Thanksgiving Salads

Our Thanksgiving feast surrounds the turkey, gravy and stuffing with lots of vegetable side dishes: mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, succotash, winter squash, rutabaga, all offering rich, sweet, earthy and pungent flavors as well as soft, dense textures. In past years, to balance these heavier side dishes, I’ve experimented with opposite flavors and textures, most often in salads. Celery root and apple salad dressed with apple cider vinaigrette has been a good choice, both crisp and acidic. It’s pretty, too, with additions of toasted nuts and chopped parsley or arugula. Or I’ve made a simple salad of mache and sherry vinaigrette, fresh green contrasting the other mashed, roasted and pureed vegetables. Some years a guest will bring pickled vegetables or sweet and sour red cabbage and I skip a salad altogether because these acidic flavors work well to balance the richness of the other vegetables. This year, when we’ll have the same line up of rich side dishes, I’ve settled on a radicchio and pear salad, going for the pleasantly bitter flavor of radicchios and the fresh sweetness of the pears.

Radicchio and pear salad was an easy choice this year because the red and green radicchios and the pears from the kitchen garden have been so beautiful.

Radicchios in basket

Radicchios cut in basket

I’ve made this salad several times already. It goes together quickly, easy to do at the last minute.   The green is Sugarloaf chicory and the red is Indigo radicchio. I usually slice the crisp leaves rather than tearing them because it’s quicker and I like their ribbon-like shape. The pears ripening now are Conference and Comice. I quarter them, peel them and then slice them into chunks. Toasted hazelnuts add their sweet, nutty flavor and some crunch. I’ve tried both sherry vinaigrette and balsamic vinaigrette and prefer balsamic because its complex sweetness complements the slight bitterness of the radicchio. Finally, this is a beautiful salad, one more reason to include it on the Thanksgiving table.

Radicchio salad T-day

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What is a shell bean?

“What is a shell bean?” a friend asked me the other day when I was describing succotash, a traditional New England dish of corn and shell beans that I often serve at Thanksgiving. We’d been talking about her dry bean crop and the varieties she’d just harvested. “A shell bean is the bean fully formed in the pod but not dry yet,” I said, adding that I often harvest beans at this stage, remove them from the pods, boil them to eat right away with just olive oil, salt and pepper, or blanch them and freeze them so I can have shell beans in the winter.

Shell beans harvesting

Shell beans on terrace The idea of a shell bean was completely new to her and I realized that my answer wasn’t making sense. I’m so used to calling the plump, fresh bean harvested in mid-summer a shell bean and the smaller, hard, dried bean harvested in early fall a dry bean that it never occurred to me that this fresh shell bean stage could be so unfamiliar.

Later, wondering if I was trapped in my own bean universe, I turned to seed catalogs to see how others talk about these two bean stages. Territorial Seeds refers to shelling beans and Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco refer to shell beans but the harvest stages are the same. Territorial advises: “For shelling beans, pick when the seeds are fully formed but still soft and green. For dry beans, maturity can take 3-4 more weeks depending on the weather. Harvest when 90% of the leaves have yellowed or fallen off.”   Johnny’s advises picking shell beans “when beans are plump inside pods” and harvesting dry beans “when at least 90% of leaves have fallen and pods are dry.”

In the Fedco catalog, there’s a “Shell and Dry Beans” section with some introductory sentences advising gardeners to “Harvest shell beans when the beans are plump inside pods. For dry beans allow pods to dry on the vine until pressing the beans with your fingernail leaves no indentation.” In the descriptions of the beans that follow, Fedco’s catalog writers often characterize qualities of the shell stage and the dry stage. Silver Cloud Cannellini beans “make amazingly early and absolutely superb shell beans…When dried and cooked its smooth, meaty texture and dense meaty flavor are prized in minestrone.” Limelight is “excellent both as a shell and a dry bean.” Tiger Eye makes “superb fresh shell and delicious baked beans …Wide 4” pods fill with large flattened kidney-shaped seeds mostly white at the shell stage but taking on more yellow as they dry.” Jacob’s Cattle “if harvested earlier…make superb shellies.”

