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.

 >
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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Dilly Dallying in the Pickled Beans: An Intro to Canning with Jennifer Audette

July 28th, 2012 § 7 comments § permalink

Delicious Dilly Beans

Dilly Beans: Easy Entrance to the World of Canning      Guest Author – Jennifer Audette

Here in New England, a moment exists each growing season when the stars align and your local farmstand, farmer’s market or (if you’re really amazing), own garden suddenly has all the necessary ingredients for the first batch of Dilly Beans. I have the fortune of working in the ‘stand at Walker Farm in Dummerston, VT and this past Thursday it happened. On Wednesday, the fantastic field crew picked seven bushels of beans and then four more the following day.  That means beans coming out our ears for a few days. The first, shy harvest of red chilies appeared in a small bowl, bouquets of dill heads made my mouth water in anticipation of eating pickled things and the garlic has been harvested and waiting patiently for several weeks now.  It’s time to pickle those beans!

As a kid, I spent a lot of time helping my Mom can things like peaches, pears and applesauce. I was a master of slipping skins from blanched peaches; sliding the glistening, sunrise-colored orbs into a mild vinegar bath to keep them from discoloring.  In the autumn, I looked forward to the smell of warm, cooked apples wafting up to meet me as I managed the Foley Food Mill from my perch on the stool. My mom’s palate tends toward the sweet; she’s been known to sprinkle sugar on salad greens deemed too bitter. She doesn’t do hot peppers or vinegar in large quantity and she’s only recently discovered the joys of garlic. Dilly Beans were not part of my childhood canning experience.  But I crave the savory world more than I crave the sweet world and so several years ago, after my Mom had set me up with all the paraphernalia for canning, I found the recipe for Dilly Beans in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and entered my very own world of canning…

Slender, Verdant Beauties, Await Morning Harvest

Home Grown Herbs & Spices: Hard Neck Garlic, Chili Peppers & Dill

Freshly Harvested, Washed & Trimmed Haricots Verts from the Potager

This is where I’m supposed to give you a nice tutorial about making Dilly Beans; a specific recipe, step-by-step instructions and such. Unfortunately, I’m not that kind of person. I’m not very good at specifics and I almost never following directions exactly and I certainly don’t do anything the same way twice. But, if you were here with me, I would be happy to show you how I do it. Side by side, you would help me find eight wide-mouth pint jars in the storage space under the stairs, wiping away cobwebs and hoping no mice scurried out.  You would fill the dishpan with hot, soapy water and then wash the jars, the brand new lids and the old screw caps. Together we would wait a long, long time for the half-full kettle of water to come to a boil, discovering while we waited that I didn’t have enough white vinegar for the recipe. I would send you to the store for that.  Thanks, it’s so nice to have a helper!

I’d want to show you how I organize my workspace so that the jars are being sterilized in the large pot of water on the left front burner, the lids are simmering for 10 minutes (not boiling!) in their own separate pan on a back burner and the pickling liquid is simmering on the other front burner.  We’d remove one jar at a time from the hot water and pack them with the beans I’d prepared the night before (washed and trimmed), garlic cloves, chili peppers and dill. We’d fill the jars to a ¼” from the top with the hot pickling solution, remove any bubbles, wipe the top, slap on a lid and load each one into the canner basket.  Likely, there are much better ways to go about packing jars with garlic, chilies, dill and beans. I’m not very good at it and it takes me way longer than it seems like it should. (Maybe if you were here you would have come up with a more efficient way to stuff all those beans into jars!)  But eventually, all 4 pounds of beans and spices would be nestled into jars and lowered into the canning pot. Once we reached a rolling boil, we’d set the timer for 10 minutes. Tick, tick, tick….ding! After a short rest, we’d use the super-cool jar tongs to remove them from the hot water. Then we’d high-five and tell the cat to clean up the mess while we sat out on the porch toasting our efforts with a cool beverage. I’d give you your very own copy of the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and you’d eagerly look through it for your next canning project (balsamic caramelized onions, sweet and spicy pepper relish, bread and butter pickles, tomato sauce, tomatillo salsa, hot peppers for sandwiches, barbecue sauce), knowing how easy it is to preserve the summer’s bounty, once you learn the ropes.

Dilly Beans

Dilly Bean ingredient list*

Ingredients to be Evenly Distributed in Each Jar:

4 pounds green beans, washed and trimmed

8 cloves of garlic

8 small red chilies

8 dill heads

Pickling Solution:

5 cups white vinegar

5 cups water

½ cup pickling salt

*For all the important canning safety basics and full recipe with directions, please take the time to locate a good book from the canning canon and do your homework.  The previously mentioned Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is a very approachable, easy-to-use introduction, full of inspiring recipes. It’s a reasonable $9 or so and you might even find it at your local hardware store along with all the necessary canning supplies. Have fun!

 Today’s guest blogger, the multi-talented writer Jennifer Audette, is author of the always entertaining and often humorous Cozy Toes Blogspot. When not experimenting with canning, baking, cooking, horticulture, entomology or other scientific pursuits, Jennifer can also be found hiking, making music, writing and delivering smiles to her very fortunate friends.

