Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fresh sauce and salad

We are getting loads of ripe, wonderful tomatoes out of our garden beds right now. I had to share my favorite dish for these gems: Fresh Sauce for pasta. I got this from my Sicilian brother in law, and I love it.

All you have to do is blanch the tomatoes (drop them into simmering water for just a minute), remove them from the water, and let them sit for a few seconds to cool down. Cut out the stem end/core, and you will see that the blanching makes the skin slide right off, usually in one piece. Now cut each in half across the middle of the tomato (not from stem end to blossom end, but across the other way). This exposes most of the seeds and juice, and you can gently squeeze each half over a bowl to remove some of that watery center pulp. Chop up the tomato flesh and set aside.

Now, chop up as much garlic as you can (this is to taste, but I will use at least one clove per tomato, usually twice to three times that much). Pour a good dose of olive oil into a small frying pan (maybe a Tablespoon per tomato), heat over low heat, and soften the garlic. While that is cooking, chop a big handful of fresh basil and one of fresh parsley. The more the better with these fresh herbs. Now, dump the herbs and the softened garlic with oil into the fresh tomatoes, add salt and pepper (and you can sautee some fresh cayenne peppers with your garlic if you have some), and let sit for a few hours to blend the flavors. Serve at room temperature over warm pasta. Amazing. Add a salad of cukes or cukes and cherry tomatoes, and you are all set.

Now I am starving.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Stippling, pecking, growing

Have you ever read that feeding by a specific insect causes "stippling" on a leaf, and wondered what was meant? This usually is the result of tiny insects with piercing/sucking mouthparts. This bean leaf is stippled to the point that there are so many tiny white spots where an insect has pierced the leaf and sucked out the juices there is little green leaf left for photosynthesis. I have not been able to catch and identify the culprit, but thought you might want to know that this type of damage might come from a tiny insect.

The next photo is of Lena, puffing herself up to look big and mean, right before she got me with two good pecks! Lena has gone broody: she has been sitting on the nest, trying to hatch eggs that are not fertilized. Because I don't want the eggs to go bad, and they, of course, are not going to hatch, I have been reaching under her every day to remove the eggs. (The other hens are climbing in with her to lay their eggs in that nest, despite the empty nest right beside it!). I was able to fool Lena for quite a few days by reaching under the straw from the edge of the nest, but she is on to me now, and showed me how unhappy she was that I was taking her cherished eggs. I am hoping she will snap out of it soon. Having a broody hen is a real pain when you aren't looking to hatch eggs.

Finally, look how the tomatoes finally are growing now that I have both bird netting and a little rain over the last week. They have been delicious!

Monday, July 12, 2010

An abundance of basil

I have been pinching it religiously all season, so my basil plants this weekend were beautiful, full little bushs of emerald green leaves, ready to pick. Now is a good time to do a big pruning, to try and coax more time of leaf production rather than flowers from this wonderful plant. I cut my basil plants way back, and had to figure out what to do with all those pungent leaves. Here you see four cups of packed leaves, 1/4 cup of pine nuts, and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. I pureed 6 garlic cloves in the food processor, then added the basil, pine nuts and cheese. After a short pulse or two, I started adding olive oil until it reached the consistence it liked. Add some salt and black pepper, and I had this beautiful jar of pesto. Some of it was tossed with pasta and sauteed squash. Now that dish screams summer. I tried something new this time to hold off the dark, off colors that occur quickly when basil leaves are chopped. I tossed the leaves in a tiny bit of lemon juice before chopping them. I was pleased with the bright green result.

The rest of the basil I dried in a low oven (about 125 degrees, on convection). These leaves did not hold their bright color because I was lazy and put them in the oven in a deep pile (I had lots of basil). Instead of drying quickly and holding their color, they dried slowly, and cooked a bit, so are not very pretty. Once fully dried (it took about 4 hours total for these, and I kept stirring and tossing them; it will take much less if you do it properly, with only one layer of leaves), I crushed these simply by folding up the edges of the parchment paper where they were dried, and crunching them in my hands. They completely filled a nice sized spice jar, and will save me quite a bit if money this winter.

Finally, I chop fresh basil and add it to my salad dressing for this season's constant cucumber and tomato salads. These are my "little leaf" picking cucumbers, sliced, mixed with my "sungold" tomatoes. Delicious!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Things that are oval

With the return of more normal, slightly cooler weather in the last few days, Pauline, Hilda, Louise and Lena are laying up a storm. Suddenly we are getting three and four eggs a day, so we are eating omelets for dinner, egg salad sandwiches for lunch, and hard boiled eggs as snacks out on the boat. You have to love those hens! Hilda is looking a bit ragged right now, and I wonder if she is getting ready to start an oddly timed molt. She never has been as sturdy as the other ladies; even her eggs have thin shells. I hope all is well with her, as she is our friendliest hen. Here is a photo peeking in the egg door this weekend.

Also egg shaped in our yard: the young fruit on the new European Plum tree. They have begun to turn purple, but remain hard and small. I think the drought during development will result in small fruit, but I am not worried about size. I can't wait to taste the first plum when they ripen. Of course, I am not alone, and I found exploratory bird pecks into some of the small, hard fruit. We are plagued by birds!

And the last oval of the day? The somewhat oval holes in the stems of the squash plants as they collapsed and died from stem borers. These insects give me such trouble that I may decide to use my garden resources for something other than squash in future summers. We will see.