twenty seed potatoes a foot apart in two six-inch-deep trenches three feet apart and lightly covered them. Green foliage emerged quickly from the seed potatoes. I hilled the plants several times as they began growing, mulched them, kept them evenly watered, and by mid-summer they were robust plants two feet tall.
In early September the plants began dying back and a few weeks later the potatoes were ready for harvest. I gathered the first few hills of Ozettes into a box and mailed them to Kathy. The remaining Ozettes I’ve harvested and stored. We’ve already eaten some too, and they are as delicious as promised.
In the 1980’s an unknown fingerling potato was recognized to be a staple in the diet of Pacific Coast Native Americans of the Makah Nation. The Makah occupy the region around Neah Bay, Washington, that is the most northwesterly point in the United States. Tribal lore reported that this potato had been used by these people for about 200 years. The Makah had named this potato the Ozette after one of their five villages located around Neah Bay. This potato has a long history. In 1791, Spaniards expanding their empire from South America brought this potato to Neah Bay, WA. They abandoned their Neah Bay settlement a year later, but the potato remained, becoming an important carbohydrate source for the native Makah people who have continued to cultivate to the present.
I didn’t know what to expect in terms of yield from these seed potatoes, but it’s turned out that my experience this year was similar to what Hatchet & Seeds Edible Landscapes in Victoria, B.C. described in a 2020 Instagram post:
We’ve had an amazing yield of Ozette potatoes this year—out of just a handful of plants. They seem to be much more resistant to wire worms than other varieties that were bred directly out of South America and grown along the west coast of North America for many decades, centuries even. They did not go to Europe and back like all commercial varieties. You’d have to think there is some special, climate specific genetic information there!
My yield was also good, with about three pounds of potatoes per hill. And when I pulled a plant to show my friend Denny the abundance of potatoes, she remarked “and no wire worm damage!” Of the twenty hills I harvested, potatoes in only one showed wireworm damage. I haven’t had a lot of trouble with wire worms in potatoes, but still, this possible resistance is another good reason to try this productive potato.
And then there’s taste, the main reason Kathy wanted to share Ozettes with me. So far, I’ve simply roasted these flavorful fingerlings on their own, but as fall turns to winter and winter settles in, I’ll look for other ways to prepare them.
We have a small stand of cultivated blackberries at the edge of the kitchen garden. The variety is Triple Crown Thornless Blackberry from Raintree Nursery whose catalog description praises them as “productive, tasty and hardy” with superb flavor.
Why, with such abundance of wild blackberries along hedgerows and roadsides on Lopez Island, would we give garden space to cultivated berries? Well, the flavor really is superb, the berries are larger than wild berries and they have fewer seeds. And the vines have no thorns. All that said though, I still cover my arms and legs with thornproof clothing and head to the brambles along our west property line for the pleasure of harvesting wild blackberries. Wild or cultivated, in the end what’s most important is the pie, and both make wonderful pies.
In 2019, in New York Times Cooking Melissa Clark published a recipe for Blackberry Jam Crostata. I tried it then and have been making it this time of year ever since. As Clark writes: “With a press-in-the-pan buttery cookie crust and a tangy jam filling that’s topped with almonds and Demerara sugar, this crostata is simple, homey and utterly delightful.”
Either cultivated or wild blackberries work here. I usually replace the blueberries with more blackberries because I love the intense blackberry flavor. And I hold back on the sugar by about 50 grams, adding more at the end if needed.
Make the jam: In a medium saucepan, stir together blackberries, blueberries, sugar and lemon verbena, if using. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally at first, then more frequently as the mixture starts to bubble and reduce.
When mixture has reduced and looks syrupy (about 30 minutes total), stir in lemon juice and zest. Taste and add sugar if necessary. (This depends on how sweet your berries were to begin with.) Cook for 3 minutes longer, stirring frequently to prevent burning. When the jam is thickened and shiny but still slightly runnier than you expect jam to be, take it off the heat; it will continue to thicken as it cools.
Scrape jam into a bowl or heatproof container, stir in vanilla and let cool to room temperature. Taste and stir in a little more lemon juice if the jam seems very sweet. At this point, the cooled jam can be chilled for up to 1 week.
Make the dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together all-purpose and whole-wheat flours, and set aside. In a second bowl and using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg yolks, lemon zest, vanilla, salt and almond extract until combined, then beat in flour mixture.