Any bean can be harvested at the shell or the dry stage; even green beans that have grown too tough to eat green can hold tasty shell or dry beans. In my years of harvesting beans at shell and dry stages, I’ve come to favor certain beans at the shell stage and others at the dry stage. Cranberry, the pole flageolet Soissons Verte, Good Mother Stallard and all runner beans taste best to me at the shell stage while cannellini and black beans taste better fully dried then rehydrated.

Soissons Verte

Bean Soissons Vert

Good Mother Stallard

Beans Good Ma S

Runner Beans

_DSC6515

But if your intent is growing dry beans, even seed catalog descriptions might not encourage shell bean harvest. The phrase “shelling beans” might signal only the process of removing the beans from the pods. Yes, you do shell both shell beans and dry beans, along with peas, so the term is confusing. And if you didn’t grow up eating shell beans as I did, maybe you have to discover shell beans by chance as my friend Carol did, explaining: “I learned about them accidentally years ago when frost was threatening, the beans weren’t dry and I ate some. Get the word out there!  They are wonderful.” It’s true. As a bean tasting  we did a few years ago revealed, shell beans are rich and creamy, fresh tasting and nutty, needing nothing but a little olive oil and salt and pepper, or maybe a little corn, to make a meal.

Bean tasters

Bean samplesDry beans are very good, but they aren’t the same; they’re starchy and less sweet, wonderful at absorbing other flavors but not so good alone.

Or maybe you can discover shell beans at Thanksgiving dinner. As I do nearly every year, I’ll serve succotash at Thanksgiving, using a mix of Cranberry, Aunt Jean and Soissons Verte shell beans and sweet corn I’ve frozen in the summer in anticipation of this holiday meal. I’ll be sure that my friend tastes these shell beans and hope that my answer to her question: “What is a shell bean?” will finally make sense.

Succotash bowl

My favorite succotash recipe

1 ½ Cups fresh corn cut from the cob or frozen corn thawed

1 Cup fresh shell beans or frozen shell beans

1 Garlic clove, minced

2 Tablespoons Butter

1 Teaspoon Olive Oil

Salt

Pepper

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and add fresh or frozen beans; simmer until soft, about 7-10 minutes but check often. When soft, drain and set aside.

Heat butter and olive oil, add garlic and cook 2-3 minutes

Add fresh or thawed corn and cook, stirring frequently, until hot

Add beans to corn, mix, heat through and serve

Serves 4

Easy to double or triple

For an interesting history of succotash, see this article from Yankee Magazine.  And for more history and some tasty variations on the basic succotash recipe, see David Tanis’s New York Times City Kitchen column Yes, Succotash Has a Luxurious Side.

Root Vegetable Annas

The classic French pommes Anna recipe calls for layering thinly sliced potatoes with clarified butter and baking them to create a cake. As Julia Child writes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two (1970): “Pommes Anna looks like a brown cake 6 to 8 inches in diameter and 2 inches high, and it smells marvelously of potatoes and butter. That, in effect, is all it is: thinly sliced potatoes packed in layers in a heavy pan, bathed in clarified butter, and baked in a very hot oven so that the outside crusts enough for the potatoes to be unmolded without collapsing. The contrast of crusty exterior and tender, buttery interior is quite unlike anything else in potato cookery, and to many pommes Anna is the supreme potato recipe of all time.”

Pommes Anna is truly delicious but so, I’m finding, are Annas made from other root vegetables. Turnips, rutabaga, beets, celery root, carrots all undergo the same transformation when thinly sliced, layered with butter or olive oil in a glass or metal pie plate or heavy skillet, and baked in a hot oven.

The first non-potato Anna I tried was Turnips Anna from an October 2014 Sunset Magazine recipe. A friend had made it for a party that fall and I finally got around to making one this winter. In addition to layers of turnip, bits of crispy bacon, a little grated cheddar cheese and fresh thyme join the melted butter in the layers between the thinly sliced turnips.

turnips-anna-ingredientsI used Gilfeather turnip, a large, very sweet white turnip that holds beautifully in our winter kitchen garden. Gilfeather turnips growingThe result was everything Julia Child promised for pommes Anna, crispy exterior, creamy interior, but this time the fragrance was of sweet turnip and butter with a hint of smoky bacon and herby thyme. turnips-anna-finishedI’ve made it several times since and want to try it next with Joan rutabaga instead Gilfeather turnip. I think the flavor will be very similar but perhaps a bit earthier and the color more golden from the yellow-toned rutabaga.

