Monthly Archives: January 2014

January Tomatoes?

These are some of the last of the coastal tomatoes and the tiny one is the last from my garden.

These are some of the last of the NC coastal tomatoes and the tiny one is the last from my garden.

     January is always a difficult time for those of us who love to garden in Western North Carolina.  It’s too early to start seeds for most summer crops and with recent single-digit temperatures, many fall food crops are severely limited.  When I visited Heart & Sole Gardens yesterday, it was painful to see frozen bok choy and other greens that were viable just a couple of weeks ago.  Thankfully, I was able to peel back frozen arugula leaves and harvest some tender salad and although most of the kale, mustard and turnip greens were too bitten to eat, I was able to pick a nice basket of young leaves from those plants.  The spinach was almost untouched by cold temperatures and I happily gathered that green in another basket and dug a few green garlic bulbs. 

 

Bok Choy did not survive the January freeze.

Bok Choy did not survive the January freeze.

            Back at my home, I used the last fresh tomatoes Richard and I purchased during our late fall trip to the NC coast and made a sauce.  Although too much wet weather this summer made for a poor tomato crop in my area, the fruit we bought at the eastern market was still nice.  I know they were grown with “conventional” methods, i.e. added chemicals, and they are not heirloom fruit, but I know the farm where they grow and they are sort of local and in January, I am very thankful for these tomatoes.  Recently, spots began developing on the skin and I knew it was time to “use it or lose it,” so I cut the tomatoes into sections and placed them in a pot to cook on the stovetop over low heat.  When the tomatoes were completely soft, I allowed them to cool and then used a potato ricer to remove the skins.  I put the pureed tomato sauce in a smaller pot and added onion and garlic granules, dried basil and oregano, and sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  After the sauce cooked for a couple of hours, it reduced to about 1 ¼ cups. 

 

            I picked up some beautiful baby and portabella mushroom caps at our local supermarket and decided to serve those with the tomato sauce for our dinner.  Since I also had fresh baby arugula leaves, I thought they would make a nice addition to a mushroom “pizza.”  With a fresh spinach side salad, it was a perfect meal for a cold January night.  Use a small, pointed spoon, such as a grapefruit spoon, to remove the mushroom gills from the portabella caps, taking care to keep them intact. 

 

Fresh green garlic bulb next to chopped baby bellas.

Fresh green garlic bulb next to chopped baby bellas.

Portabella Pizzas with Fresh Tomato Sauce

8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, chopped

4 portabella mushroom caps, stems and gills removed (compost stems and gills)

2 tablespoons minced garlic (I used about ½ bulb of fresh)

½ cup chopped onion

3-4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

¼ cup dry white wine

1 ¼ cups tomato sauce

¼ cup pickled eggplant (optional)*

¼ cup chopped kalamata olives (optional)

4 slices fresh mozzarella cheese

1 cup fresh arugula leaves

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and then add onions and garlic, cooking until translucent, about 2 minutes.  Keeping skillet hot, add wine and stir.  Cook until vegetables are almost dry, stirring often, about 3-4 minutes.  Push vegetables to the sides of the skillet, making a well, and add chopped mushrooms, shaking pan to level them over the heat.  Cook mushrooms until they begin to brown, (about 6 minutes), and then stir to combine them with the onions and garlic.  Add eggplant and olives, if you like or any other ingredients you normally enjoy on pizza.  Stir in the tomato sauce and lower heat.  Simmer about 3-4 minutes and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Remove skillet from heat.

Making a well in the skillet allows the onion and garlic to cook while the mushrooms brown.

Making a well in the skillet allows the onion and garlic to cook while the mushrooms brown.

In a separate skillet, heat remaining olive oil over medium high heat and add portabella caps, top side down.  Oil will quickly absorb and caps will lightly sear, 1-2 minutes.  Do not cook underside (the side that will hold filling).  Remove caps from pan and place on baking sheet covered with foil, parchment paper or nonstick baking mat. 

 

Portabella mushroom pizzas hit the spot on a cold January night.

Portabella mushroom pizzas with fresh arugula hit the spot on a cold January night.

Fill caps with sauce and top with mozzarella cheese slices.  Bake in a preheated, 375 degree, oven for about 12-14 minutes, until cheese begins to brown.  Remove from oven and set oven to broil.  Top each mushroom with ¼ of the fresh arugula leaves and sprinkle ¼ of the Parmesan cheese over each.  Briefly broil in oven until cheese just melts, 1-2 minutes.

