Habas y Jamon & Espárragos Revuelto

We’re just back from three weeks of walking in the countryside and cities of Andalusia, Spain. Dramatic landscapes, complex history, friendly Spaniards and fellow travelers were all highlights of our trip. We also returned with very fond memories of Andalusian food.

On our village-to-village walks I watched for kitchen gardens and the vegetables growing in them this time of year. Onions, chard and early lettuce stood out against brown soil and in even in the smallest garden plots there were often stands of habas, what I know as fava beans and what the English call broad beans. Favas growing in AndalusiaIn larger gardens long rows of favas grew around almond and olive trees, some with blossoms and some with pods already formed, like those in the kitchen garden of Las Chimeneas, the inn and restaurant in Mairena where we stayed for a week while taking daily walks into the mountains and to surrounding villages.

Fava beans are one of our kitchen garden favorites here on Lopez Island, planted in fall or in early spring and harvested in June or July. Fava beans growing jpgWe serve them pureed for crostini or sandwiches and whole in pasta sauces or as side dishes, but none of these Italian and Californian preparations prepared me for Habas y Jamon, fava beans and Serrano ham, a classic Andalusian dish. The first night our hosts served it I was transported. There was the familiar earthy fava flavor but with a pleasant, faint bitterness from the skin still encasing the small, tender beans. Added to these flavors were the salty sweetness of the ham and the subtle flavors of onion, tomato and orange in the surrounding sauce. Familiar tastes yet a totally new combination. I wanted to eat it every night.

When I told our hosts how much I enjoyed this dish, they graciously offered to show me how to make it, adding this dish to the paella demonstration they’d planned. ConchiAssisted by Emma on the right, Conchi began by adding nearly a cupful of olive oil to a large skillet, warming it as she sliced in a couple of onions and lightly softened them. Next she added two or three handfuls of thinly sliced ham, warming it briefly before chopping and adding several tomatoes, zest from an orange and finally several quarts of small shelled but not peeled fava beans. That was it. The mixture simmered back in the kitchen as she showed us how to make paella. Habas y Jamon was served as a side dish to the paella but for me it could have been the entire meal

With only peeled and frozen favas from last year’s crop and no true Serrano ham, I was still determined to recreate this dish. My first scaled-down version of Conchi’s recipe was very tasty, bringing back happy memories of the original dish. Habas y Jamon in skilletI’m looking forward to this year’s fava crop and the chance to try some unpeeled beans from an early harvest. And maybe I can even find some real Serrano ham.

Asparagus was another spring vegetable we saw many times but not growing in gardens. Instead, in our walks along country paths, we saw long, thin stalks of wild asparagus in the arms and pockets of foragers. Forager #1

Forager #2These jolly foragers reminded me of the cookbook author and writer David Tanis’s story of eating wild asparagus in Andalusia in the spring. Tanis writes: “Long, skinny and ever so slightly bitter, Spanish wild asparagus has a deep green flavor. The best way to cook it, I was told, is sautéed in olive oil with garlic, then swirled with beaten eggs to make a revuelto…a kind of scrambled eggs.” The recipe he developed to accompany his story includes chorizo, green onions and a scattering of toasted croutons along with the eggs and asparagus.

Back home with asparagus from our kitchen garden, I followed his recipe. Though missing the wild asparagus and the wonderful pimenton-flavored chorizo of Andalusia, the dish was delicious and kept our food memories of Spain alive.Asparagus Revuelto

 

 

 

Broccoli Rediscovered

Over the years, I haven’t grown a lot of broccoli in my kitchen garden, usually just four to six plants of Umpqua or DeCicco that I start indoors in late February, set out in late March and harvest beginning with the full heads in late May and then side shoots until mid to late June.

Broccoli head

Broccoli side shoot

Spring broccoli fills the gap between the end of the kale flower buds and the start of sugar snap peas and zucchini. Sometimes I start more in June or July for late summer and early fall harvest but often I don’t because there are so many other tasty summer and fall vegetables I prefer to broccoli.

