Wednesday, May 20, 2009

...Grey Gardens

They paved paradise... and you know the rest. Let me clarify: by "they" I mean my landlord, and by "paved" I mean mowed, but I'm still heavy-hearted this morning. See, I took it upon myself to tackle the backyard of my apartment building. That's right, there's a yard! I did a little neighborhood reconnaissance and learned that the growth hadn't been touched in at least three years, and the dingy, Fisher Price detritus was beginning to try my neighbors sense of taste - and patience. I spent a couple weeks bagging dead leaves, pruning vines, planting bulbs, and tackling the mint. Oh, the mint. I had no idea before I got into gardening, but mint has this Godzilla-lke tenacity and will take over every inch of growing space once you give it a chance. Just FYI, best to keep this stuff in a pot. 

I was, yes, proud of the work I did. And I loved that with a 

little work, the overgrown vines, dainty violets and proud dandelions came to look like the Secret Garden. Mission accomplished? Until this morning, when I went out to water the porch garden to discover the yard snipped and hacked to bits. 

From Secret Garden to... a poodle with an awkward haircut. Maybe this is a lesson to my ego, or to my horticultural vigilantism. And who knows, maybe my landlord has some epic landscaping plan or k

ickass vegetable garden in the works. And my story is nowhere near as heart-aching as Gayla 

Trail's city garden disillusionment (she also reflects on the sometimes nasty role of the ego in gardening). 

I'm glad I got to do a little foraging a couple weeks back when the pickin's were good. You've probably heard by now that those persistent little buggers, dandelions, offer an edible, nutritious, and abundant supply of greens. Early spring is the best time to hit these up, when the greens are more tender and sweeter. If you decide to snag your own wild dandelion greens, use ya head: look for small leaves unmunched by critters, avoid areas that have been sprayed (a well-manicured lawn/public park is likely laden with chemicals), and rinse them thouroughly before use. This "recipe" (unrecipe?) is a basic treatment for dandelion greens; it's fun to throw in anything else you can forage. In the case of what was in my backyard, I added some chives, mint, and violets. The flowers are edible, pretty, but add little more than a food-and-garden-nerd accent.

Sauteed Dandelion Greens

a handful of small dandelion greens, rinsed and dried

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar (or sherry- or white vinegar. I like the rice vinegar for its grassy flavor against the greens.)

salt and pepper to taste

Heat the water in a medium saute pan and add the greens. Cover and steam for about three minutes or until wilted. Add the oil and saute briefly (less than a minute), then stir in the vinegar, salt and pepper and any other garden add-ins and saute for a minute more. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

Green Gardens

It's been awhile, too much of awhile! I haven't even started school yet, but my days are already packed. Yes, as of today, I am an officially matriculated student in Boston University's Master's in Gastronomy (insert triumphant sound effect here)! I'm tickled pink to be going back to school, studying food, glorious food, and gradually weaning away from a life of waiting tables. But the stress has been intense: applying for financial aid requires everything other than my signature in blood. And yes, the blogging has tragically suffered as the application process wages on. But that's not to mean that I haven't been loving life - and that I haven't been eating! 

As springtime flowers finally bloomed from the sleeping soil, I took on a new season of container gardening. So far, so good - both my garden and I are a year older and a year wiser, so I hope this growing season will yield some better results. Last year I harvested a couple tiny bell peppers and a resilient crop of basil and parsley. The tomatoes never blossomed, the pumpkin suffered a tragic death over the side of the porch rail. I've started some herbs both from seed and seedling, and they're doing quite well. Well, enough, in fact, that I was able to harvest some for this pesto. Pesto, by conventional definition, entails basil, loads of olive oil, nuts for a surfactant and flavor, and cheese to bind. But with a garden of herbs, greens and hand, and tummies hungry enough to eat NOW, it's easy to bend the rules. This pesto uses arugula (I had some from Trader Joe's, sorry), garden herbs, and no cheese. You don't need the Parmesan if you're using the pesto immediately; the binding agent is nice, but necessary only if you're planning on storing the pesto for more than a day. And while this combination of greens and herbs isn't "real" pesto, it's herby, light, and delicious. It won raves from my dinner partner and the coworkers who sampled it when I took the leftovers in the next night. Here's looking forward to a continued harvest - cheap and fresh eats this summer while I work the hours and hit the books.

Herbed Lemon Pesto with Cannellini Beans  

1 1/2-2 cups mixed herbs and greens (so. I used 1 cup arugula and a mixed half-a-cup of parsley and lemongrass. Try using all parsley in late summer when it's abundant, or mixing cilantro, or dill, or mint... just shoot for about 2 cups of tasty, light green stuff)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup good-quality, extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil (good oil is they key to good pesto - don't settle!)
3-4 cloves garlic: 1 smashed and roughly chopped, the rest finely slivered (or more to taste; I'm a garlic freak)
pinch of sea salt
12 oz cannellini beans
juice from one lemon

Pasta - just cook some pasta before or while you're doing the rest of the cooking. I used 4 oz whole-wheat spaghetti and it was exquisite.

Using a food processor, chopper, or mortar and pestle, process the the green stuff, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and the smashed garlic until pasty and uniform. 

Heat some olive oil over medium in a saute pan, the add the rest of the garlic. Cook the garlic, stirring almost constantly, until just aromatic and not browned. A couple brown spots are fine, just don't burn it! Add the beans and saute for about two minutes to infuse the beans with oil and garlic goodness. Turn off the heat, squeeze the lemon juice over the beans and stir. Add the pasta to a big bowl, then add stir in the pesto (it takes a little effort, but well worth it), then stir in the beans. Garnish with any extra pine nuts. Serves 4.