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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The Seasons are Changing & It’s Time to Begin Burying Our Bulb Treasures …

September 16th, 2012 § 5 comments § permalink

A Tisket, A Tasket, A Basket Full of Narcissus . . .

Anticipation. True gardeners really know how to revel in the wait. We are, essentially, pleasure-delayers. Gardening differs from many modern-day activities in one significant way: it is not an instant gratification activity. Not at all. Gardeners do a lot of waiting, watching and wondering. And really, this waiting becomes a way of extending our pleasure; a key part of the fun. What will the new Narcissus smell like? Will the white Erythronium blossom at the same time as the rose-tinted Hellebore? How long will it take for the Muscari to form a blue pool of blossoms at the base of the stone wall? Will the voles eat all of the crocus this year? I like wondering about things. I love forgetting about a buried treasure and then, in spring, thrilling upon the re-discovery.

Patience. Gardening has taught me many things, and I would say that whatever patience I possess —and heaven knows I am not known for it— I developed through the practice of gardening. Working with nature helps me to balance my impulsive nature, and has —quite literally— made me a more grounded person. I have a fiery personality. The act of gardening calms me down and soothes my moods. I learned this in childhood, and perhaps that is why I feel so strongly about connecting children to the non-instant-gratification pleasure of gardening. Waiting six months for a tulip to bloom is the exact opposite of waiting a nano-second for a text message. And I think that is a good thing…

Crocus Petals Unfurling

The ritual of planting bulbs is, to me, a most delicious process. First, there is the hunting and then there is the choosing. Of course, the catalogues from fine companies, like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, arrive in early summer, and I fill them with sticky notes and scribbles. Then —usually by mid-July— I begin filling my virtual carts online (the earlier you order, the better the deals). And oh, the wonderful, wonderful pleasure of selecting from amongst all of the beautiful, jewel-like treasures. With a garden as large as mine, I order most common bulbs in great quantity. But there are many opportunities for small-scale vignettes, showcasing those rare little surprises here as well; particularly in the Secret Garden.

Most spring-blooming bulbs perform best when planted after the soil has cooled to 50 degrees or lower (usually in mid-autumn here in VT) but before it has begun to freeze. (If your bulbs arrive earlier, store them in a cool, dry place until it’s time to plant). Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Winter aconites (Eranthus), trout lilies (Erythroniums), iris, and certain other corms, rhizomes, tubers and bulbs, (Galanthus for example) should be planted in late summer or very early autumn. Take care to give these species more time to establish. In fact some bulbs and corms, such as snowdrops (Galanthus), are best transplanted ‘in the green’ (meaning, they do very well when divided and transplanted in spring, after blooming). If you are new to the world of bulbs, pay close attention to the fine-print when selecting and ordering; taking care to research the cultural requirements of each species, to avoid disappointment…

Leucojum aestivum (Summer Snowflake) in the Secret Garden – This Gorgeous Flower Takes My Breath Away…

Scillia hispanica  (Spanish Bluebells) are Beautiful Both in a Vase and in the Garden, Planted Here with Companion Hosta, Emerging in May

Narcissus ‘Fragrant Rose’ in the Northwestern Garden, Beneath the Syringa ‘Mme. Lemoine’

When designing with bulbs —for myself of for my clients— I rely heavily upon my garden notes and photos, carefully taken the previous spring. I try to provide all plants, including bulbs, with their preferred, natural growing conditions. Most bulbs, particularly the Tulips and Daffodils, need good drainage. This is especially important in winter and again in the summer. So, I try to avoid low-spots in the garden, where water will settle. Other ephemerals, such as the woodsy Erythroniums, prefer a cool and shady spot in the garden. Snowdrops, Winter Aconites and Erythroniums do very well beneath the shadowy canopy of shrubs and trees. When planning a springtime bulb-show, it’s very important to remember that most bulbs will eventually go into summer dormancy. Companion planting is the most effective way to conceal withering bulb foliage (never cut foliage back until the bulb has completed it’s yearly cycle, your daffodils and other bulbs need to photosynthesize).  Some easy combinations to begin with: daffodils planted between day lilies on a slope, trout lilies (Erythronium) planted amongst coral bells (Heuchera), and bluebells planted between ferns or late-emerging hosta. There are many, many great combinations (see some pictured below). Some companies, including Brecks, Spring Hill, Dutch Gardens, Old House Gardens and Brent & Becky’s Bulbs, offer great companion suggestions. I encourage you to look back at your garden photos and notes, and experiment with perennial combinations all your own. Remember, the experimentation and surprise is part of the pleasure! Plant bulbs that prefer full-sun and good drainage with similar perennials, such as ornamental grass and day lilies. Find shady spots between broad-leafed perennial plants, shrubs and trees for woodland bulbs. You will be delighted with the results all season-long…