I’m just as limited with my broccoli recipes. I have a default broccoli recipe I found years ago in Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cook Book (1980): peel the skin from stalks and stems,Broccoli peeling

split any thick stalks into thinner stalks keeping florets attached, steam or boil until barely tender and drain. Sauté chopped garlic in a little olive oil until golden, then add the drained broccoli, a little salt and maybe some red pepper flakes, sauté lightly for a few minutes and serve hot or at room temperature as a side dish or as a topping for pasta or grains. It’s quick and easy and the sweet flavor of just-picked broccoli always comes through.

Perhaps there’s a correlation between not much broccoli and not many recipes. If I grew more broccoli maybe I’d experiment with new recipes or if I found a great new recipe maybe I’d want to grow more broccoli. I think I’ve just found that recipe.

Leafing through Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Italian Country Table (1999) I spotted a recipe for “Seared Broccoli with Lemon.” It’s as simple my old standby but creates a wonderfully different flavor, deeper and richer than the light, sweet garlicky Hazan version. Kasper writes, “browning broccoli gives it an unexpected lustiness…the trick is browning the broccoli fast enough to keep it from overcooking, yet at a moderate rate to build up rich, caramelized flavors.”

Broccoli seared

Her instructions for preparing the broccoli are similar to my standard peeling and steaming preparation. Then once the broccoli is partially cooked, she instructs:

Heat the oil (2 Tablespoons for about 1 and ¼ pounds broccoli) in a 12-inch skillet (she specifies not nonstick) over medium-high heat. Sauté the broccoli until speckled with brown on one side. Adjust the heat to prevent it from burning and watch the pan bottom for scorching. Sprinkle the broccoli with shredded zest from one large lemon, salt and pepper, turn the stalks over and sauté to brown on the second side. Serve hot or warm.

It took me a couple of tries and the rest of my broccoli crop to perfect this technique but even my first attempts resulted in richly flavored, crispy broccoli. And the lemon zest perfectly balances this richness. I’m looking forward to making it again and maybe even experimenting with roasting rather than pan-searing the broccoli. I have six young plants that should give me broccoli by late August. I can already imagine how tasty seared broccoli will be with fresh tomatoes.

Kale Salads

My friend Lexi called me the other day to ask for my kale salad recipe and I was happy to share it: remove kale leaves from the stems and tear or slice them into bite-sized pieces, moisten with a little olive oil, sprinkle on salt to taste and use your hands to massage the leaves in the oil and salt until slightly slippery and shiny, adding more olive oil if necessary. Then squeeze lemon juice over the leaves and toss. Finally add grated Parmesan cheese and toss again. Proportions are flexible and depend on how much kale you start with, how sour or sweet the lemon is and how much cheese you like. Serve it right away or let it sit for up to an hour or so.

Kale salad stilllife

Kale salad tossing

Kale salad 5:15

It’s a recipe for the most basic of kale salads and my favorite, but as with any salad, additions and substitutions are practically endless. One friend adds roasted tomatoes, another lots of red pepper flakes, another toasted croutons; another substitutes Pecorino for Parmesan, another balsamic vinegar for lemon juice. Roasted vegetables, toasted pecans or hazelnuts, apples or citrus are also popular additions.

And then there is the question of what variety of kale to use. Some friends insist on Lacinato kale with its dark green, crinkled spear-shaped leaves. I like the tender, smooth-leaved Red Russian better than Lacinato and this year I’ve liked White Russian even more not only for its sweet flavor but also because it is both more winter hardy than Red Russian and has produced tender, flavorful spring growth longer than Red Russian has. Even now, at the start of June, there’s one more kale salad left on the last few White Russian plants still standing.