Intrigued by this Anna technique, I’ve searched the Internet for other root vegetable Annas and found many variations both in vegetables used and in baking strategies. One recipe from Food 52 is titled Rustic Rainbow Root Vegetables with Rosemary (or, more simply put, Root Vegetables Anna) and begins with the observation that “you can basically do whatever you want with this one,” both in the roots you choose and the technique you follow. I’m learning that flexibility is one of the pleasures of root vegetable Annas. For my rainbow of root vegetables, I used celery root, White Satin carrots, Yellowstone carrots, Red Core Chantenay carrots and red beets, slicing each on a mandoline then layering them in a heavy skillet with olive oil, salt and pepper, grated Parmesan cheese and rosemary.

rainbow-anna-ingredientsThe resulting Anna was fragrant with the sweet smells of carrots and beets. The celery root wasn’t so dominant as the other roots, but it offered a subtle sweetness and softer texture and I’d definitely include it in future recipes. And the finished dish was beautiful.

rainbow-anna-in-skillet

rainbow-anna-on-plate

Other variations I’m looking forward to trying are from Bon Appetit using potatoes, celery root and turnip, butter and rosemary and from Martha Stewart using rutabaga and potato, butter and thyme. Finally, the New York Times recently republished a recipe for Sweet Potatoes Anna With Prunes from The Food 52 Cookbook. I don’t grow sweet potatoes but I’m wondering if winter squash would be a good substitute.

Just as there is a lot of variation among the root vegetables, oils, herbs and cheeses, each recipe also gives slightly different suggestions for how to slice the vegetables, what pan to cook them in, whether to use the oven, the stove top, or some combination of the two, how to bond the layers of vegetables and finally how to present the finished Anna.

I’ve most often used a mandoline to slice the vegetables and really like the very thin, even slices it allows (3.5 mm or about 1/8 inch), slicing-gf-turnip-with-mandolinbut I’ve also used a sharp knife and gotten good, thin slices, not so thin as a mandoline produces but still fine for the final dish. I used Pyrex pie dishes for the first Turnip Anna because I didn’t have metal pie pans, but I’ve made it again in a heavy aluminum frying pan and I agree that metal produces a crispier crust. Both Julia Child in her pommes Anna instructions and the Food 52 Rainbow Anna recommend using a heavy skillet and starting the Anna on the stovetop to begin the browning immediately and then transferring the Anna to the hot oven to finish cooking. This method has produced a crispier bottom crust for me.

Another step most recipes include is pressing or weighting down the layers so that they fuse into a cake. The Food 52 Rustic Rainbow recipe suggests simply pressing down on the layers while the skillet is on the stove top “to make sure the layers are bonding together.” Sunset’s Turnips Anna recipe recommends setting another pie pan on top of the Anna and weighting it with dried beans or pie weights. I’ve done both and find the added weight helps bond the layers. Several of the recipes also suggest placing a rimmed baking sheet underneath the pie pan or skillet to catch bubbling butter. In her pommes Anna recipe, Julia Child gets graphic with this warning advising: “Set drip pan under the potatoes, on rack below, to catch bubblings-up of butter (which could otherwise set fire to your oven).” No fires yet in my oven!

And for the final presentation, turning the Anna out onto a platter shows off the crispy bottom layer as well as any pretty design of vegetables I might have managed to arrange on the bottom layer, but serving directly from the pan works fine too. The important thing is to enjoy the amazing fragrance and flavors and, of course, to have fun making these root vegetable variations on the classic French pommes Anna.

Sunset’s Turnips Anna

 About 6 tbsp. butter, melted, divided

6 ounces sliced bacon

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves, plus several thyme sprigs

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2 pounds small to medium turnips (any variety), peeled and ends trimmed

  1. Generously brush a 9-in. pie pan with some butter. Preheat oven to 400° (if using metal pans) or 425° (if using glass or ceramic) with a rack set in lower third of oven.
  2. Brown bacon in a medium frying pan until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels, then chop.
  3. Combine bacon, cheese, flour, minced thyme, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
  4. Thinly slice turnips into rounds with a handheld slicer. Arrange one-sixth of turnips in a layer in pie pan, starting from center, working outward in concentric circles, and slightly overlapping slices. Evenly sprinkle a heaping 2 tbsp. bacon-cheese mixture over turnips and drizzle with about 2 tsp. butter. Repeat to use all ingredients, ending with turnips.
  5. Lightly butter bottom of another 9-in. pie pan and set on top of turnips. Fill upper pan with pie weights or dried beans; set pans on a rimmed baking sheet to catch bubbling butter.
  6. Bake until edge turns golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes. Carefully remove top pie pan and weights and continue to bake Anna until browned on top, 10 to 15 minutes more.
  7. Loosen Anna from pan with a knife and invert onto a plate. Top with thyme sprigs.