Thank you Jen! xo

Some Great Resources for Learning to Safely Preserve the Harvest…

Putting Food By

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving with 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes

How to Store Your Garden Produce

Tips for Growing and Harvesting Tasty Green Beans

Haricots verts —or French-style filet beans— are slender, deep green and very flavorful. All beans should be picked frequently in mid-summer —daily when hot— to insure they don’t go to seed. For best flavor and texture, harvest beans when they are no thicker than the diameter of a pencil. As with most crops, I think it’s best to pick beans very early in the morning, before the heat of the day. Marigold and Summer Savory —believed to improve the growth of bush beans and deter beetles— are fantastic companion plants for haricots verts. Enrich soil with well rotted compost and provide plants with regular foliar feeding (applying liquid fertilizer to leaves in a spray or shower) of Neptune’s Harvest or fish emulsion to insure strong, healthy plants and a beautiful, tasty crop. Always wash beans thoroughly when harvesting, especially after applying fish emulsion or any fertilizer. Green beans provide their best yield during the first three weeks of harvest. With this in mind, I like to succession plant this crop for a steady supply of tender young beans straight through the killing frost.

Dilly Beans: Easy Entrance to the World of Canning ⓒ 2012 Jennifer Audette. Photographs ⓒ 2012 Jennifer Audette and Michaela Medina for The Gardener’s Eden, as noted. 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 use photographs without permission. Thank you! 

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Sampling Sweet Heirloom Treasures … Apple Tasting at Scott Farm Orchard

October 20th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

The Golden Light of Harvest Season at Scott Farm Orchard in Vermont

If a rose is a rose is a rose, does it then follow that an apple is an apple is an apple? Of course —except in the most simplistic of senses— neither statement is true. Each of these closely related species —both of which belong to the family Rosaceae— is tremendously complex; with a fascinating variety of forms, habits, flowers and fruits. Like many gardeners, I’ve long considered adding fruit trees to my landscape and many heirloom apples top the list of this most-wanted species. But with so many fruit trees to choose from, how will I decide which varieties to grow? There are apples for cooking and baking, apples for cider, jam and sauce, and there are even apples for floral arrangements, crafts and decorating. Of course, there are also oh-so-many apples perfect just for eating, and is there anything more delicious than a bite of crisp, tart apple on a cool autumn day? I decided to consult with a true, heirloom apple expert, who also happens to be a local friend …

Heirloom Apples at Sunset: Scott Farm Orchard

Earlier this month, I was invited to local, historic Scott Farm Orchard in Vermont for a private, heirloom apple tasting tour with orchard manager and apple expert, Ezekiel Goodband.  This is harvest season, and with apples to pack, cider to press, guests to greet and a farm business to run, Zeke Goodband has hardly a minute to spare. Yet my kind and knowledgable friend took time out of his very busy day to share some of his favorite heirloom fruits and bits of their fascinating histories. Below is a small sampling, and descriptions of the many treasures I took home from my stroll through gloriously beautiful Scott Farm Orchard

Black Gilliflower or Sheep’s Nose Apple: this beautifully colored, fragrant apple is one of my tasting favorites. When I took my first bite, Zeke advised me to look for the flavor of clove. And indeed, the sweet, floral flesh is followed by just a hint of spice at the end. This old, New England apple dates back to the early 1800s and it is wonderful both for cooking and baking or eating fresh, straight from the hand. I like it with a good, sharp cheddar cheese

Heirloom Winesap: amid all the green foliage and golden light, this pretty red apple really stood out in the trees. The Winesap is an American apple dating back to the early 1800s. Named for its wine-like flavor, this juicy red fruit with golden flesh is incredibly fragrant; with floral notes and a hint of spice. Tart flavor is nicely balanced with sweetness, making this a perfect choice for cooking (excellent for sauce, butter and puree), baking, cider making and eating out of hand

Lady Apples: this variety is the oldest of the heirlooms still in cultivation today. Known for their blushing, delicate beauty, clusters of Lady Apples often appear in autumn flower arrangements and wreaths. Of course I can’t imagine wasting a bite! This apple may be small, but it carries an intense, bright flavor. Try popping a couple in your pocket for a snack on your next autumn hike, or arrange slices amongst whole fruits on a platter of cheese as a beautiful appetizer

Heirloom Golden Russet Apples: this gorgeous gem from New York state dates back to the mid 1800s. The Golden Russet is crisp and flavorful; often called the ‘champagne’ of cider apples, it’s also delicious cooked in apple butter, sauce, puree and for baked goods. Rumor has it this variety makes a wonderful hard cider as well

Pinova: According to Zeke, extraordinary beauty and complex flavor makes the Pinova a favorite apple during tastings at Scott Farm. And without a doubt, an apple laden Pinova is truly a sight to behold. The photo simply can not do the color justice (and then there is the annoying lack of click-and-sniff on the screen!). Originating in Germany, this crisp apple posesses a perfect balance of tart and sweet. It’s a fine choice for baking and for eating out of hand.