Kale white RussianLexi was using kale she’d planted this spring while for the past few months I’ve been harvesting new growth leaves from overwintered kale I planted last July. And before spring’s new growth there were the frost-sweetened leaves I started harvesting in October and before that the tiny new leaves from thinning those July-planted seedlings. With spring and late summer plantings, you can have kale salads year round.

Kale salads have been popular with chefs and home cooks for nearly a decade. Searching the recipe site Epicurious, I found the earliest kale salad recipes dated 2007 and 2009. Introducing the January, 2007 Gourmet magazine recipe is this note: “Inspired by an antipasto that’s popular at New York City’s Lupa, this substantial salad takes a hearty, rich green that’s usually cooked and proves how delicious it can be when served raw.” And a February 2009 Bon Appetit recipe from Dan Barber begins: “In a surprising twist, Tuscan kale is served raw—and makes for a substantial and satisfying winter salad.” Who knew! I experimented with my first kale salad in October, 2007 inspired by Melissa Clark’s New York Times recipe and article.

Before discovering how delicious raw kale is, I’d regularly wilted it then sautéed it in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and served it hot or at room temperature. I still do that, especially at the start of winter when warm food is appealing. But just as often now I keep the kale raw. It mixes well with other hardy winter salad greens like mache, radicchio and arugula but it’s also satisfying alone and especially welcomed after all the other winter greens are gone. In another month and a half, it will be time to plant next year’s crop. Kale salad, once new and trendy, is here to stay.

Raab Season

Broccoli raab or as Italians call it cima di rapa is grown in the spring and the fall specifically for its flower buds. It grows quickly. In fact one variety is named Quarantina, meaning forty days in Italian, for its speedy production of deliciously pungent, tender flower buds.

But other members of raab’s cruciferous family, turnips, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard and kale, produce flower buds too, though not for eight or nine months after planting. They are the final gift of these hardy winter vegetables as the longer, warmer days of early spring encourage growth and bloom. The emerging flower buds look enough like raab that market growers sell them as “kale raab” or “mustard raab” or “Brussels sprout raab.” Raab PFM

Mustard Raab PFMUntil I saw them labeled this way in the Portland Farmer’s market last April, I’d simply called them flower buds or tops but raab works too. Whatever you call them, the important thing is to enjoy the short-lived treat these raab relatives provide this time of year. Harvest them from the your winter garden or look for them at farmers’ markets. For me they signal the welcome arrival of spring food.

One of the first raab relatives to produce flower buds in my kitchen garden this year were three red cabbage plants that sent out gorgeous purple veined blue-green leaves and buds from the base below the long-since-harvested cabbage head. Red cabbage raabMatching this purple and green palate were spears of asparagus, a perfect earthy compliment to these sweeter cabbage buds. I harvested some of each to create a lovely still life on the kitchen island.Raab asparagus stilllife

After admiring it, we roasted the asparagus and sautéed the red cabbage raab in olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes and served it on pasta topped with toasted breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese, a perfect meal to welcome spring. Raab asparagus dinnerFor yet more delicious meals Brussels sprouts stalks are sending out tender yellow green flower heads and kale flower buds will be ready soon. Spring is here! Welcome raab season!

 

Days to Maturity

“Days to Maturity” is the number that appears in seed catalogs and on seed packets, often in parenthesis right after the variety name, and refers to the number of days it takes for the seed to grow into edible form: Cherry Belle Radishes (25 days), Oasis Turnip (50 days), Sugarsnap Snap Pea (68 days), Spring Treat Yellow Sweet Corn (71 days), Flavorburst Pepper (75 days), Cherokee Purple Tomato (77 days), Diamond Eggplant (78 days).

But as even one season of growing vegetables will teach you, this handy-looking number is really just a rough estimate. Weather and temperature, soil condition and rainfall, day length and sun exposure all influence it. Recording seeding, transplanting and harvest dates as well as weather conditions for your garden each year helps customize the days to maturity and plan future seed orders and planting calendars.

