Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison, Plus a Springtime-Fresh Garden Recipe: Peas with Baked Ricotta & Breadcrumbs

April 23rd, 2013 § 6 comments § permalink

Madi_Vegetable LiteracyVegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

As organic vegetable gardeners, we know how important it is to become familiar with the various plant families and to develop an understanding of how they relate to one another in the garden. Botanical knowledge is key to avoiding many pests, diseases and cultural problems. Having recently reviewed the topics of crop rotation, companion planting and intercropping in the organic vegetable garden —Kitchen Garden Planning, Part One, followed by Kitchen Garden Planning, Part Two— now seems like the perfect opportunity to discuss how this same botanical knowledge can guide creative use of homegrown produce in your kitchen.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been devouring Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, sent to me for review by publisher, Ten Speed Press. One of the most highly-regarded vegetarian cooks of our time, Deborah Madison is author of eleven cookbooks. In her most recent title, Madison explores the relationship between botany and cooking, and how that knowledge can serve us as we prepare produce in our kitchens. A new gardener herself, the author takes a down-to-earth approach; with stories and observations that will be both familiar and inspirational to those who, like Madison, are just beginning to grow their own food. More experienced green thumbs will be delighted by new botanical discoveries and unexpected, creative ways to use the fruits of their labor.

Late_Spring_Potager_michaela_thegardenerseden  Nothing will improve your culinary skills faster than growing fresh produce in your own backyard, and learning how to use those edible flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs, creatively in your kitchen

New gardeners will quickly observe that some natural companions in their potagers —tomatoes and basil or garlic and potatoes, for example— are also delightful partners in recipes. In fact, the joy of experimenting with garden fresh ingredients in the kitchen is often what leads a gardener’s hands to soil in the first place. By learning the ways in which edible plants relate to one another, a gardener can become a more versatile and confident cook. Out of onions, spinach or some other key ingredient and need a quick substitute? Looking for a way to jazz up a simple plate of carrots, but haven’t a clue what might work with them? With a bit of coaching from Madison, gardeners may find the creative answers to these culinary challenges, right in the backyard vegetable patch!

Filled with delicious, vegetarian recipes and gorgeous, full-color photographs, Vegetable Literacy is as beautiful to behold as it is delightful to read. Chapters in this cookbook are divided by plant families (Apiacea, Lamiacea, Asteraceae, Brassicaceae, etc.). In addition to 300-plus recipes, the author has included a chef’s notes about her favorite varieties of each edible plant, as well as interesting and useful botanical details for gardeners. I’ve flagged a number of dishes to try with my early crops, but the one featured below, “Peas with Baked Ricotta and Breadcrumbs”, simply couldn’t wait. Although it’s a bit early here in Vermont for garden-fresh peas, I did try this recipe with some of last fall’s bounty (stored in my freezer), and was thrilled with the result. I can’t wait to enjoy this comforting dish again; only next time, with the incomparable flavor of hand-shucked peas, plucked straight from my garden . . .

Peas with Baked Ricotta Peas with Baked Ricotta & Breadcrumbs from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy. Photo © 2013 Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Peas with Baked Ricotta and Bread Crumbs

A light supper for 2

Olive oil

1 cup high-quality ricotta cheese, such as hand-dipped
full-fat ricotta

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

4 teaspoons butter

2 large shallots or 1/2 small onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)

5 small sage leaves, minced (about 11/2 teaspoons)

11/2 pounds pod peas, shucked (about 1 cup)

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Chunk of Parmesan cheese, for grating

Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a small baking dish; a round Spanish earthenware dish about 6 inches across is perfect for this amount.

If your ricotta is wet and milky, drain it first by putting it in a colander and pressing out the excess liquid. Pack the ricotta into the dish, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface, and bake 20 minutes or until the cheese has begun to set and brown on top. Cover the surface with the bread crumbs and continue to bake until the bread crumbs are browned and crisp, another 10 minutes. (The amount of time it takes for ricotta cheese to bake until set can vary tremendously, so it may well take longer than the times given here, especially if it wasn’t drained.)

When the cheese is finished baking, heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the shallots and sage and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, 1/2 cup water, and the lemon zest. Simmer until the peas are bright green and tender; the time will vary, but it should be 3 to 5 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t let them turn gray. Season with salt and a little freshly ground pepper, not too much.

Divide the ricotta between 2 plates. Spoon the peas over the cheese. Grate some Parmesan over all and enjoy while warm.

With Pasta: Cook 1 cup or so pasta shells in boiling, salted water. Drain and toss them with the peas, cooked as above, and then with the ricotta. The peas nestle in the pasta, like little green pearls.

