Thursday, August 27, 2009
She maintains that I don’t enter the right prices in Eco-Nomics. While my method isn’t exactly scientific, I price my produce as I find it in my travels or in my supermarket circular or, to be honest, what I think it might cost as I type away blearily at night and err on the side of caution, on both pricing and weights.
Presented with an offering of fresh basil, a nosegay of chervil, a trio of lemon cucumbers and a mess of purple-podded pole beans, she said, almost salivating, “You have no idea what some people would pay for this.”
Perhaps I am selling a bit short. I could “charge” organic prices in Eco-Nomics for any and all that I harvest. I compost, so that’s natural stewardship of the soil. I don’t use pesticides, fertilizers, Miracle-Gro, sprays – the only thing that touches my plants is rainwater. If my daughter wants to pick and eat her way through the backyard any afternoon, I have no worries, and she’s done so since she was a toddler.
I take my mom to DePiero Farms in Bergen County some Sundays, since it’s also a nice place to walk around, and it charges $3.99/lb for heirloom tomatoes – not designated organic, just heirloom. I also go there in the hopes that I’ll find at least some of the things growing in my backyard for comparable pricing, from purple beans (no dice) to pattypan squash ($10.99/lb for baby pattypans.) That’s unconscionable – and ridiculous! First, I don’t pick mine at the ping-pong ball stage. And even if I did, there’s no way I’d enter that price into Eco-Nomics, because it’s not a price I’m willing to pay. And don’t even get me started on Rhubarb, which is a perennial and comes back for free every year in greater quantities: It costs upwards of $5 a pound, both there and at ShopRite when they have it.
Still, my friend persisted. So I finally headed to Whole Foods in the hopes that it would carry some examples of my produce, which would be organic as well, and I could find out what the store charges and what people are willing to pay for it. I hit the new Fairway for good measure as well.
Organic Heirloom tomatoes cost $4.99 per pound at Whole Foods. The bin was colorful and enticing to be sure, and I gently went through it to see what sorts were represented: There were my Black Russians! And my daughter’s favorite yellows, among gold and green striped (got those, too), white (never grown them), the pale persimmon tomatoes (did those last year – scrumptious) and every shape and wrinkle of red. The skimpy pints of small “Gourmet Medley” tomatoes, at $4.99 each, could have come straight from my backyard as well: lots of orange and red and some purples. For five dollars. Five dollars. And people had them in their carts!
There were no purple beans at Whole Foods or Fairway, but I did find my little haricot verts: pre-packaged from Mexico, $4.99 for a one-pound bag at Whole Paycheck. Organic, yes, but I was somewhat surprised at the measly size of the pound-package. I’m underweighing and under eye-balling mine!
I also could not believe what $2.99 buys you in Swiss Chard: That price per bunch gets you, on average, 8 ½ stalks. I say 8 ½ because those that featured nine stalks had nine that were on the thin side – and I’m being generous in that assessment. Those that contained eight may have had wider stalks, but there were always one or two scraggly stragglers in each bunch, every time. Yes, I stood there counting the contents of twist-tied bunches of both red and white organic chard. You’d fare better at Fairway, with its $1.99/bunch price for at least a somewhat larger bunch of conventional red or white chard.
At least small pattypan squash didn’t cost $10.99/lb – it was “only” $7.99/lb. The butternut squash at both spots was new and fresh, first of the season like mine – but pound for pound, I’m glad I don’t need to buy it!
I had to stop there – or just stop here. I did canvass fully, but couldn’t find specifically what I was growing; only things that were somewhat close. I also must resist rambling on here like my overeager squash and bean vines. Suffice it to say, my friend is kind of right. Plus, I’ve got a potential gold mine back there, and a tasty one at that.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Heavy rains were to arrive by Friday night. So late in the afternoon, I went out to pick a few tomatoes and other things that the rain might knock off of their vines. I brought a large melamine bowl out, and started with the cucumbers. Filled within minutes, I had to go back inside to get the big colander.