A Pool of Blue Muscari has Formed Around the Base of Dan Snow’s Retaining Wall. In summer, Sedum ‘Vera Jameson’ will Take Over the Show, Concealing the Yellowing Muscari Foliage, Until it Withers Away.

Narcissus ‘Snipe’ planted with Sedum, near the Base of the Secret Garden Steps. A nearby Daphne and emerging coral bells (Heuchera) will conceal the yellowing daffodil leaves as they die back later in dormancy.

A Common, Striped Crocus in Radiant Violet and Orange (from an unnamed bargain batch)

The Spike-Hair of Narcissus ‘Rip Van Winkle’, a Spontaneous Purchase from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Always Makes Me Smile.  Daffodil Foliage Goes Yellow in Dormancy so I Plant Them Where They Will Disappear Between Perennials

Camassia quamash is an Early-Summer Blooming Beauty. I Love Using It in Meadow-Combinations with Ornamental Grass and Other Native Wild Flowers. Read More About This Beauty in My Post About Camassia Here.

Fritillaria, One of My Favorite Spring Flowers, Does Very Well When Planted in Ornamental Grass Gardens and Meadows

As the Snow Recedes, Crocus tommasinianus (aka ‘tommies’) Burst Forth from the Earth in a Luminous-Lavender Hue. Here Planted with Ground- Covering Heuchera Along the Entry Walk.

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ – If You Aren’t Careful, Snowdrops Can Become a Special Obsession All Their Own…

Chinodoxa luciliae gigantea – Glory of the Snow will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart. The Blue Flowers Bloom Very Early, and Multiply to Form Carpets. Low-Growing Chinodoxa Do Very Well Planted in Lawns (delay first mowing for best results) or Beneath Spring Blooming Shrubs and Trees. Imagine Them Combined with a Red Flowering Witch Hazel (such as H. x intermedia ‘Diane’)

Bulbs and Companions in the Secret Garden (Here, ‘Sterling’ Narcissus is planted with Euphorbia, Heuchera and Matteuccia pensylvanica beneath Stewartia pseudocamilla)

Bulbs and Companions in the Secret Garden (From left: Erythronium, Narcissus ‘Sterling’, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, with Emerging Actaea simplex and ferns)

Erythronium (the species is also known by various interesting common names, from dog-tooth violet and turk’s cap to trout lily) in the Secret Garden. Read More About Erythronium by Clicking Back to a Special Post on These Hat-Like Spring Beauties, Here.

Muscari at the Base of the Secret Garden Steps in Early Spring. Note the Emerging Perennials, Surrounding the Blooming Bulbs.

Scillia siberica  (Siberian squill) Makes an Early Appearance Beneath Shrubs in the Entry Garden 

Bulbs and Companions form a Colorful Carpet Along the Secret Garden Entry in Early Spring. (Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ is the fragrant, mounded shrub on the left, and lavender-blue Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’ scents the air. Also here, Muscari, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ and various Sedum)

Ground-Cover Companions for Bulbs Can Play with Foliage and Flower Contrasts. Here, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ offers a bit of drama in this Secret Garden vignette when combined with Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower) and Leucojum aestevium (Summer Snowflake)

The Secret Garden in Early Spring: ‘Sterling’ Narcissus, various Euphorbia, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Matteuccia pensylvanica, Tiarella cordifolia, Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, all beneath Stewartia pseudocamilla

Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Mrs. Moon’, here in the central garden (planted with Alchemilla mollis) is a great companion plant for early bulbs…

Crocus Emerging from Winter-Dried Grass

For Springtime Dreams & Obsessions: Bulb by Ana Pavord

Garden Design and Installation: Michaela Medina Harlow

Stonework: Dan Snow

A Version of This Post First Appeared on The Gardener’s Eden in September 2010

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/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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Pots in the Garden: Designing, Planting & Placing Containers in the Landscape… Part One: An Introduction to Color!