Food 52’s Rustic Rainbow Root Vegetables with Rosemary (or, more simply put, Root Vegetables Anna)

 Author Notes: Not to lead you astray in the introduction to this recipe, but you can basically do whatever you want with this one. It’s delicious. And you can make it as simple, or as complex as you see fit. Don’t own a mandoline? No problem. Just slice the vegetables thinly, and perhaps extend the cooking time a bit. Don’t want to go through the acrobatics of flipping a giant hot oily root vegetable pancake? No big deal. Throw it in a gratin dish, seriously consider adding more cheese and some cream, and then bake it for about an hour. If you are feeling really ambitious, whip a little goat cheese with some cream and serve as a sauce on the side.

 Serves 6 as a side

2 red beets, each about the size of a baseball, peeled
3 carrots, peeled
1 large sweet potato or 2 yellow beets, peeled
1 large garnet yam, peeled
3-5 tablespoons olive oil
1 sprig rosemary, chopped very finely
1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Preheat the oven to 375. Trim the ends off all of the vegetables.
  • Thinly slice each vegetable, about the thickness you would use for making homemade potato chips, with a mandoline. Keep the sliced vegetables separate from one another (the red beets seem to want to territorially mark everything!).
  • Generously brush the inside of an oven safe skillet (I highly recommend cast iron here – an 8 inch works great) with olive oil.
  • Starting with the lightest color root vegetable (either the yellow beets or the sweet potato), lay the thin slices on the bottom of the pan. Start at the outside of the pan, go in a circular motion, and slightly overlap each piece. When you have created the first layer, gently brush a little olive oil on top, then sprinkle with a little salt, pepper, and rosemary. Lightly cover with parmesan cheese.
  • Repeat with another layer of that vegetable, if you have enough. If not, move on to the next darkest color (usually the carrots). Again, gently brush a little olive oil on top, then sprinkle with a little salt, pepper, and rosemary. Lightly cover with parmesan cheese
  • Continue this process until you reach the top layer of red beets. Do not brush olive oil on the very top of the dish.
  • Placing the cast iron skillet on the stove, heat for about ten minutes on medium-high heat. Occasionally, gently press down on the vegetables to make sure the layers are bonding together.
  • Ok, this is the tricky step. Take the skillet off the heat (go ahead and wait a few minutes for it to cool slightly if you want). Gently loosen sides of vegetables with a spatula. Place a large plate (as flat as you can find that fits completely) over the skillet. Flip the skillet over onto the plate – be VERY careful – there is a possibility of hot oil here.
  • Once the vegetable pancake is inverted onto the plate, slide it back into the skillet, now the light color is facing up. The skillet goes back on the heat for another 8 minutes, and then into the oven for another 15 minutes. (I found that this Anna took longer to cook, up to 30 minutes longer for the vegetables to get soft, making the cooking time closer to that of the Turnips Anna.)

Take the vegetables out of the oven and let cool in the skillet for about ten minutes. Gently using spatula, slide pancake onto plate. Cool for another five minutes. Slice into wedges and serve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1015390-sweet-potatoes-anna-with-prunes

Cold Snaps

We’ve had a lot of cold weather in the past few weeks, days barely above thirty-two and nights close to twenty. Almost every winter we get these cold spells, those of 2012 and 2014 come to mind, and during each I wonder what will still be thriving in the winter kitchen garden once the cold passes and we return to our usual temperate coastal winter temperatures. Experience tells me that the heavily mulched root vegetables, the rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, carrots, beets, will be fine and most of the plastic and Reemay-covered kale, mustard, arugula and radicchio will be too.  Walking through the garden, surveying the mulched mounds, the frosted cold frame, plastic tunnels and Reemay blankets, I remind myself that everything will taste sweeter after this cold. But it is hard to look at this frozen garden.