Walking back to the garden, I noticed a buttercup squash was disconnected from its vine. Apparently, it was ready to be picked – it picked itself. I found another one. Then I checked the butternut squashes, which have been of the right color for weeks, but I didn’t know if they’d be ready – they are for winter storage. Well, they were. Back inside, to empty the colander. Then back to the squash patch for the last butternut and to check for pattypans. Back to the house to empty the colander, and out again to finally start on the tomatoes.
Oops, there’s a giant zucchini hanging from its climbing vines! Cut down with a knife, it doesn’t fit anywhere and is laid on a patio table. I also thought I’d check the “secret” potato plant behind that trellis. I don’t think I mentioned it, but about 6 weeks ago, I spied a familiar-looking plant in the back of a bed. I thought it was a potato plant, so I excavated a little and came up with a tiny, red new potato, and tucked it back into the ground. No, I did not plant new potatoes. I had and have no idea where it came from – did I compost some old potatoes at some point? I have things just growing out of nowhere, and this is not the only “surprise” plant. Like I said, this has become the theater of the absurd. I dig a bit with my fingers and the knife and come up with a handful of potatoes. Thank goodness I’m wearing something with pockets today.
Onto the tomatoes – finally. Large varieties first, so the heavy ones are on the bottom. OK, I still have room in the colander for the cherry tomatoes. They roll down to fill in between the large mortgage lifters, yellows and at last! A succulent Black Russian tomato larger than a man’s fist. My two cherry varieties fill the colander to the 2/3 point. May as well check on the beans in the next bed.
The haricot verts fill that last third. No, I am not going back into the house for the umpteenth time to empty this thing. I pile the purple beans on top. Then move onto the Kwintus pole beans, which I proceed to jam vertically into any space I find around the rim. I call my daughter over to hold out her dress, which we use to cradle the overflow.
Overflow is an understatement: just look at the kitchen counter! I’m laughing out loud at this point. I decide not to even deal with the chard. Where all of this came from? It’s ridiculous! And the thing is, while harvesting what amounted to a true and truly unexpected bounty, I spied a good deal more that needed another day or two on their vines. Come Sunday or Monday, we’d do it all over again!
In the interim, I made the freshest, most luscious panzanella salad with the tomatoes that night, a cucumber and farro grain salad side dish (recipe to come), a platter of grilled pattypan squash finished with Romano cheese on Saturday, a corn-basil-tomato and kidney bean salad on Sunday for Monday and Tuesday lunches, and broke out the ZipLoc freezer bags to start preparing produce for the winter.
Lemon Cukes: 4 lbs @ $.99 = $3.96
Haricot Verts: 1 lb @ $2.49/lb= $2.49
Kwintus Beans: 1+ lbs @1.29/lb = $1.29
Purple Pole Beans: Another lb @ $2=$2
3 lbs Pattypan squash @ $1.50: $ 4.50
2+ pints of cherry tomatoes: $4
2 Lbs Mortgage lifter reds plus the big Black Russian plus another lb of yellows: $5
One big zuchetta trombolina (2 lbs @ $.99) $1.98
2 large Buttercup squashes: $5
5 Butternut squashes of varying sizes, all nicely heavy: $9
Last Eco-nomics posting, in the black by $30.94
Plus Friday’s circus: $39.22
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
We’ve got tomatoes in many colors: red, orange, yellow and purple, and awaiting a striped variety to ripen. For some reason, my daughter loves those yellow tomatoes: When we were selecting seeds from catalogs in January then starting them in peat pellets in early spring, she repeatedly (almost obsessively) had to make sure we had purchased and planted the yellows. We had seeds leftover from last year, which we used – but don’t tell her! While that first mortgage lifter picked last week was nearly as big as her face, she had a different gleam in her eyes upon proudly picking her first yellow tomato this weekend.
And yes, she ate it right then and there, like an apple.
