Peas and Potatoes

Peas and chives

A few months ago I noticed some neglected potatoes starting to sprout in the cupboard.  They were a mix of slender whites, round reds, and brilliant purples from the farmer’s market.  After I got over the disappointment of not being able to eat them, I realized with glee that instead I could try planting them in the garden.  Unfortunately I failed to research the issue in its entirety, missing the pertinent detail that potato plants are not frost-tolerant, and promptly planted my sprouting potatoes in late fall.  Sure enough, every single one of them sprouted, only to die back from a few killer frosts in December and then again in January.  How the plants managed to support so many rounds of greenery is beyond me, especially since a few of the plants are only now starting to peek above the soil again.  This had me wondering whether they would have any energy left for potato making, which was, after all, the whole point (although I do read that potato flowers are a sight to behold).

Finally this weekend I could no longer contain my curiosity and I gingerly brushed away some of the dirt around the more well-endowed potato plants.  Sure enough the potato plants have been getting busy, and I was able to unearth a small handful of my very first homegrown potatoes.  The rest will have to wait until the plants flower and die back, but for now I am satisfied imagining all the potatoes that are certainly lurking beneath the surface.  To celebrate success in the face of ineptitude, I cooked the potatoes with what felt like a luxurious abundance of peas (only because I had to shell them by hand), a hefty slab of butter, and some chives from the other garden.

In the frying pan

Peas and Potatoes
(serves one)
Handful of small new potatoes, sliced into quarter-thick pieces
Small handful of shelling peas, shelled
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons minced chives
Salt to taste

1. Steam the potatoes until soft, but not falling apart.

2. Heat the butter in a skillet (a seasoned cast-iron skillet works well here) and when the butter is hot, add the potatoes and shelled peas.  Cook the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown on the outside and the peas are cooked through.

3. In the last few minutes of cooking add the chives and some salt.  Eat the peas and potatoes while hot, with more salt as desired.

Peas and potatoes

Tomato Sauce From A Can

Tomato sauce and pasta

The best pasta sauce I’ve ever tasted was served with ricotta ravioli in a small restaurant somewhere in Florence.  I can’t tell you the name of the restaurant or even its approximate location, because Peter and I wandered around the city for hours.  Every once and a while we would catch a glimpse of the Duomo through a narrow street or over some especially short buildings, a sign that we weren’t entirely lost.  I remember choosing the restaurant because the entrance was surrounded by potted herbs and flowers, and because we were hot and famished.  We ordered a bowl of minestrone and the ricotta ravioli with what was translated on the menu as carriage driver sauce.  I’d never tasted anything like it, and I spent the rest of our time in Italy ordering pasta dishes with tomato sauces that might rival it, all to no avail.  After we returned from Italy I was determined to recreate the carriage driver tomato sauce on my own, but all I could remember of the flavor was that it included cherry tomatoes.  The following is my basic recipe for tomato sauce from a can of crushed tomatoes.  In the summertime, try adding cherry tomatoes that have been broiled until they froth and break apart.  It makes the sauce truly sublime.

Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 a medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more, if you like it spicy)
Salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium pot, add the onion, and cook until the onion is soft and golden.  Add the garlic and cook a minute more.  Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, red pepper flakes, and salt.  Bring the sauce to a slow boil and then turn the heat down so the sauce simmers.  I usually get the rest of the crushed tomatoes out of the jar by running some water in it, so I cook the sauce with the lid ajar to let some of the water evaporate, but if you don’t add any extra water you can simmer the sauce with the lid on (unless you like your sauce extra thick, in which case cook it uncovered, but keep an eye on it).  The sauce can be cooked for a short or long time, as long as you keep an eye on how thick it gets.  I usually cook it for 10-30 minutes, depending on how long the rest of dinner takes.  Simple as that.

With Parmesan

Asparagus, Fava Beans, and Shelling Peas

Asparagus from the garden

One of my goals this spring has been to eat more produce from the garden.  While it was looking a bit hairy for a while, with kale hand-offs and fava bean greens (because none of the more traditional greens were big enough to eat), the warmer weather has improved the situation.  One of my favorite quick dishes now is asparagus, fava beans, and shelled peas browned in olive oil.  The vegetables get nice and crispy in places, the fava beans break out of their skins, and the whole thing takes almost no time to put together.  While the mixture is good on its own, I also enjoy adding it, still warm, to a salad of lettuces and sauteed bread cubes.

