All Things Green - Part 2
"BlogHer.Org" is a fantastic community of women "bloghers." Their second annual BlogHer Conference begins Friday, July 28th in San Jose, California.
It was truly a pleasant surprise to see "Little Ol' Me" included with other notable "green-fingered" bloggers out there in the blogosphere. I'm soooooo tickled! Thanks for the shout out, Sam!
More "Garden Gab" . . .
Gypsy Sweet Pepper . . .
The Gypsy Sweet Pepper has become a venerable annual planted in the garden. When ripened, it is a beautiful shiny red ornament, "a red flag", if you will, announcing the anticipation of the harvest soon to come. We slice them up raw and throw them in salads or include them as a crudité that accompanies a creamy, "Can't-help-but-double-dip" Dip. We roast some of the bounty and preserve them for winter use. I make a Spanish Paella garnishing my signature dish using our home grown peppers. They are also delicious as a stuffed pepper filled with sausage, cheese and rice. It is then braised in a savory tomato sauce made from the heirlooms grown in the garden.
French Rockette or Italian Arugula...
Ander likes to nibble on this aromatic, nutty, peppery, slighty bitter green as he tends the garden. We make a simple salad tossed with very little dressing made of a full flavored olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Then we throw in a handful of cherry tomatoes. We often use arugula in the same manner we use Sweet Basilico. It makes an excellent "pesto" when the Sweet Basil leaves are scarce.
Globe Artichoke . . .
We have only a couple of these plants, but they put out a good number of orbs that keep us satisfied during their short window of appearance. We steam them in a basket that sits over boiling water infused with crushed garlic, sliced lemons, and bay leaves. For a dipping sauce, I prepare an aioli in the traditional Provençal method using a mortar and pestle. When cooked, you pull off each leaf from the base of the orb with gusto. A scant of aioli is scooped onto the end of the leaf. The tender end is then scraped off with the edge of your teeth. You repeat this process until you reach the "choke", which is the fuzzy, hairy things that come up in a cone shape from the center of the base. Using a spoon, scoop and remove the "choke" from the base, as it is inedible and you can literally "choke" on them. Once you remove all the fuzzy, hairy stuff, you are left with the "heart of the artichoke". Ahhh, this is the pièce de résisitance. I like to slather the aioli into the center cup and have at it. It is a very sensual vegetable to eat. It's like the Dance of a Thousand Veils.
Sweet Basilico . . .
I can't say enough about this popular beauty. So I'll keep it short and sweet. I love the scent of the Sweet Basil perfume as I pinch the leaves to encourage fuller growth. I learned this old trick from my Dad. He used to say "a tall plant doesn't necessarily equate to a large plant. A large plant is determined by the bounty it provides." Makes sense to me. I like the plants to be short and bushy, they provide a lot of leaves. Hence, more pesto to please you, my dearies. We also have the "lettuce leaf" varietal. It lives up to its name and is often used as a lettuce layered between grilled slices of eggplant and roasted bell peppers, draped with melting Mozarella, Provolone or Emmanthaler cheese, dressed with a swoop of pesto and aioli, all tucked between two segments of crusty ciabatta. (Oh, Lordie, I want a "Pan Bagna", right now.)
Swiss Chard . . .
Swiss Chard is like the "girlfriend" you take with you to all the parties. She’s dependable and trustworthy. She never surprises you or let's you down. She is steady and reliable. She fits in all manner of occasions. She’s versatile. She can be the life of the party and hold things together. Or, she can sit back and just be part of the clan. She’s an all-around, multipurpose, handy-dandy veggie to have in the garden. Besides, what we can’t use, “the girlie-girls” get to enjoy them.
Swiss Chard Flan (Crema Della Bietola)
• 4 to 5 packed cups cooked Swiss chard leaves only, (save ribs for later use)
• 1 cup chopped onions
• 1 clove of crushed garlic
• 1 Tbsp olive oil
• 4 Tbsp butter
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
• 1 pound thinly sliced flavorful ham (I indulge in thin slices of Jamon de Serrano or prosciutto.)
• 1/4 pound Provolone cheese
• 1/4 pound Mozzarella cheese
• 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
• 2 cups half and half
• 8 eggs
In a buttered baking dish 4 to 5 inches high, place a buttered piece of parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the dish. Squeeze moisture out of the chard; chop. In a sauté pan, heat olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add crushed garlic and chopped onions. Cook until onions are translucent. Do not let garlic brown, as it will impart a bitter taste. Add chard, raise heat to high, and, stirring constantly, cook until moisture is evaporated. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Cut the ham into 1-inch-wide strips, and cook until lightly browned in the remaining butter, set aside. (If using Jamon de Serrano or prosciutto, no need to cook.) Grate the Provolone and Mozzarella cheeses and combine with the Parmesan. Puree the ricotta cheese with the half and half. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until smooth. Gradually add ricotta cheese mixture to bowl and incorporate with eggs. Season custard mixture with salt and pepper, to taste.
Place one-third of the grated cheeses in the bottom of the baking dish. Drizzle some of the custard mixture on top. Place a third of the ham slices across the cheese, drizzling a little custard mixture in among them. Place a third of the Swiss chard on the ham; coat with custard. Repeat the layering, pouring custard on each layer. (The custard holds the layers together.)
Top with waxed paper and foil. Place baking dish in a roasting pan, pour boiling water halfway up the sides of the dish, and bake for 1 hour in a preheated 350-degree F. oven. Turn heat up to 400 degrees F. and bake 30 minutes longer. Uncover for the last 10 minutes. Allow more time if you use a higher dish. When the custard sides have come away from the edges of the dish, and when the center tests dry, the custard is done. Place on a rack for 15 to 20 minutes. Unmold onto a serving platter or if serving cold, slice into squares for individual appetizers. Can be serve hot, at room temperature or cold.
Yield: 8 to 12 servings
With the weather the way it's been lately, record high of 113 degrees F., I'd recommend to save the "Swiss Chard Flan" for a cool autumn evening. Pairs well with a 2003 Teruzzi & Puthod Vernaccia de San Gimignano. Vernaccia is one of Tuscany's oldest and noblest wines.
"If you would be happy all your life, plant a garden"...Chinese Proverb ...
Life is a garden, my friends. Be Happy!