Two week’s harvest, as of Saturday, the 15th:
Chard: 3 armloads @ $2= $6.00
Lemon Cukes plus some Kirbies: easily 5 lbs @ $.99 = $1.98
Haricot Verts: 1 lb @ $2.49/lb= $2.49
Kwintus Beans: well over 2 lbs @1.29/lb = $2.58
Purple Pole Beans: About 2 lbs @ $2=$4
Green Beans: 1 lb @ $.99/lb. (see below)
3 lbs Pattypan squash @ $1.50: $ 4.50
2+ pints of cherry tomatoes, mostly SunGold: $4
4 Lbs Mortgage lifter reds: $4
A pound of sweet yellows: $1
Last Eco-nomics posting, I was in the red by $0.60
This two-week harvest: $31.54
In the Black! By $30.94.
The chard seems to be slowing down a bit (whew!), although I still plan to use my trading tactic in future recipes and preparations. I thought that my bean vines had slowed completely – with only about 1 lb of filets over two weeks - so I let them be for a bit, and honestly forgot to look at them. Big mistake: The fridge is full of big bags of beans, including Kentucky Wonder pole beans, those 4-year-old seeds I came across and thought I’d plant because, hey, you never know. I had completely forgotten about those, since they’re planted in a different area than the others and they are now threatening to take down a gutter downspout.
I’ve said before that giving it away is half the fun of growing it, and with the addition of fresh-picked tomatoes, those around me are increasingly happy to take some harvest off my hands.
Friday, August 14, 2009
We’re a little charded-out at this point. I love it, simply steamed or sautéed. It reminds me of eating spinach, with oxalic acid and iron coating your teeth and minerals & nutrients coursing through your veins. All right, so that doesn’t exactly sound like a selling point to most, and it’s also why few members of my family will take any chard off my hands. I never realized I would have so much for the entire growing season, so I’ve had to be creative. I think I hit it this time, though: swap my chard in mass quantities for the spinach in pasta with spinach and white beans.
I’ve mentioned this dish before – a standby favorite in the household, for which I always have all the ingredients on hand. Mike likes penne, orecchiette or a similar shape (don’t use spaghetti or the like), with more vegetable base than pasta.
This time, I used some pillowy gnocchi instead of a pasta shape and went pretty heavy on the vegetable (for obvious reasons), including the colorful stems. He loved it, heaped into a bowl and topped with fresh grated Romano cheese. I also passed some along to my father when I stopped by for a visit– he devoured half on the spot (cold!) then heated the remainder for lunch the next day. Why hadn’t I thought of this trading tactic before?
Next treatment: Swap it for the broccoli rabe in a classic prep with sweet sausage. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Pasta with Spinach and White Beans
2 block pkgs frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed a bit (keep some juice) or your choice of fresh greens, chopped; at least 8 cups (it cooks down to nothing)
half a sweet onion, diced
two large cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz. or 19 oz. can of cannellini beans, drained and well rinsed
1 T. flour
4 T. good olive oil
S & P ; pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
¼ C. white wine
¼ C. chicken broth
¼ C. chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 T. chopped capers (optional)
Wedge of Lemon
½ Lb. pasta, your choice of shape
Over medium heat, heat the olive oil with red pepper flakes (if using) in a wide sauté pan fitted with a lid. Sweat the onion until soft and golden. Add the garlic and sauté a minute longer. Sprinkle the flour and sauté until well-integrated and lightly golden, about 2 minutes.
Add the beans, a very generous amount of black pepper, stir to coat. Add your wine and broth, stir and scrape; it will thicken. Add your spinach and salt. Stir to integrate. Lower your flame to low and cover with lid. Allow to cook together for at least 5 minutes. **Note: That time is for frozen spinach and for a normal quantity of fresh. I had a LOT of fresh greens. It went in in two batches until it all cooked down, taking longer than 5 mins.
Add your parsley and capers, if using, blend all together and toss in your pasta, adding pasta water if necessary. Finish with the juice of your lemon wedge, a glistening drizzle of olive oil (if desired) & serve.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Awaiting extra sun and extra heat, my tomato plants have been falling over in recent weeks, weighed down by volumes of unripe fruit, soaked by heavy rains yet, to my regret, holding steady in their greenness due to cool nights and cloudy days. Staked or caged, most every one has required reinforcement. But yesterday, I relieved my heaving Mortgage Lifter plant by picking two violet-red near-2-lb tomatoes. She thanked me somewhat for the relief, and I hope I did her fruit justice.