cold-mulched-beds-16

cold-cold-frame-16

cold-reemay-16

Luckily there are storage vegetables to get us through these cold times. Winter squash, potatoes, onions, dried beans and dried tomatoes and the shell beans, corn and peppers I put up at the end of summer all offer comforting meals. I have a black bean, poblano pepper and onion soup simmering on the stove for lunch. I may add a bit of leftover baked Buttercup squash to it for sweetness. And I’ll top it with a dollop of spicy red pepper hazelnut sauce.

black-bean-soup

I’ll roast another winter squash or two and make a savory tart and perhaps some squash soup. I’ll sauté some onions, thaw some roasted peppers and put them on a pizza.

pizza-pepper-onion-sausage

For a salad perhaps some corn, black beans and slices of dried tomato.

corn-black-bean-salad

We’ll be fine until the more temperate weather returns. And we’ll enjoy the clear skies and sun that come with these cold spells. If cold brings sun, it can’t be entirely bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://lopezislandkitchengardens.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/drying-tomatoes/

Polenta for Fall and Winter

A friend reminded me the other day that we’re entering the season when cooked cereals for breakfast and hot soups for lunch are especially satisfying. To them I’d add polenta, another softly textured, warm and comforting food, perfect for fall and winter dinners.

One of our favorite fall polenta recipes is from Georgeanne Brennan’s lovely 1992 cookbook Potager, a book my sister Nancy gave me that year, writing on the title page: “This just looked like a Debby kind of food book.” She was right. Brennan’s focus on cooking from the garden in every season inspires me, and her recipe for creamy polenta with melted white cheddar cheese topped with sautéed garlic, red peppers, chicories, chard, and spinach is one we look forward to every fall.

polenta-with-peppers-greensI made it the other night using the last of the summer peppers stored in the fridge and chard and mustard from the garden. A great thing about this recipe is that any kind of green will work. Chicories, chard and spinach are delicious but so are kale, collards or mustards. And when I don’t have fresh peppers, those that I’ve roasted and frozen are a fine substitute.

And then there’s the polenta itself, the base of this dish. To make it, most recipes suggest bringing water to a boil, adding the polenta in a steady stream, stirring constantly, then reducing the heat and cooking for 45 minutes more, stirring frequently. That’s a lot of stirring. Luckily for me, another 1992 cookbook, Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food, offered an easier method for cooking polenta, “a revelation,” Kasper notes, “for those who hate the tedium of stirring 30 or 40 minutes, as the stiff porridge fights you every step of the way.”

polenta-with-double-boiler

The key is a double boiler. Bring the water to a boil in the top of the double boiler, add salt and slowly add the polenta, stirring for a minute or two until the grains and water blend. Have water boiling in the bottom of the double boiler, set the top over the bottom, add the lid and cook for 1 and ½ hours, keeping the water simmering in the bottom. Two or three times during this hour and a half I check to be sure there is still enough water in the bottom pan and also give the polenta in the top pan a stir. Kasper concludes, “after 1½ hours the polenta will be thick, smooth, and have no suggestion of rawness in its taste.” I’ll add that the grains of ground corn will have swelled to a satisfying consistency, creamy and grainy at the same time. To serve six people, I use 8 ounces of polenta, 5 and ¼ cups water and a teaspoon of salt.

Though this cooking technique can be used with any ground grain, farro for example, to make a polenta, corn is the grain most commonly used for polenta, specifically ground flint corn. I use Giusto’s polenta, described on their website as having “robust flavor and the authentic Italian granulation.” It’s available in bulk at Blossom, the natural foods market here on Lopez Island, or online. Anson Mills also sells an authentic Italian corn polenta. Coarsely ground cornmeal or grits can also work but I like the flavor and texture of Italian polenta best.

polenta-closeupPolenta pairs wonderfully with so many foods. This time of year I like it with roasted Delicata squash and Gorgonzola cheese, with roasted root vegetables and a dusting of grated Parmesan, and with braised lamb shanks or lamb stew with black olives. And just this month I discovered another amazing way to eat polenta: with kale puree stirred into it just before serving.

