Sunday, June 25, 2006

Early Summer Veggie Mix

It's time for Weekend Herb Blogging, which I've missed for the past week or two-- too busy in the garden, alas. It's that time of year when cooking straight from the garden becomes extra fun, as things are just starting to become ready in small quantities. How to combine them? What shall we try this time?

I'd trimmed the flowering tops from my cinnamon basil (an impulse buy back in March) and had been using some leaves along with lettuce in chicken sandwiches. I'm becoming quite fond of cinnamon basil, it has a nice bite to it and a complex flavor. I started this veggie saute with light olive oil, adding some freshly trimmed cinnamon basil leaves, and lime thyme, along with my standard whole mustard seed and generous sprinkling of paprika. I look forward to when my two Hungarian Paprika peppers start fruiting! But for now, store-bought dried stuff from a good supplier.

The first squashes are coming in now for us, having been lagging due to chilly nights. We are getting a couple of small ones every week or two. I've had to do a little hand-pollinating in the early morning. We have so many ants that they mob the flower blossoms and steal the nectar-- pollinators are not stopping in, as there's no nectar to gather. Pesty, pesty ants. They aerate the soil, though, so without them we gardeners would be out of luck. Moderation in all things, please.

Now I know to pick them SMALL, no longer than 6 - 8 inches. I missed this courgette, a 'Romanesco Zucchini' from Renee's Seeds, so it's about a foot long. Luckily, still extremely tender. I love this variety-- it has a fresh kind of taste, unlike the blandness of the standard dark green zuke. I also love the little sprocketed shapes it slices into, showing the ribbing along the sides. I saw similar-looking cultivars at a garden show, in a display of seeds imported from Italy. They looked fascinating, but the prices were a bit rich for me at the time. Next year!

Putting It All Together

  • skillet, with cover
  • 3 - 4 Tbsp light olive oil
  • 8 - 12 leaves cinnamon basil
  • 12 - 20 sprigs fresh thyme
  • half tsp whole yellow mustard seed
  • generous dash paprika
  • 3 - 4 cups thin sliced summer squash
  • 1 - 2 cups fresh chard leaf & rib, snipped into smaller pieces
  • quarter to half cup water
  • large bowl or casserole dish with lid

On low heat, in a large skillet that can be covered, combine the olive oil and spices, and stir until aromas are released and hte basil starts to turn light yellow. Add the sliced squash, and increase heat to medium. Saute the squash until the slices are starting to become translucent at the very edges. Squash slices are still rigid-- don't overcook at this step or you'll get mush by the end!

Now add the chard, and continue to saute until the chard leaves are fairly limp, but still brightly colored. At that point, add the water and cover. Let simmer for 1 - 3 minutes, or until chard leaves start to darken, but ribs are still bright. Put the whole skilletful into the bowl or casserole dish and cover to gently steam. Scrape any liquid or stray leaf from the skillet.

  • 1 - 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large portobello mushroom caps
  • 2 - 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

Put the skillet back on the heat, and let any stray moisture evaporate. Now add the good quality olive oil. We're using that for this step, as the taste will be preserved, and we're not doing a full saute here. Snip the portobello caps into small pieces and add to skillet. If you have washed the caps, be sure to have patted them dry first. Break out the center stems first, unless you like those. Save for use in veggie stock, or put in your compost pile.

The portobello pieces will soak up the oil quickly, and you will be basically dry-frying them-- keep them moving, be sure to turn the pieces over. When all the sides have browned up, but the pieces are still quite firm, splash in the balsamic vinegar. Stir quickly, until the mushrooms have absorbed all the vinegar, and fry for a moment more. The vinegar will make almost a glaze on the pieces, but don't let it burn! Now throw the squash and chard mixture in on top of the mushrooms, stir together for a minute, and remove from heat. Yum!

Cooked this way, the squash pieces still have texture and resistance to bite. The chard leaf is largely dark green, and limp, but the ribs still retain some color and texture. The mushrooms are soft on the outside, but substantial and slightly chewy-- meat eaters who complain about veggie dishes will feel they're eating something 'real'. Key to this dish is staging. The actual cooking takes under 15 minutes, and the steaming and resting of the main veggies will result in a limp mass if overdone. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Balsamic Chard Sauté

The garden is starting to overflow with leafy things! Oh no! Fortunately, leafy things are good for you and delicious, so let's use a huge amount of chard and make a balsamic chard sauté. Technically, there's some steaming involved, so it's not officially a sauté, but we who are still culinarily challenged don't know precisely what to call it.

We start with a very large colander of washed and mostly dried chard, snipped into strips a couple of fingers wide. You can just grab a bunch of chard and snip across the top, it's quick and easy. Remember to move your fingers as you get closer to your hand! Especially if you're talking to someone in the kitchen. Not that I've ever, well, nevermind. :-) Include the tasty stalks, cut to about finger-length or slightly shorter. Reserve a large double handful of leaf, with no stems, and set aside. If you have a range of sizes, try to reserve only smaller, more tender leaves to set aside.

Toss the rest into a pre-warmed pan in which a little light olive oil has been warming-- just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Drizzle liberally with a good balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing, or your favorite balsamic, olive, and herb bread dipping concoction. Toss, or stir gently with tongs. As the chard cooks, it will release water, but if the pan looks too dry, sprinkle a little water on top. Lower the heat, put on a lid, and let the chard steam to soften the stalks. As you can see by the photo, which shows our chard about half done, most of the zippy color is still in place. However, we like the stalks nice and soft, and by that time, most of that color will be gone.

Reserved chard to the rescue! Toss in the snipped leaf-only chard that you set aside, give it a good stirring, and remove the pan from the stove. If you are going to be waiting to serve this for more than about 10 minutes, I recommend keeping it warm and tossing in the extra chard about 3 - 4 minutes before serving. That will give it time to soften, but not to lose its bright tones. Taste, and possibly add a last minute splash of pure balsamic for added zing. If you like slightly crunchy stalks, though, you can skip all this 'reserved chard' business and just stop when the color is about where it is in the photo.

Here is our yummy balsamic chard, plated with some lemon-dill halibut and fresh linguine. Doing this again, I think I'd have trout almandine as the fish, since the crunch of the almonds, and the brown color, would go much more nicely. As you can see, the chard cooks down to a small fraction of its former glory. The stems retain their color, but much of the leaf color is lost-- hence our tossing in the reserved chard leaf at the very end.

Hop on over to My Bay Area Garden to learn how easy it is to grow this beautiful and delicious veggie in your garden or on a sunny windowsill. And be sure to visit Weekend Herb Blogging, guest-hosted by SweetNicks, to see what other folks are up to in their kitchen gardens this weekend.