Cut in half then sliced into wedges, alternating with two lemon cucumbers cut in the same fashion, the slices were arranged in a pattern around the rim of a large, 14-inch round pressed glass plate, atop a bed of shredded romaine lettuce. In the center, I heaped a half-pint of SunGold cherry tomatoes, sprinkled a good bit of finely diced Vidalia onion throughout, then topped the entire dish with a blizzard of basil in a chiffonade. A mild red vinaigrette made with the greenest, grassiest olive oil I have, drizzled atop, finished the dish.
It was beautiful, crisp, refreshing in this sudden onset of 94-degree heat and, most important, delicious. How could it not be? Nearly every element went from the earth to the table in a matter of minutes. I couldn’t believe it, but just one Mortgage Lifter tomato filled the entire rim.
I can’t wait to pick more.
Monday, August 10, 2009
It was a Saturday meal created after returning home from my daughter’s art class after four, and with Mike to return from work at seven. I served boneless pork marinated in a sherry vinaigrette with fresh sage, grilled peaches with balsamic vinegar and fresh thyme, and double-garlic potatoes, all with a salad that was freshly picked, just like the herbs.
I marinated the pork first and the peaches last, but started cooking the potatoes first, then the pork last. My timing blew me away as well – all three dishes were done to perfection and at the same time. When I got the Weber 3-burner grill early this spring, I loved it from the start and was ambitious from the get-go. First dish? Leg of Lamb, bone-in. I’d never owned a grill like this, only a charcoal kettle model, which I hated wheeling out, stoking, then cleaning later. But I’m a maniac with this one. From that first dish onward, I mentally vowed not to turn on my oven until Thanksgiving (except for baking), and there’s no need to: You can do everything on it. Try this:
For the Pork
4 lean boneless pork chops, 1” thick.
A dozen sage leaves, in a chiffonade
One small clove garlic, microplaned
Sea salt & fresh pepper
1 tsp sugar
Sherry vinaigrette (see below) plus extra sherry vinegar.
At least an hour before grilling, put a little smear of garlic on each pork chop, then marinate the chops in your sherry vinaigrette plus two extra tablespoons, salt, pepper, sugar and sage. Turn to coat during the course of marinating.
Grill 3 minutes, then turn 90 degrees and grill 3 minutes more. Flip over and finish to desired doneness. S&P the hot chops and serve.
4 T. sherry vinegar
¼ C. canola or other neutral oil
One small shallot, finely minced
1 t. Dijon mustard
1 t. sugar
S & P to taste.
Whisk together all ingredients to emulsify.
I had this leftover in the fridge from some salads last week and thought I’d try it as the pork marinade. I’m glad I did.
For the Peaches
Four large peaches, white or orange fleshed, cut in half and stone removed
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. canola or other neutral oil
1 clove garlic, mocroplaned (optional)
1 T. fresh thyme, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 t. sugar
S & P
Blend together the marinade ingredients in a shallow dish. Place peaches cut side down and swirl to coat. Grill over medium to low flame, rotating carefully to achieve good marks. Turn over, then dot tops with butter, if using. Cook to desired doneness. Plate, drizzle any leftover marinade over the top, and garnish with extra thyme, if desired. Serve with Chévre, if desired. Note: There are times I really like a lot of extra pepper cracked on top. Try it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
For the Potatoes
5 large potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
¼ C. olive oil or neutral oil if you prefer
3 large cloves of garlic, microplaned
1 generous t. sugar
2 t. sea salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste.