If your record keeping is well intentioned but haphazard like mine, or even non-existent, catalog predictions of days to maturity can still be useful estimates because they help sort varieties that ripen earlier from those that ripen later. Here in our cooler marine northwest climate, selecting varieties that ripen earlier can be a good idea. Most years, Spring Treat Corn at 71 days is more likely to reach maturity than Silver Queen at 96 days. Some catalogs supplement or even replace this number with the categories early, mid-season and late making selection for our climate even easier.It’s also a useful number if you want to plant more than one crop of quick-growing spring vegetables like radishes, spring turnips or lettuce. Sowing at intervals of one to three weeks helps ensure a steady supply during cooler spring months.

Most sources also distinguish between direct seeding and transplants when predicting days to maturity. For vegetables that you sow directly into the ground, the days to maturity estimate begins when you sow the seed though some prefer to start counting when seeds germinate. For vegetables that you start indoors and transplant, the days to maturity estimate begins when you set out the transplants in the garden or the greenhouse. Even with this generous handicap, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers transplanted to my greenhouse still exceed the catalog prediction of days to maturity most years.

While customizing days to maturity with record keeping and using this information to create planting calendars are parts of my garden planning, once I actually have the seed packets in hand and the potting soil or the garden dirt under my fingernails, all this information and planning falls away and my mind fills with the meals ahead: the first salad of tender new lettuce and spicy radishes, a bowl of roasted spring turnips on a bed of their sautéed greens, the first sugar snap pea raw from the vine sometime in early June and the big bowl of them I’ll take a month later to my neighbors’ 4th of July party.

_Turnips cookedPeas closeupThinking past spring into summer, I imagine the first tomato sandwich of the season, the first eggplant pizza, and the first crisp pepper salad. Eggplant pizza with bowl of green beans Pepper salad As I plant seeds for each of these meals, I’m confident that they will germinate in a week or two, the plants will grow over more weeks and months, the harvest will happen as weather and temperature allow, all this as the days get longer and warmer. A planting calendar based on days to maturity and record keeping nudges me along but the real motivators are the meals ahead and the pleasure of imagining them.  Happy Spring!

Signs of Spring

In the warmth and light of late February’s lengthening days, the kitchen garden’s perennial vegetables are sending out new growth. Pink tips of asparagus poke through the dirt next to dried stalks of last year’s crop. Asparagus tips '15Crinkled green rhubarb leaves open over red stems. Rhubarb new growthGray-green artichoke leaves unfurl above mounds of hay that protected their roots through the cold spells of winter. Artichokes in mulchAnd bright green spears of garlic rise above rich dark soil. Garlic growing '15In another month they’ll all have doubled or tripled in size and seem less remarkable than they do now as they signal the start of the new season. The excitement then will be in eating them. Over-wintered kale plants that survived the deep cold that began in November and returned several more times in December are now sending out tender, sweet new leaves from their sturdy stalks. Kale new growth '15We’ve been enjoying them in salads dressed with a little olive oil, salt and lemon. The growth of these new leaves will accelerate in the weeks ahead and eventually seed heads will form as kale’s final gift. Kale buds, asparagus, artichokes, green garlic and rhubarb pie, all spring food to look forward to. As a backdrop to the vegetables, the garden paths and hedge are emerging from their winter shagginess. Last weekend we mowed the garden paths for the first time of the season and we have just finished the annual hedge-trimming task. Both lawn and hedge are now smooth, even, velvet green surfaces, two more welcome signs of spring.Garden grass allee Garden view looking west 2:15

Seed Ordering 2015

There’s a lot to distract the kitchen gardener trying to put together seed orders for the year ahead. For starters there’s the “New For This Year” page at the beginning of every catalog, hard to resist pausing over before turning to the catalog proper. Once into the listings, there are the names of each variety, sometimes descriptive, occasionally amusing or even puzzling, and then, in engagingly written paragraphs, the story behind each seed and its particular traits of cold-hardiness or early ripening, taste or nutritional value. All these details invite a pause to compare possibilities and wonder whether to stay with an old favorite or take a chance on an intriguing new variety.