May 29th, 2012 § 7 comments § permalink

Weathered to Sweet Perfection: The Red-Orange Hue of an Old Terra Cotta Urn Complements a Carpet of Springtime Blues (Muscari armeniacum in foreground and Phlox divaricata in background)

Late spring is the time of year when I begin planting and placing pots in the garden. Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection of urns, vessels, second-hand terra cotta pots and various other containers. I find that even before they are filled with colorful annuals and exotic tropical plants, their shapes, hues and textures add a touch of beauty to the landscape. In my career as a garden designer  —using my own landscape as a design lab— I’ve created a wide variety of seasonal containers for my clients. And every year, right around Memorial Day, I head out to the garden center with an open mind, looking to try something new…

Colorful, Dramatic Pots Add a Welcoming Touch to My Studio Entry and Stone Terrace (Stonework by Vermont Artist Dan Snow, See Below for Complete Listing of Container Plants)

Earlier this month, I presented a seminar on container gardening,”Pots in the Garden: Designing, Planting and Placing Containers in the Landscape” sponsored by Walker Farm. Creating beautiful, annual garden displays with potted plants need not be difficult, time consuming or expensive. However, understanding the basic principles of design —as well as how to properly plant pots and follow-up with care and maintenance— is key to success with container gardening at any level. Balance and proportion, form and mass, texture and color, and line and repetition are some of the more important elements to consider whether designing a single pot, or large group of containers.

The Gardener’s Color Wheel

There are many decisions to make when designing a container garden, but color is always right at the top of my list. Color, like music, evokes feelings and sets mood. When designing a garden of any kind, I think about how the space will be used and what sort of feeling I want to create. If you are unfamiliar with how to work with color, the gardener’s color wheel (pictured above) can be a useful guide. When choosing a color scheme for a container garden, I keep in mind not only the foliage and flowers, but also the color of the pots, the surrounding space and nearby objects. Look carefully at walls, floors, arbors, shrubs, trees and furniture. Keep those hues in mind when designing containers for your outdoor rooms.

Monochromatic and Analogous Color Relationships Need Not be Boring. In Fact, By Working with a Limited Palette, a Gardener can Emphasize Other Design Elements; Such as Texture, Form, Mass and Placement. Here, a Mass Planting of Orange-Hook Sedge (Ucinia egmontiana) in Oxblood-Colored Pots, Creates a Soothing Screen in Bold Color. Notice How the Orange-Red Colors Bring Out the Rusty Undertones of the Steel Deck. Bold Harmony.

When I want to set a calm and relaxing mood, I usually opt for a monochromatic color scheme; using a single color on the wheel, playing with only a few, subtle variations of tone. Notice how each color on the wheel is shaded, working toward the center? A pot with foliage and flowers in only one color can be quite beautiful. To keep such an arrangement interesting, I would play with the other elements —like form and texture— to create a dynamic design. Analogous color relationships —side by side colors on the wheel above— such as green and blue or violet and red, are also quite soothing in combination, but offer a bit more design drama…

A Broken, Turqoise-Blue Vase adds a Bit of Drama to this Calm Arrangement. Quiet Harmony.

Things really start to get interesting in the garden when complementary colors are played off one another in a design. Opposites on the wheel, complementary colors tend to bring out the best in each other when placed close together. The more intense the hue —or strength of saturation— the more dramatic the result. For example, I like to play gold against violet. Purple, plum, maroon and lavender all look richer when they are placed near mustard, gold, honey and wheat. To bring out the beauty of violet hued foliage and flowers, I choose pots with mustard-colored glazing or add plants with golden foliage to my container design. Complementary color schemes tend to be bold and attention grabbing; use them to draw attention to an area or create a an energetic mood…

The Golden-Chartreuse of Lysmachia nummularia (Golden Moneywort) Enriches the Angelonia (A. angustifolia ‘Angelface Blue’) in this Arrangement, and Enhances the Purple-Hues of Nearby Stobilanthes dyerianus (Persian Shield) and Verbena (Glandularia canadensis ‘Homestead Purple’)

Simple, Mustard-Glazed Pots Work to Bring Out the Beauty of Lavender Colored Asters in This Cascading Group

Polychromatic relationships —or mixtures of many colors— create something of a pinwheel-effect. These arrangements tend to be very bold. When I want to really jazz up a space, I will reach for the most dramatic relationships on the color wheel and spin them into a frenzy. Think outrageous succulent arrangements, tropical plants with fabulous flowers and candy colored containers. Fun!