I came into a 5-lb bag of russets on Saturday for only $1.49 – not my favorite spud (as previously noted), but I couldn’t pass up the bag. Use any variety you wish. Combine all ingredients very well in a large glass bowl. Grill cut side down for 10 minutes, closing grill to use as an oven. Rotate 90 degrees and close grill for another 10 minutes. Turn over, grill for 15 or 20 mins more, depending on size of the potatoes. When the potatoes are done and still hot, place back into their glass bowl and toss to coat with the remaining garlic oil. Add extra salt, if desired. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley, if desired.
For timing’s sake, after flipping to the skin side of the potatoes, start grilling your peaches on the rear racks. Then move onto the pork chops over a high flame up front.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Well-rinsed and eaten straight, they’ve been one of my daughter’s favorite snacks since she started on solid food at 6-months (seriously). They’re easy to sprinkle over a salad for extra taste, texture, bite and bulk, or to add to many other dishes for the same reasons. Toss some into your next batch of summer bruschetta and you’ll see. Pasta with spinach and white beans is a default dinner item for my husband at any time when I don’t have anything thawed or planned – as are a half-dozen other meatless pasta dishes I’ve come up with using the white beans and other pantry and fridge items. White beans with a drizzle of very good olive oil, lemon and fresh chopped basil is an easy, 30-second addition to summer tapas, eaten straight or spooned onto crusty bread brushed with garlicky olive oil or garlic confit. I’ll use fresh thyme for a more autumnal flavor come September. Another tapa: warm, blistered roasted sweet peppers from the grill or oven, chopped, drizzled in garlic oil and blended with the beans. I could go on: the variations and uses are endless.
Canned vs. Dried: Canned beans are quick and easy. To be honest, my store brand cannelini beans in cans hold their shape the best, even cooked. Progresso brand is very good, too, but comes only in 19 oz. cans. I stock up on them whenever they’re on sale. I’ve never had luck with Goya (sometimes good, often pasty; inconsistent, which is surprising), Luigi Vitelli (no shape or tooth, just paste) or Colonna (ditto). Sorry to all of the above; hey, I have my housewife favorites, but you all know that by now.
You could also soak a 1 lb. bag of dried beans, which cost about the same as one large Progresso can, but will yield beans until kingdom come. It’s extremely economical, and you could do half the bag if desired. Plus, the remaining dry beans will keep until kingdom come. I tend to do this during the winter, when nothing warms you like a good bowl of Pasta e Fagiole soup. By the end of the week, I’ll make warm white beans with the rest, if they haven’t been used on salads or in other dishes. For a soup, braise or other heated recipe or dish, the dried beans hold their shape and tooth better than canned.
But, so far as summer goes and a starter on white beans, try this:
White Bean Hummus
One can, 14 oz or 19 oz, white Cannelini Beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup good olive oil
One large clove garlic, chopped
¼ Lemon in a wedge for juicing
¼ cup loosely packed Italian parsley leaves
½ tsp sea salt, or to taste
pepper to taste
Equipment: Food processor or mini-chopper
Total time: under 10 minutes.
Place rinsed beans in food processor. Set aside.
Warm olive oil and garlic low and slow on the stovetop or in the microwave until garlic is soft and oil is very fragrant.
Drizzle over beans into food processor while running.
Squeeze lemon juice into mixture and process until smooth, or to desired consistency.
Add salt, pepper to taste and parsley, process to blend.
Serve in a bowl and lightly drizzle with extra olive oil as garnish.
Serve with vegetables, warmed flat bread, pita, toast, breadsticks, other.
Extra lemon makes for a more tangy, hummus-y flavor.
Add a sprig of fresh rosemary to the olive oil and garlic while heating. Remove before processing, then rest sprig on top of finished dip for garnish. This is great on toasted Italian bread rubbed with garlic or as a sandwich spread.
When in season, replace the parsley with a generous amount of fresh basil leaves. Garnish with whole or finely cut basil leaves. This also is great on toasted Italian bread rubbed with garlic or as a sandwich spread.
Add a sprig or two of fresh thyme to the olive oil and garlic while heating. Remove before processing. Garnish with fresh chopped thyme leaves. Use Gala or other crisp, tart apples for dipping. Or, spoon onto a dinner plate and top with a grilled skinless boneless chicken breast, sliced.