A new distraction in recent years is the unusual colors of vegetables that traditionally came in one color, orange carrots now in red, yellow or purple, snowy white cauliflower now in green, orange or lavender. Are these simply novelties or improvements? Would they taste as good as the original? Are their flavors and colors better raw or cooked?

A final pleasant distraction for the kitchen gardener is imagining meals from vegetables that haven’t had a place in the kitchen garden for a while or have never had one. Is this the year to grow a few Savoy cabbages again, to grow broccoli raab instead of relying on spring kale buds or maybe to plant some rows of flint corn to dry and grind for polenta?

Seed catalogs 2015I’ve been spending the past week indulging in all these distractions as I page through favorite Maine catalogs, Fedco, Johnny’s and Pinetree, Oregon’s Territorial Seed Company, British Columbia’s West Coast Seeds, and some wonderful, smaller Pacific Northwest seed company catalogs in print and online, Adaptive Seeds and Wild Garden Seed from Oregon and Uprising Seeds from Bellingham, Washington. I’m getting close to finalizing orders, to finding a balance between old and new, familiar and startling, between comforting tastes and exciting new flavors.

While non-orange carrots seem a bit trendy I’m tempted to order some purple, red and yellow carrots. Many companies offer Purple Haze, a 2006 AAS winner, and Yellowstone, a truly yellow carrot. Uprising Seeds offers Dragon, a dark red to purple carrot, claiming that it’s spicy and sweet. New this year at Territorial is Red Samurai, “a great tasting true red carrot.” I’ve been roasting my favorite orange Mokum carrots sprinkled with cumin and coriander seeds following a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s inspiring new cookbook Plenty More (2014). Adding purple, red and yellow shades to this mix would be pretty on a summer or winter table.

Brussels sprouts have satisfied our taste for cabbage flavor from the winter garden and their great cold hardiness and manageable size are other points in their favor. For two people, a dozen small Brussels sprouts are gone in one meal while a whole cabbage lasts for several days at least. Still Savoy cabbage with its crinkly leaves and sweet cabbage flavor tempts me this year. When I used to grow it, I made a delicious pasta dish with buckwheat noodles, Fontina cheese and Savoy cabbage wilted in olive oil and lots of garlic. I’m going to order seeds of January King, an heirloom offered by Uprising, Adaptive and West Coast Seeds. A point in its favor is its cold hardiness.  Uprising’s catalog description calls it “practically indestructible.”

Flower buds from kale, Brussels sprouts and mustards are an early spring treat, sweet with only a slight cabbage flavor. Broccoli Raab looks similar but has a much more pungent flavor. Whenever friends serve it, I wonder why I don’t grow it. It’s so delicious. This year I plan to. Territorial carries Sorrento and Fedco carries Quarantina, meaning “40 days,” the time to maturity for this fast-growing Italian green. I’ll plant it for a fall and early winter crop.

Fedco and Adaptive Seeds offer Abenaki flint corn, described by Adaptive as “best for polenta, grits and wet batter cornbread” and “tolerant of difficult growing conditions.” I have success ripening sweet corn listed at 70 days to maturity so I’m optimistic that Abenaki, listed at 80-90 days to maturity will ripen so I can experiment with grinding our own polenta. Soft, warm polenta topped with sautéed greens or roasted vegetables is a favorite winter meal as is polenta cooled, sliced and grilled and served hot with sausages or pork chops. Of all this year’s seed order candidates, this one will be the biggest experiment.

All of these distractions are part of the pleasure of planning a kitchen garden, a perfect way to spend early January days. I’ll send in the orders in the next few days and soon boxes of seeds will arrive at the mailbox carrying the promise of many delicious meals in the garden year ahead.