For a non-vegetarian dish, ground beef, venison or sausage, browned, may be added to the tomato sauce mixture. 

*During their season, I preserve fresh eggplants in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, peppers, herbs and spices.  Stored in the refrigerator, we often use the eggplants in a variety of dishes or just eat them from the jar.  Refrigerated eggplant should be removed from the fridge prior to using to allow the solidified olive oil time to return to a liquid state. 

The Winter Garden

The December 31, 2013, harvest from Heart & Sole Gardens

The December 31, 2013, harvest from Heart & Sole Gardens

          I love the Winter Garden.  For the most part, with the exception of henbit, weeds are not very invasive, frost has made fresh greens sugar sweet and cooler temperatures bring a brisk freshness to the air that invigorates the body.  Since henbit is an important early food for honeybees, I try to ignore it and concentrate on all that is “important” food for our family.

Henbit blooming in early spring

Henbit blooming in early spring

 

On the last day of 2013, with mild temperatures and bright sunshine, I gathered baskets of deliciousness.  Green garlic, that wonderful perennial bulb that has a milder pungency than its supermarket counterpart, was easy to dig from the soft ground.  Six different varieties of kale, spicy arugula and mustard greens, baby bok choy, tiny carrots in a rainbow of colors, turnips and incredibly nutty, sweet spinach filled my baskets and I could not wait to prepare some special dishes.  Just before leaving, I cut some fresh parsley to take along.  As I tasted each treat, I marveled at the crisp leaves, full of juice, and paused, for perhaps the millionth time, to be grateful for this farm. 

 

Back at home, I carefully washed and stored each seasonal item, with the exception of seven small green garlics.  Leaving them whole, I scrubbed the bulbs and trimmed off the root ends.  I stretched them on aluminum foil, drizzled the bulbs and green leaves with extra virgin olive oil and wrapped them in a foil packet.  Since they were so fresh, it only took about 40 minutes to roast them in a 400 degree oven.  When they were soft and pungent, I allowed them to cool.  For some time, I have been planning a roasted garlic pie in my mind and these beautiful bulbs became the cornerstone of a recipe I created.  Feel free to substitute dried garlic bulbs from the grocery store, but if you are fortunate to find fresh green garlic, you just might discover a new love.  If you use dried garlic, squeeze out the soft cloves and discard the rest; fresh garlic is used whole, including the green tops.  This version is vegetarian, but for those who wish to add meat, one cup of roasted chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces, would be a nice addition.

 

Roasted Garlic Pie

1 cup Ricotta cheese

7 small green garlics, roasted and chopped

2 eggs

12 oz. artichoke hearts, drained

1/3 cup Kalamato olives, cut in halves

¼ cup cream cheese, softened

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped from stems, discard stems

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon basil pesto (I used my own, made fresh and stored in the freezer, but store-bought may be substituted.)

 

Use a refrigerated pie crust or make your own and place in a 12-inch pie dish that has been sprayed with vegetable spray.  Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and pour into prepared crust.  Bake in a preheated, 375 degree, oven for about 40-50 minutes.  Check for doneness when center is set and does not jiggle.  Serve warm or at room temperature. 

 

On January 1, 2014, I cooked a mixture of mustard, kale and turnip greens to take to my parents’ home for the traditional New Year’s meal.  Japanese Red Mustard is one of our favorite greens and it is spicier than curly green mustard.  Although the leaves are a deep purple color, they turn green when cooked and add flavor depth to the green mixture.  For a vegetarian version of this recipe, omit the pork and bacon fat and saute ½ cup diced onion in a tablespoon of olive oil, then deglaze the pan with the wine and follow the recipe.

 

Beautiful Japanese Red Mustard

Beautiful Japanese Red Mustard

New Year’s Pork and Greens

 

Small pork roast, about 1 pound

2-3 pounds fresh greens (a mix of varieties is best for flavor)

2 cups dry white wine

1-2 tablespoons bacon fat

Granulated onion, garlic, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

In a large Dutch oven, heat the bacon fat over high heat.  Season the pork with salt and pepper and sear all sides in the hot bacon fat until lightly browned all over.  Remove meat from pot and lower heat to medium.  Carefully pour wine into the pot to deglaze, using a wooden spoon to scrape all bits that stick to the bottom of the pot.  Add seasonings and allow to cook over medium heat until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes.  Add pork to the pot and cover the meat with as many greens as the pot will allow.  Cover with the lid and allow greens to wilt.  Continue adding greens as space is available until all are in the pot.  Cover and cook over low to medium heat until the meat is tender and can be shredded, about an hour and a half to two hours.  Check often to be sure there is some liquid in the pot.  If the greens become dry, add water or chicken or beef stock, ½ cup at a time.  Adjust seasoning as needed.  Before serving, shred the pork and stir to combine the greens and meat.  Serve with hot cornbread.