I was leafing through April Bloomfield’s 2015 cookbook A Girl and her Greens, Hearty Meals from the Garden deciding whether or not to buy it when I saw a recipe titled Kale Polenta accompanied by a gorgeous photo of a pot of polenta swirled through with dark green kale puree. The final line of the paragraph introducing the recipe said: “You taste the sweetness of the corn polenta first, than a hint of garlic, and finally that green minerality of the kale at the end.” I bought the book. A few days later I made this dish for us and then a week later I made it for friends. I’m eager to make it again. It’s destined to be this year’s go-to polenta dish.

polenta-with-kale-puree

polenta-with-kale-puree-on-plate

April Bloomfield’s recipes for Kale Purée and Kale Polenta:

Kale Purée

Makes 1 generous cup 

5 medium garlic cloves, peeled

1 pound Tuscan or other kale, thick stems removed (about 1/2 pound after trimming)

Kosher salt

1 teaspoon Maldon or another flaky sea salt

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put 4 of the garlic cloves in a medium pot, fill it with water, cover and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add enough kosher salt so that the water tastes slightly salty and add the kale, prodding to submerge it. Cook uncovered until the kale is tender and tears easily, 2 to 3 minutes.

Fish out the boiled garlic cloves and reserve. Drain the kale in a colander and, when it’s cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as you can. Roughly chop the kale, the boiled garlic and the raw garlic.

Combine the kale, garlic and Maldon salt in a food processor. Process, stopping occasionally to prod and stir, for about 45 seconds, then add the oil and process, stirring once or twice, to a fairly smooth purée. The purée keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Kale polenta

8 ounces coarse stone-ground polenta (cooked in a double boiler with 5 ¼ cup water and 1 tsp salt)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup kale purée

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated

3 tablespoons mascarpone (I’ve substituted goat cheese and it’s tasty too.)

Coarsely ground black pepper

When the polenta is done, stir in the olive oil, kale purée and most of the Parmesan and keep over heat, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes more. Take the pot off the heat and fold in 2 tablespoons of the mascarpone (it’s nice to run into a little pocket of mascarpone, so don’t stir too much). Top with the remaining mascarpone and Parmesan and as much black pepper as you’d like.

Georgeanne Brennan’s recipe for Sautéed Garlic, Red Peppers, Chicories, Chard, and Spinach for White Cheddar Polenta

Polenta

8 Giusto’s polenta (cooked in a double boiler with 5 ¼ cup water and 1 tsp salt)

2 Tablespoons butter

4 Ounces White Cheddar Cheese, grated

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Peppers and Greens

10-12 ounces Swiss Chard, ribs removed

8-10 ounces Chicory, stems removed

10-12 ounces Spinach, trimmed

3 red, gold or orange bell peppers or other sweet peppers, cut in half lengthwise and sliced lengthwise into thin slices

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped

½ teaspoon salt

Just before the polenta is ready, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the garlic and sweet peppers. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes and then add the greens. Sprinkle with the salt, reduce the heat, cover the pan, and cook for 3 or 4 minutes. The greens will steam and reduce considerably in volume. Remove the cover and continue cooking until the greens are limp but still retain their color, a few minutes.

When the polenta is done, stir in the butter, cheese, salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and spread the polenta onto a warmed serving platter. Top it with the mixture of sautéed greens and peppers and serve.

 

Autumn Salad

The hedgerows along the fields and roads near my house are especially beautiful now. Rose hips glow red and orange, the last of the blackberries, dark purple, past ripe, mix with sprays of white snowberries, and the foliage of the berry vines and all the other deciduous shrubs offer shades shifting from red into purple, yellow into gold, orange into brown. On morning walks I look forward to one particular stretch of hedgerow where vibrant red and yellow leaves stand out against darker vines, berries and bits of still-green foliage. hedgerowI considered picking some of these leaves to decorate the table but then realized that with just a little more effort I could recreate these colors in a salad.

The autumn kitchen garden offers much the same palate as the hedgerow. In the garden basket, red, orange, and white beets next to purple, yellow, white and orange carrots matched the hedgerow colors that had inspired me. autumn-salad-vegetablesLeeks and kale would provide the contrasting green.

I peeled the beets and cut them into half-to-one-inch cubes, peeled the carrots and cut them into two-to-three-inch strips, spread both on sheet pans, coated them thinly with olive oil and roasted them at 425 degrees until they were tender but not too soft, about twenty minutes. I cut the leeks into ¼ inch dice, tossed them in olive oil and roasted them until they were golden and starting to crisp, about fifteen minutes.

