Archive for April 2010

make way for seedlings

April 21, 2010

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first (and second) crop

April 13, 2010

On Friday afternoon, I cleared the small garden behind the house. Over the past few years, I’ve cut a lot of dandelion leaves for eating, and I’ve dug up a lot of their taproots to make room for my vegetables, but I had never tried eating the root, despite the enthusiastic exhortations of Euell Gibbons. This day, however, I determined to combine weed control with dinner preparation and sup on dandelion two ways. (I hedged my bets by also setting some focaccia to rise before beginning my work—I figured not only would the sweet carmelized onion topping balance the inevitable bitterness, but the refined flour could cushion my system for the plant’s powerful cleansing properties.)  

Uncle Euell’s recipe for the roots goes like this: “Slice them thinly crosswise, boil in two waters, with a pinch of soda added to the first water, then season with salt, pepper and butter.” My roots were much smaller than his, which he described as having several forks as big as your little finger, so I left them whole. After the first boil, I took a taste and was very pleasantly surprised. There may have been a very slight bitterness, but you had to know to look for it. And their taste—slightly nutty, slightly artichoke-y. Oh edible taproots, where have you been all my life?  As good as they might taste, their appearance leaves something to be desired:  I cooked a handful of walnuts in butter, and just as it was beginning to brown, threw in the chopped blanched roots and tipped a splash of wine from my glass. I cooked only long enough to heat and glaze the root pieces, then stirred in some chives. Still not beautiful, but so, so good. (The lovely red stuff is a survivor from last year’s mesclun patch.)

Leftover rootstuff with some fresh leaves for lunch the next day:   Saturday I moved on to the big garden. It gets lots more sun, so not surprisingly these dandelions were better developed. By now I trusted Uncle Euell unreservedly, so when I saw that most of them had tiny undeveloped blossoms in the center of their crowns, I looked forward to enjoying another one of the dandelion delicacies described in Stalking the Wild Asparagus. These three-food plants were even more trouble to clean and prepare, but eventually I had this: Supposedly the crowns take only one boil, but a quick taste told me this was wrong, wrong, wrong. I put them back on for another boil, then contemplated what to do. I had planned on serving them simply, but the thought of facing an unmitigated bowlful of bitterness and earth was not so appealing.  So I set some water to boil for pasta in one pot; in another, I warmed some olive oil with chopped garlic and red pepper.  The second swim did much to dilute the bitterness. I threw the crowns in the zingy oil for a minute or so, followed by the cooked pasta, then some romano cheese and fresh oregano. Success! It really was quite delicious. There is something satisfying about reaping what one did not sow, about the idea of gathering several meals for nothing. Of course, when you consider I spent several hours on the harvest, another couple of hours cleaning, and another hour or so on preparation, those meals were hardly free, even if one somehow figures in the value of clearing weeds to make way for vegetables. On the other hand, those hours were completely absorbing, full of more variety and fascination than many evenings I’ve spent in the theater at considerable price. I can’t even begin to assign a value to such education and entertainment as I experience in the garden, even before the intentional crops begin to appear. So… I win!

next!

April 2, 2010

Planting season is almost upon us, and it’s a good thing, because I just used up the last squash of 2009.

The best way to deal with hard squash is to hack them into a few chunks, remove the seeds, the throw the chunks into the oven until they soften a bit; then it’s easy to slide a small knife between skin and flesh. After I did this, I cut the squash (two butternut) into chunks of about 1/2 inch or so and threw them in a pot with one can coconut milk, one can water, a pile of chopped ginger, a chopped jalapeno, a medium-sized thwack of peanut butter, and some salt. As it heated, it occurred to me that the mixture could use a little chew and something to balance the sweetness, so I added some brown rice. Once the rice was cooked, I finished the stew with zest and juice of one lime plus a bunch of chopped cilantro.

Bring on the zucchini!