Peas from the garden

We’ve been on a low-key food kick lately, if you couldn’t tell by the lack of posted recipes.  Many nights of eating baked sweet potato fries with the ketchup we made over the summer or various iterations of lentil soup and its closely related cousin lentil dahl.  To fill in the gaps, Peter’s been baking sourdough bread, sourdough pita bread, and of course sourdough pancakes.  Our sourdough starter, Atlantis II (Atlantis the first died a terrible drawn-out death at the back of the fridge before we learned about sourdough pancakes) was a bit under the weather for a while, causing all Peter’s breads to sort of flop instead of puff when they were baked.  It was rather tragic, especially as it coincided with Peter starting to experiment with partially whole-wheat sourdough bread, so that for a while we were convinced that whole wheat sourdough bread was just terrible.  Eventually, using the power of science, we figured out that the whole wheat bread was not to blame.  Sort of.  It was the whole wheat flour we were feeding to our starter, not the fact that the bread was part whole wheat.  Apparently whole wheat flour has all sorts of natural yeasty beasties in it that compete with the sourdough starter yeast and can cause it to become a less powerful rising/fermenting agent.  Who knew!?!  Now that the sourdough starter is back on a 100% white flour diet, it is doing much better, and Peter has made some pretty darn delicious (partially) whole wheat sourdough loaves.  Maybe with some gentle prodding I can get him to post his whole wheat sourdough recipe.

Asparagus and shelling peas

Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Arugula

Arugula and chickpea salad

In December we had an epic frost that killed all the summer plants in the garden: tomatoes, peppers, beans, and squash all wilted and died on the same night.  Now the beds are brown and barren, and there’s nothing much I can do until a new round of seeds can sprout.  Until then, I rely on a small patch of arugula for last-minute salad fixings.  The arugula is sharp and peppery, having been planted too many months ago.  I finally found the perfect salad for it, an addictive blend of garlic and lemon flavors, so here is a recipe to enjoy in the middle of winter.  It is a salad that depends upon only peppery greens and a lemon for freshness, both of which are plentiful in California this time of year.  Better yet, mix it up with different greens (lots of finely chopped parsley is fantastic) or another type of bean that will hold its shape.  Feta is a fine addition.

Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Arugula
(serves 2)
1-2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 tablespoon butter
1-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 cups arugula, washed and cut into salad-appropriate pieces
The juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (a tart spice)
Salt and pepper to taste
An extra drizzle of olive oil if desired
Optional: feta cheese

1.  Cook the chickpeas in butter in a frying pan or cast iron skillet until the skins are golden brown in places.  Add the garlic to the pan and cook with the chickpeas until done.  Pour the chickpeas and garlic into a salad bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir, and set aside.

2.  Prepare the rest of the ingredients while the chickpeas cool and then put them in the bowl with the chickpeas and garlic.  Taste for salt (use less if including feta cheese since it’s so salty) and lemon juice.  If you don’t have sumac, just omit it, or add more lemon juice.  Eat the salad as soon as you’ve added the lemon juice so the greens don’t have time to wilt.

Zucchini. Yup, it’s that time.

It may seem a bit early for those of you on the East Coast, but we’ve been eating zucchini for more than a month and have gotten quite good at making it disappear.  I would say it helped that we were in Italy for two weeks, except we returned to find at least 6 torpedo-sized monstrosities in amongst the foliage.  We were saved by a few of our garden neighbors who don’t have summer squash plants quite as enthusiastic for life as ours.  This brings me to rule 1 of having zucchini plants: pick the fruit when they’re small.

Here is a list of ideas for magicking zucchini away.

  1. Zucchini Gratin — my eternal favorite.  It can make both large and small zucchini specimens taste just delish.  It doesn’t hurt that it involves cheese.
  2. Zucchini Fritters.  Here is how Smitten Kitchen does it.  They are amazing with grated lemon zest and minced fresh mint in place of the onions.
  3. Chocolate zucchini cake.  I will hopefully get around to posting the recipe we’ve been using soon, because it makes some of the most moist chocolate cake in existence (although the Guinness chocolate cake does pretty well too).
  4. Variations on the shakshuka concept: cook veggies until nice and soft, then cook eggs in the veggies and eat immediately.  I was originally inspired by the Ottolenghi recipe in Plenty, but the NYT recipe and Smitten Kitchen recipe involve cheese, which may be more your style.  Since peppers haven’t come in yet (what is usually used in shakshuka), I’ve been sauteing onions and zucchini until golden, then adding canned crushed tomatoes, a bit of dried oregano, a dash of Chipotle pepper powder (YES, this stuff is amazing), plenty of salt, and a teaspoon or so of sugar.  Then I drop in two eggs, cover the small pot, and turn the heat down low until the eggs are cooked.  We’ve been eating this for breakfast all week and I’m not even close to sick of it.
  5. Eventually, once we have our own tomatoes and peppers, I will start making ratatouille.
  6. And of course, there’s stuffed summer squash!  With the heat wave we’ve been experiencing this week though, I will be staying away from the oven, in which case the following super-simple preparations will be coming to the rescue.
  7. Cubed sauteed zucchini as part of a burrito bowl!  I’ve been eating at Chipotle too much I guess, but I just can’t get enough of burrito bowls: rice, beans, roasted/sauteed veggies such as zucchini and onion, salsa, and avocado.  Usually I will make a large pot of rice and beans on the weekend which makes this a nearly heat-free (and easy!) meal during the week.
  8. Sauteed strips of zucchini served with sauteed garlic and fresh lemon juice.  And maybe some fresh herbs like basil on top.