Scoop ½ cup of the dough into a bowl or container, cover and chill. Transfer remaining dough to a 9- or 10-inch tart pan and use floured fingers to press evenly into bottom and sides. Chill crust in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.
When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread jam evenly into crust, then using your fingers, crumble reserved ½ cup dough over jam. Sprinkle with almonds and Demerara sugar.
Bake until golden, 38 to 48 minutes. Let cool completely to room temperature before serving.
A close tie with this Blackberry Jam Crostata is Anjou Bakery’s Marionberry Pie. Just off the highway in Cashmere, WA, Anjou Bakery is our favorite bakery stop when driving to eastern Washington. I made this pie using our triple crown blackberries to mark the 70th birthday of a friend who shares our love of this pie.
The crust is like the crostata crust, more cookie than pastry, but the filling is less jam-like, some of the whole berries holding their shape. I sometimes add lemon zest to the filling because I like that addition in the crostata jam. I’ve only made this pie with triple crown berries, but I’m guessing it would be just as good with wild blackberries.
Happy berry picking, cultivated or wild, and happy pie baking!
1 3/4 pounds (6 1/2 cups) fresh or frozen marionberries or other blackberries (for frozen, measure, thaw until somewhat softened, and use all juices)
Coarse white sparkling sugar*
How to Make It
Make crust: Combine dry ingredients in a stand mixer. Add butter and beat with paddle attachment on low speed, scraping bowl as needed, until pieces are raisin-size. With mixer still on low speed, drizzle in 1 tbsp. ice water; beat until pastry comes together, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes. Form 1 1/4 cups into a disk and the rest into a smaller disk.
Preheat oven to 375° with rack on bottom rung. On a lightly floured board, roll larger disk into a 12-in. circle. Loosen with a long metal spatula, gently roll around a rolling pin, then unroll into a 9-in. pie pan (if dough cracks, press back together). Fold edge under, so it’s flush with pan rim, then crimp (don’t let stand too high because it falls off in oven). Chill 15 minutes.
Roll remaining dough into an 11-in. circle. With a cookie cutter, cut out as many shapes, such as squares, as needed to cover most of pie. Set cutouts on a baking sheet; chill 15 minutes.
Make filling: Stir together cornstarch and granulated sugar in a large bowl. (Lemon zest is good addition.) Add berries with juices and toss to coat. Arrange evenly in pie shell. Lightly brush pastry cutouts with water and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Arrange cutouts over filling.
Bake pie until filling bubbles and pastry is golden in center, 55 to 60 minutes (up to 1 1/2 hours if berries were frozen); if edge starts to get dark, cover with foil, and if pie starts to bubble over, put a rimmed pan underneath it.
Let cool on a rack to room temperature, at least 3 hours.
Here at August’s end, summer foods are finally abundant in the kitchen garden. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, green beans fill the harvest baskets. To celebrate, I’m drawn to familiar and favorite recipes. No new recipes right now, just those that we look forward to each summer.
Caponata and ratatouille are great ways to use eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and just-harvested onions. I’ve made several batches of sheet pan ratatouille already and look forward to more, especially because this recipe uses lots of zucchini. Caponata awaits.
Panzanella, both Melissa Clark’s and Christina Orchid’s, makes a perfect light summer supper. I especially like either recipe made with a hearty seeded bread or a walnut levain for more textures and flavors. We served a bowl of this taste of summer at a lunch picnic with friends this week.
Even though the pepper crop was modest this year due to the chilly spring, there are still enough red, yellow and orange peppers for sweet pepper salad, the best way I know to feature the colors and flavors of fresh peppers.
Fresh beans, green and yellow, are also abundant now, competing with high summer vegetables for a place at the table. Boiling them until tender, less than five minutes in boiling salted water, draining them and dressing them with olive oil and salt is my favorite way to serve them. They’ve taken the place of a salad on the dinner table and leftovers are a treat for lunch the next day. A couple of times, for dinner guests, I’ve gone a step further and added grilled onions and fava beans and dressed the mix with a mustard vinaigrette to make David Tanis’s wonderful salad.
Corn will be ready to harvest in another week or so. Maybe with this ultimate high summer kitchen garden vegetable, I will look for some new recipes, but more likely I will take it easy. We’ll set the water to boil while we pick and shuck the cobs then boil them, roll them in butter, sprinkle with salt and eat.