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Reprinted with permission from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. Copyright © 2013 by Deborah Madison. Photographs © 2013 Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

All Other Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Designing an Enchanting Edible Garden And a Workshop for Vegetable Lovers…

May 10th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

My Backyard Potager – An Edible Oasis in Mid-July

Like a butterfly flitting about the garden before deciding where to settle, I found myself drifting in and out of greenhouses and garden centers last weekend, ogling possible additions to my backyard potager. I couldn’t help but notice that the aisles of my favorite farm stand and local nurseries are filling up with annuals, perennial herbs, vegetable starts, berry bushes and fruit trees. Ah yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to plant the vegetable garden!

There are so many things I love about growing my own produce, but my favorite summertime pleasure has to be settling into a comfy garden chair at the end of the day —glass of chilled white wine in hand and dinner fixings in a basket at my feet— as I watch the golden rays of late afternoon sun illuminate the beautiful flowers, fruit and vegetables in my potager. Of course the best part of edible gardening is doing just that —eating it! And by mid-June, I needn’t make a special trip to the grocery store to create a gourmet meal. Everything I need for a great breakfast, lunch or dinner is growing in my own backyard. On sunny days, I often enjoy alfresco meals in the garden itself, overlooking the beautiful vine-covered fence and swaying sunflowers…

Heavenly Blue Morning Glories are Attractive to People and Pollinators Alike!

An Alfresco Lunch – Last Summer in my Sun-Drenched Garden

Calendula Blossoms Not Only Add Beauty to a Garden, But Also Attract Beneficial Insects and Deter Undesirable Pests…

Heirloom Tomatoes Begin to Produce in July and Continue through October

Working in a Beautifully Designed Vegetable Garden is a Treat for All Senses

I Plant Sunflowers Partly for Decorative Reasons, But Also Because They Provide Food for Birds, Bees and Other Beneficial Garden Guests

Pathways Edged with Herbs are Beautiful and Fragrant Additions to the Potager. Why Not Make the Walk to the Vegetable Garden as Lovely as the Destination?

I’ll be presenting a free seminar on the art and science of vegetable gardening this Saturday, May 14th at Walker Farm, together with owner and organic farmer Jack Manix. We’ll both be discussing a wide range of edible gardening topics. The seminar will begin at 10am with Jack covering the basics of organic vegetable gardening. Jack will review the practical side of growing your own produce; with topics ranging from soil chemistry and compost, to pest management, specialty crops and succession planting. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions and have a look around the farm. Then after a brief tour of the fields, I will pick up where Jack leaves off; discussing ways in which you can make your vegetable garden a beautiful, welcoming multi-use space for your family, friends and other garden guests; like birds and beneficial insects. We’ll talk about edible, living walls and other fences, raised beds and borders, vertical structures and vines, bird, bat and toad houses, companion flowers and herbs, plus all the little details that will make your time in the garden less work and more pleasure.

To find out more about Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping or purchase a copy, click here

I hope you’ll join us this Saturday, May 14th at beautiful Walker Farm (click here for details and to save your seat) but until then —or if you live too far away to make it— I have a few beautiful and inspirational books on edible gardening to recommend. Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping (pictured above) is a great book, just chock full of gorgeous garden design photos and practical, inspirational ideas. I mentioned it in this post (here) earlier this year and I still highly recommend it. And landscape designer Jennifer Bartley —who will be speaking on Contemporary Kitchen Garden Design in Wilmington, Vermont on June 24th at the Sixteenth Annual North Hill Symposium —- author of one of my favorite potager design books Designing the New Kitchen Garden, has just released another beautiful and informative title, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook, from Timber Press.

Jennifer Bartley’s The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook

I’ll be writing much more about creating enchanting edible gardens in the coming weeks. And, if beautiful and productive vegetable gardens appeal to your senses, you may want to revisit my potager page at the left (click here) and past-posts; including The Art of French Vegetable Gardening (click here) and Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager.

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Joyful New Beginnings: Bright-Green Herb Seedlings Emerging from the Soil…

February 3rd, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Seedlings in the Morning Sun:  Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

Lately, the weather in here in Vermont has been a bit challenging (to say the least). Even we native New Englanders start to groan when back-to-back blizzards deliver multiple feet of snow and there’s nowhere left to pile it! Three feet, four feet? With all of the blowing and drifting and snowbanks everywhere, I’ve lost track of the total accumulation here on my hilltop. Let’s just say that you now enter the house through white tunnels. Enough said…

Coriander (Cilantro) Seedlings Emerge from Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

If you live in a northern climate like I do, then you are probably beginning to tire of the big storms and the endless shoveling, and you may be wondering if spring will ever come again. Yes, yes she will. I promise. And while we gardeners are waiting, there are a few things we can start to do. If you live in zone 4 or 5, you will want to start gathering your seeds and checking on start dates. Over the next couple of weeks, you can begin setting up grow lights (full spectrum), and sow onions, leeks, celery and hardy herbs indoors (for tips on starting onions & leeks visit this post here)…