 

The baby bok choys next called to me and I decided to incorporate them with the tiny colorful carrots in a stir-fry dish.  We visit the North Carolina coast as often as we can and always bring home fresh shrimp to store in the freezer.  For this recipe, I thawed one pound of beautiful native NC shrimp and peeled them.  If this dish were served to guests, I would devein the shrimp, but since it was just Richard and me, I only peeled them and gave them a quick rinse.

 

Vegetable Stir-Fry with Shrimp

 

1-2 cups Jasmine rice, cooked according to package directions (other rice may be substituted, but I love the fragrance of this type)

1 small squash, diced

½ cup asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces, on a diagonal (I used frozen spears from my Spring garden, thawed)

½ cup onion, diced

¼ cup leek, diced

1/3 cup baby carrots, diced

1/3 cup corn kernels (I used heirloom Pencil Dent from my freezer and did not thaw it before adding to the mixture.)

6 Bok Choy, sliced lengthwise into quarters

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

In a large skillet, over high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil until hot.  Add rice and shake to remove excess moisture.  Lower heat to medium high and make a well in the center of rice and add shrimp, cooking until shrimp are turning pink on both sides.  Quickly add squash, asparagus, onion, leek and carrots.  Stir to combine and cook for about 1-2 minutes.  Add Bok Choy greens and stir to wilt.  Remove rice mixture from heat and stir in corn kernels.  Season with salt and pepper. 

*If you like spicy foods, serve this with your favorite hot sauce.  I make my own with firey hot heirloom peppers.  Soy sauce may also be added to individual servings. 

I consider it almost a sacrilege to cook fresh spinach from my garden.  It is incredibly sweet and nutty in its pure raw form and we often enjoy it in salads and on sandwiches; however, if I choose to use my spinach in a recipe, Giada De Laurentiis’s “Penne With Spinach Sauce,” found on the Food Network’s website, www.foodtv.com is worthy of my spinach.  Be sure to liberally line the serving bowl with fresh leaves and stir the hot pasta with them just long enough to allow them to wilt slightly. 

 

 

Today is Richard’s birthday and we are celebrating at home with a quiet dinner.  That fresh arugula from the farm is going to be the base of a salad and I am pan frying NC softshell crabs that have been in my freezer since their season ended.  A special surprise will be his favorite cheesecake, a pineapple one that I will serve slightly warm from the oven, just like he prefers it.  The salad recipe is my version of a dish we enjoyed while visiting friends, Kim and Jeffrey, in Ft. Lauderdale, last November.  Fresh arugula is my favorite salad green and the lump crabmeat I use is a North Carolina ingredient that is canned and kept refrigerated.  I make my own tartar sauce with fresh parsley, which I think really makes a delicious difference. 

Richard's birthday meal. Tartar Sauce, Arugula Crab Salad and Softshell crab

Richard’s birthday meal. Tartar Sauce, Arugula Crab Salad and Softshell crab

 

Arugula Crab Salad

 

1 handful of fresh arugula per serving

1 crispy store-bought tostada shell

1 large scoop of lump crabmeat per serving

 

Place one tostada shell on each serving plate.  Top with arugula dressed with the following:

 

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon golden balsamic vinegar

Juice from 1 lime

Juice from ½ lemon

Juice from 2 tangerines

¼ tsp sea salt

Few grinds of black pepper

Sprinkle of onion and garlic granules

2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped and stems discarded

 

Shake all ingredients in a small glass jar and use to dress arugula.

 

Top each salad with a large scoop of lump crabmeat and add a final drizzle of dressing to top the salad.

 

CB’s Tartar Sauce

 

1 cup prepared mayonaise

1 tablespoon finely diced dry shallot

1-2 tablespoons capers

1 teaspoon dill pickle relish

1 hard-boiled egg, diced

Dash of sea salt and few grinds black pepper

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 teaspoon lemon juice

 

Mix all ingredients together in small bowl and refrigerate overnight.

 

I will serve my final ingredient from the Winter Garden bounty, turnips, with a pat of local butter and a scattering of French grey sea salt.  Smear the scrubbed baby turnips with a tiny bit of butter and then dip into the salt.  There is no better way to enjoy these tasty treats. 

 

Happy Winter Gardening!