While the vegetables were roasting, I made a simple kale salad, tearing the leaves into bite-sized pieces, rubbing them with olive oil and salt then adding lemon and some grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

When the vegetables were done and slightly cooled, I tossed the roasted leeks with the kale and then arranged the colorful carrots and beets on top. autumn-saladAnother squeeze of lemon just before serving completed this beautiful hedgerow-inspired salad. I’ll be making this autumn salad again even after the hedgerow foliage fades.

 

 

Equinox Thoughts

Half of the foliage filling the kitchen garden is signaling the end of spring and summer vegetables, yellowing corn stalks, withered squash leaves and leafless pole bean vines. The other half signals the rise of autumn and winter crops, robust tops of parsnips, carrots, turnips and celeriac, full leaves of kales, chard, leeks, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, all in healthy shades of green.

fall-equinox-yellow

fall-equinox-green

fall-equinox-green-leeksPoised between seasons, the garden at the autumn equinox encourages a look ahead to the meals promised by the green side, but just as much it encourages a look back at the garden year so far, at spring plantings and summer harvests and at the surprises and discoveries that this garden year has offered.

Sunchocola cherry tomato is my vegetable surprise of the summer. It has a kind of silly name but the Territorial Seed Company description tempted me to try it: “The 1 1/4 inch round, henna colored fruit are juicy and divinely sweet, with an added depth of slightly smoky, low acid flavor that’s unusual in a cherry tomato. Rambling indeterminate plants yield generous trusses of fruit early in the season and continue for the long haul.” All true!

tomato-sunchocola

tomato-sunchocola-vine

It’s a perfect cherry tomato, imagine a mini Cherokee Purple, and the vines are spectacular, requiring a ladder now for harvest. Eaten out of hand, halved in salads or, when there are just too many to eat fresh, roasted into a syrupy sauce, it’s truly delicious and has earned a permanent place in my greenhouse.

Then there is summer-grown kale. As I wrote in May, spring-seeded kale was surprising in its succulence and flavor, slowly converting me from my bias toward frost-sweetened kale. The conversion became complete this summer. We ate kale salads every day for lunch from kale that volunteered throughout the spring and early summer and grew into robust plants producing tender leaves. I still planted a winter kale bed in mid-July, and still look forward to frost-sweetened kale, but summer kale has been an unexpected treat.

So many pears this year, how to make time to dry them all? Our extra-abundant crop left me looking for ways to speed up the time it takes to peel and slice them for the dehydrator trays. I remembered that my friend Debbie uses a mandoline to slice pears for drying and that she even leaves the skins on. In one of the biggest equipment discoveries of the summer, we tried the mandoline and it works, cutting our preparation time from over an hour to fifteen minutes. And it doesn’t take that much more time to peel off the skin before slicing the pears with the mandoline. Ours is a Swissmar Borner V-1001 V-Slicer Plus Mandoline.

Another equipment innovation this summer was an electric raccoon fence. After losing most of our corn crop last year to raccoons, we knew we needed to be more prepared for predators this year. Our friends Maxine and Debbie showed us the electric fence they use to foil raccoons and gave us the Premier 1 Supplies catalog so we could order some. It will be a few years before the corn harvest pays back the cost of the fence, but it’s completely worth it to have worry-free corn harvests. In fact, the corn fence was so successful that I may plant a little less corn next year.

Deciding how much to plant each spring is a puzzle I return to every year. This year, I radically reduced the number of storage crops I planted: half a bed of potatoes instead of a whole bed, the same for onions, only one bed of winter squash instead of two beds, the same for bush dry beans. Looking back on the harvest from this vantage point of the autumn equinox, I think I made the right choice. Harvest was certainly quicker, storage easier. It won’t take so long to shell the dry beans. I made the change because I’d noticed that, in our mild winters, leeks and winter roots growing in the garden were more tempting than onions, potatoes and squash stored in the shed. By spring there were still storage vegetables left, some of them spoiled. Maybe winter will surprise me this year with extra cold temperatures and some crop failures, but it’s a gamble I’m willing to take, one I’ll assess next year at the spring equinox.