Pots brushed with Primary Colors Add Life to the Kitchen Countertop

Of course, round ’bout February, most kids will be starting to get stir crazy indoors. Plus, those mid-winter vacations are coming up soon… Aren’t they? This simple project is the perfect way to introduce seed-starting to little gardeners and to help keep those tiny hands occupied. Even if you don’t have children, these seed disks make starting herbs indoors simple and quick. I love fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves in my guacamole and I use lots of fresh basil, and other herbs in my kitchen. So last year, I decided to give Johnny’s Seeds pre-prepared herb disks a try, to see how they would work in clay pots. And the results: totally fun and easy project!

Seed starting disks from Johnny’s Seeds fit perfectly inside these brightly painted, 6″ tall clay pots

All you need to do is purchase seed-starting soil (a well-drained medium with super-fine soil particles) and fill appropriately sized pots near-full with the mix. Moisten the soil thoroughly and lay a seed disk atop the soil (pots with a 4.5″ diameter at the top work perfectly for Johnny’s Seed disks). Cover the disk with soil to the recommended depth (varies depending upon the plant – check instructions of the back of each packet) and moisten again. Line your herbs up in a brightly lit window, water regularly with a fine mister and wait.

Depending upon the kind of herbs you grow, within a few day to a couple of weeks, you should begin to see bright green seedlings emerge. Be patient, though! Some herbs take quite a bit of time to germinate. Parsley seedlings, for example, can take a month to emerge. Once the seedlings have popped through the soil, keep the herbs moist, but not soggy. Be sure the pots are located in a warm spot with good light and air circulation. One the first set of true leaves appear (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves) you will want to mix up a weak solution of organic fertilizer (I use fish emulsion), and feed your herbs every-other-week. Rotate the pots once a week to keep seedlings growing straight, as opposed to leaning toward the light. For best results, you want to start your seeds beneath full-spectrum grow lights (keep the light source very close to the plants and raise it as the seedlings grow). The nice part of using prepared disks is that the seeds come pre-spaced. Of course you can always start seed without disks; planting them in trays filled with starter soil mixture. If you do this, you can thin the seedlings of herbs and vegetables later on (see photo below).

I will be writing much more about starting seeds indoors and out over the coming months, so stay tuned and think spring!

Is there anything more hopeful or uplifting than fresh green seedlings emerging from damp soil?

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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Simply Lovely: Etched-Gourd Cachepots

January 25th, 2011 § Comments Off on Simply Lovely: Etched-Gourd Cachepots § permalink

This Pretty Etched-Gourd Makes a Lovely Cachepot for Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’ (and on the right, Colocasia affinis ‘Jenningsii’)

Displaying plants indoors can be as creative and fun as arranging pots outdoors on porches, patios and balconies. Whenever I spot an new and interesting vessel —natural or man-made— I log it in my mental-file cabinet as a potential cachepot for a plant. Two years ago, while traveling in Vieques, Puerto Rico, I picked up this etched gourd from an artisan at a street market. Sure, it makes an interesting bowl for collecting spare change or keys, but why not use it as a cachepot? I sealed the inside of this gourd to waterproof it (wood-sealer or shellac work well) and filled it with a lush Peperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’ —and wow! The purple-red stems jump out when played against subtle golden-undertones on the surface of the dried gourd. You may remember how much I love this plant from a previous post (To read “Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name” click here).

A great mix: Crafter’s Gourds from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Like the look? There’s no need to travel to the Caribbean to get it! Growing gourds is fun and easy —a great garden project with kids— and when dried and sealed, they can be used in all sorts of creative ways. I plan to etch and carve many more gourds this year to use as indoor cachepots. Just imagine the possibilities! Of course, dried gourds can also be used as serving bowls/dishes, desk accessories or jewelry holders, and in addition, bottle-type gourds are often used as small bird houses. Gourds do require a long growing season —they are harvested in fall— so in cold climates these decorative delights are best started indoors before the last frost date. Now is a good time to order gourd seed from one of the many catalogues filling your mailbox. Renee’s Garden Seeds has a great “Crafter’s Mix” which includes larger, smooth-gourd varieties -these seeds are specially selected for creating vessels of all kinds. An excellent selection of gourd seed, as well as organic gardening supplies can also be found online at Burpee (and they sell luffa gourds: perfect for drying and using in the bath). Gourds grow on vines in full sun, and they can be trained up a trellis in a small space, or left to sprawl in a larger garden.

Read more about the lovely Pepperomia caperata ‘Raspberry Ripple’ here.

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Article and Photographs (with noted exceptions) are copyright Michaela/The Gardener’s Eden. All Rights Reserved.

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