Add a pinch of hot red pepper flakes to the olive oil and garlic while heating for some zing.
Or invent your own version!
Monday, August 3, 2009
I’d mentioned earlier that I’m on my way to writing “Chard 118 Ways” and that should have its own entry. My chervil is a large, productive cloud of delicate green fronds. The cucumbers, both green and yellow, have made their way into newly minted salads (both green and grain salads) and of course into tzatziki recently. Due to the rains, the vines are laden with fruit. The filet beans are still the best simply steamed. I don’t want this to become a laundry list of uses and recipes, so I’ll touch on just three items: Kwintus pole beans, purple beans and pattypan squash.
I’ve done a lot with the Kwintus beans, as noted in quite a few previous entries. But I somehow brought out a new layer of nutty flavor last week when I hosted a dinner. Because the beans are larger and wouldn’t fall through the grates, I decided to grill them at the last minute. I took the meat off the grill to rest before serving, did a quick brush cleaning of the grates, and set to work.
I made my basic grilling toss of olive oil, garlic, S & P, and then finished the grilled beans with a generous douse of fresh lemon juice, parsley and shavings of good Romano cheese and Whoa! They were crisp and still green, yet blistered and black – unbelievably savory and sexy as hell to look at, glistening and tangled together, entwined on a rustic Tuscan pottery platter. I could have made a meal out of them and licked the plate clean. But I had guests over that night and had to pray for leftovers. There weren’t any.
While we grew them last year, Mike has discovered the purple pole beans this summer. I feel as if I’ve rediscovered them a bit myself: I do not remember the color being so velvety, deep and dramatic. They’re just gorgeous! They turn green when cooked, but are largely eaten raw in our household, with long ones sliced in half on a diagonal and eaten plain or with store bought or home made hummus or a basil-y version of my white bean hummus. I served these purple beans raw and cut in half on the bias, their pencil-point tips sticking upward in two chilled cocktail glasses in the aforementioned dinner as somewhat of an afterthought. They were just healthy nibblies served with appetizers, then kept on the table through dinner. All were gone at the end of the night. This weekend, I sliced them into centimeter pieces and tossed them into a summer standard bean salad (cannelini and pink or pinto beans, celery, tomato, loads of parsley, red vinaigrette) – you can’t go wrong with extra crunch and greenery, or purple-ry in this case.
The pattypans are new to my husband – he’d never had them before, or knew they existed. I still remember when he first discovered them growing in the squash patch, asking “What in the heck are those disk things growing outside?” I thought he’d discovered a fungus or mushrooms which, considering all the rain we’ve had, would be our most prolific crop this year, if edible. With their ruffly edges and flying-saucer shape, Mike was a bit skeptical of the squash. But the proof is in the pudding, and taste: Tossed in olive oil, microplaned garlic, lemon juice, S & P, then grilled and finished with a flurry of fresh parsley (and/or basil), he’s convinced now.
I will do exactly that with my Rosa Bianca eggplants – if the plants would even grow! They are tropical and need constant heat. We have had a ton of rain and very cool nights, with barely a day reaching 90 degrees yet this summer. Good for my water and electric bills, but not for the eggplants. I could do an entire entry on just the weather conditions and how they’re affecting the crops – maybe I will. Suffice it to say, many foods are very, very late compared to years past, including tomatoes (barely a half-pint of Sungold Cherries so far) and notably the Zuchetta Trombolina (not a single one yet). That was my earliest heavy-harvest summer crop last year and the most eagerly-awaited this year.
But I am grateful for the success of the garden so far. Very pleased, actually, with the amount of production.
In fact, I’ll quickly add here another bale of Swiss chard ($2.50), another pound and a half of lemon cukes and ½ lb. kirbies ($2), a gorgeous nearly-two-pound bunch of red carrots ($2) and a big basket of beans ($4, all varieties) to the Eco-nomics Harvest:
Less Harvest: $49.10 ($21.56 + $17.04 + $10.50, this entry)
Total: - $0.60