Parmesan Crusted Butternut Squash

For those people who enjoy the juxtaposition of creamy and crunchy, I present to you Parmesan and breadcrumb crusted butternut squash.  I realize everyone is dreaming about tomatoes this time of year.  Don’t worry, I am too (my plants have tiny FLOWER BUDS ON THEM).  But there was this butternut squash in my cabinet that just wouldn’t disappear on its own.  I know because every time I ignored it and reached past it for the sweet potatoes it just looked at me with its bulbousness and cute little stem, as though asking “when will you want to eat me???”  Finally, after much vegetable guilt, I decided I could do one more winter squash dish, as long as it meant I could try another recipe from Plenty.  Being a vegetable cookbook, Plenty has an entire chapter on squash, just in case I wasn’t plagued by procrastination and indecision before.  The recipe for crusted pumpkin wedges with sour cream sounded particularly appealing, so here is my lightly adapted butternut squash version minus the sour cream sauce.

Parmesan Crusted Butternut Squash
1 medium butternut squash (skin on)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon crushed dried parsley (or more fresh)
1 teaspoon minced dried sage leaves (or less if finely ground)
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper (remember the Parmesan is quite salty)
Olive oil for brushing over butternut squash slices

Begin by preheating the oven to 375 degrees F.  Cut the butternut squash into slices about 1/2 inch thick and distribute in a single layer on a parchment paper-line baking sheet.  Use your finger (or a pastry brush) to lightly coat the top and bottom of each slice of butternut squash with olive oil.  Mix together the Parmesan, breadcrumbs, parsley, sage, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Sprinkle the Parmesan mixture onto the butternut squash slices.  Bake the squash slices for 30 minutes or until nice and tender.  The Parmesan mixture should get crunchy and smell delicious.  Eat warm.

Even More Greens!

This year Peter and I are flying to my parents’ house in Western New York State.  I’m looking forward to snow, sledding, cutting down a Christmas tree, and eating lots of Swedish food.  Unfortunately, this also means I won’t have internet access over the holidays, so here is an early “happy holidays!” from all of us to all of yours.

As my holiday present to any of you looking for ways to get rid of too many greens that may be growing in your garden (or miraculously appearing in your fridge because they sounded like a good idea at the time), here is part two of a list of various recipes involving greens.  Today at the bookstore I also stumbled across the book Wild About Greens by Nava Atlas that taught me that I can eat both radish and turnip greens.  Peter’s response was something like “AAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” but I guess I can’t blame him for despairing at the never-ending pile of green leafies that slowly take over the entire bottom shelf of the fridge.  Anyways, again these recipes are mostly untested, so let me know if you try one out.

1.)  I love eggs.  This should be clear by now.  What I haven’t tried yet is Collard greens on toast with a fried egg.  Yum!  Without the toast and substituting kale, it’s a Cavolo Nero breakfast skillet.

2.)  Greens with mushrooms, or more specifically: stir fry with bok choy and oyster mushroomsThe pak choy have now sprouted (and then some), so it’s only a matter of time!  Wikipedia also warns me that pak choy is toxic when eaten raw regularly in large doses.  Definitely going to be cooking it now… thanks wikipedia!

3.)  Sausage, cream, and biscuits (with collard greens).  Enough said.

4.)  Potatoes are surprisingly good at hiding greens.  Not only does this recipe for herb garden potato salad with spinach and lemon make me want to go out and plant more greens (yikes!), but Irish colcannon has a magical way of making steamed cabbage disappear.  By the way, it took me an embarrassingly long time to find a recipe link for colcannon with cabbage instead of kale, leeks instead of other onion-like things, and less than 2 sticks of butter.

5.)  A tender greens souffle.

6.)  The starting point of endless tinkering: barley risotto, perhaps with beans and greens?  I see this getting out of hand quickly.  Especially as Peter is so good at making regular (rice) risotto.

7.)  In case the soup recipes last time didn’t suffice, how about chard and white bean stew?

8.)  And pizza!  How could I forget pizza???  Or flatbread (close-enough?), such as leek, chard and corn flatbread.

9.)  You may remember my love of all things gratin (covered in cheese), so here’s a new one: swiss chard and sweet potato gratin.

10.)  And finally, just for fun — What Michelle Obama Had for Lunch: Garlicky Spinach Pasta with Mushrooms.  (While the recipe here looks a little daunting, pasta mixed with cooked greens, sour cream, and a little hot sauce is pretty much to die for, and much much easier.)