Blue-Hued Mexian Rose, (Echeveria ‘Pearl’) Plays off the Orange-Red Pot and a Trio of Silver and Gold-Tinted Foliage. Also Pictured Here: Variegated Elephant Bush (Portulacaria afra variegata) and Kalanchoe ‘Pumila’ 

Read More about Creating Beautiful, Bold Succulent Container Gardens by Clicking Here

Colorful pots can accent outdoor tables and dress up stairs, change with the seasons or to suit special occasions. Container gardens offer great opportunities to experiment with design, and yet they require minimal investment in terms of time and money. Don’t like a particular arrangement? Remove a plant or two and try something fresh! Little garden design experience? Begin with a few, inexpensive annuals and a simple pot. Fill your container with soil, keep the plants in their original pots, and try various arrangements before planting. Have a great, colorful container? Try enhancing the hue with annuals in an analogous or complementary color. As you grow more confident, reach across the color wheel for more unusual combinations and visually stunning results.

Bright Orange Flowers Against Green Foliage are Mother Nature’s Finest Example of the Power Complementary Color Relationships. Here, My Mustard-Glazed Pot Provides an Analogous Backdrop to this Simple but Bold Display. Calibrachoa ‘Callie Orange’ Tops the Terrace Dining Table in Late May

For more inspiration, design ideas, maintenance tips and planting ideas check out some of these great, container gardening books…

Container Gardening A Great Guide Book with Useful Information & Beautiful Photos from the Editors of Fine Gardening

Pots in the Garden Beautiful & Inspired Design Ideas from Ray Rogers (Timber Press Publishing)

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, 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. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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From April Showers to May Flowers…

May 1st, 2012 § Comments Off on From April Showers to May Flowers… § permalink

Trout lily (Erythronium tuolumnense), Daffodils (Narcissus ‘Snipe’), Coral Bell Leaves (Heuchera americana) and Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’). (Click here to read more about Erythronium)

Happy May Day! Here in Vermont, we begin the new month with a day of much-needed rain.

May is a busy month for gardeners. Thirty one days of planning, prepping, planting, weeding and harvesting early crops. Luckily, longer days make all of our harried, summer-time preparations possible. Temperatures in the northeast can still be quite chilly at this time of year and I always check the forecast on clear nights and protect tender plants when the mercury drops.

Still, as we steadily wind our way toward summer, the May nights grow warmer and sweeter. We shed our layers, kick off shoes and wiggle our bare toes in newly-mown grass. It’s May Day at last, and the gardener celebrates; dancing to the percussive beat of raindrops and the symphony of birds in springtime song…

Lovely, dark, Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’) Blooms Along the Mossy Stone Wall (Click here to read more about the Lenten Rose)

Trout Lilies Blossom Amongst Fragrant Blue Woodland Phlox (P. divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume)

With Clusters of Pale, Pinkish-Hued Sisters Nearby (Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’)

Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Raspberry Splash’ and Narcissus, Dance in the Wind-Driven Rain (Click here to read more about Pulmonaria)

The Return of Cooler Temps Extends the Bloom-Time of This Deliciously Fragrant Burkwood Viburnum (V. x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’)

Creamy-White Witch Alder Blossoms (Fothergilla major ‘Mt. Airy’) and Golden Spicebush Buds (Lindera benzoin) Add Scent to the Damp, Thick Air. (Click here, and also here, to read more about season-spanning beauty of North American native Witch Alder, and click here to read more about North American native Spicebush)

And at the Secret Garden Door, a Water Bowl Catches Raindrops as They Bounce from the Mossy Rock

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, 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. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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