Whenever I visit Scott Farm, it occurs to me that in addition to their delightful fruit value, apple trees truly are some of the most lovely ornamental plants for home gardens …

When asked about fruit trees for backyard gardens, Zeke Goodband’s first advice is to grow what you like and what you will use. Beyond peaches and pears, which Zeke recommends and sells to home gardeners, there are heirloom apple trees for sale at Scott Farm as well. Some of the more suitable backyard apple tree varieties tossed about in our conversation? The reinettes and russets were first to roll off the orchardist’s tongue, followed by some specific names; including Calville Blanc, Cox Orange Pippin, Holstein and Black Oxford. When choosing apple trees, it’s important to try many varieties of fruit and research their uses, to be sure that you select the apples you like best. Of course, when it comes to doing homework, apple tasting can hardly be considered a chore! If you happen to be traveling in Vermont this fall, I highly recommend stopping in to Scott Farm for an heirloom sampler and some delicious, fresh-pressed cider.

Below are some more of my favorite heirloom apples; chosen for beauty, unique flavor and usefulness in baking or cooking. Interested in continuing your backyard orchard research? The books listed at the bottom of this post are a good place to begin furthering your education. Many thanks again to Ezekiel Goodband at Scott Farm for sharing his time, delicious fruit and orchard expertise with The Gardener’s Eden

Good things do come in small packages: meet the Lady Apple (also pictured above in the orchard) Though she may be small, this apple is one gorgeous and delicious fruit

Another diminutive treasure, the Royal Medlar apple reminds me of winter-dried rose hips. The fruit is hard when harvested, but after “bletting” (a process of ripening off the tree, on a cool, bright table for a few weeks) these tiny apples become soft, juicy and delicious. Sweet with a hint of cinnamon, this fruit is sometimes used for jelly and is also delicious roasted, or baked; especially in pies. Royal Medlar trees are quite striking, with lovely blossoms, and make fine ornamentals in the garden

In terms of baking apples, Calville Blanc d’Hiver is a culinary favorites among the heirloom varieties. This unusually shaped, blushing, golden, 15th century French apple adds wonderful flavor to cakes and tarts, and it holds its shape and texture beautifully in a hot oven. Eaten out of hand, the flavor is both tart and sweet, with hints of spice and vanilla. If you love to bake with apples, this is one you will want in your home orchard

Ashmead’s Kernel is a delightful old English variety dating back to the 1700s. This gorgeous russet fruit is used for baked goods, cooking, eating fresh and also for both fresh pressed and hard cider. The flavor is truly exquisite; a complex ride that starts off with a kick of lemon, followed by a rush of fruity wine and finishing with lingering floral notes

Another favorite with bakers, the Belle de Boskoop apple originated in the Netherlands and is a commonly used dessert apple. The slightly tart flavor and firm, crisp texture hold up exceptionally well under heat. This variety makes fantastic apple strudel as well as other sweet treats

Books for the Would-Be, Backyard Orchardist …

The Best Apples to Buy And Grow (BBG)The Best Apples to Buy and Grow (Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guide Beth Hanson

Growing Fruit RHS Harry BakerGrowing Fruit (RHS Encyclopedia of Practical Gardening Harry Baker

the Backyard Orchardist stella ottoThe Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden Stella Otto

The Apple Grower, Michael PhillipsThe Apple Grower: Guide for the Organic Orchardist Michael Phillips

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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Dorie Greenspan’s Simply Delicious French Cake with Heirloom Apples …

October 17th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake from Dorie Greespan’s Wonderful Book of Recipes, Around My French Table

I awoke this past Sunday morning with a kitchen full of heirloom apples from Scott Farm Orchard and nothing more important to do than brew a pot of coffee and bake a special birthday cake. No problem, right? Well, I suppose it would have been, were I not the easily distracted type. But of course, that’s exactly how I am. First, I noticed that the light in the garden was incredible, so I had to throw on a bathrobe and tip-toe across the lawn to take a few pictures. This inevitably led to squirrel watching, alpine strawberry picking, pumpkin collecting and hydrangea blossom gathering. Then, back inside, there was a flurry of flower arranging and spontaneous tabletop decorating. You know how one thing will lead another … 

Heirloom Fruit on the Sun-Striped Kitchen Table (iPhone Photo)

Suddenly I remembered that I needed to reschedule an afternoon appointment, and so began the emails. When I glanced up —startled by a squawking trio of blue jays as they hopped about the golden foliage outside my window— I noticed it was nearly eleven o’clock. In the modern world, this sort of behavior might be diagnosed as attention deficit disorder. I call it relaxing, and it was really quite wonderful. It’s been weeks since I’ve had an unscheduled day like this —free to follow each and every whim— and I totally loved it. When I finally settled down on my kitchen stool —leafing through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table— sunlight had warmed the tabletop, and the sweet scent of ripe fruit filled the air. What a delightful way to spend an October morning …

Beech Leaves Turning Copper (Fagus grandifolia & Tsuga canadensis)

And Blushing Hydrangea Blossoms (H. paniculata ‘Limelight’)

And Blue Jays in Golden Halesia (H. tetraptera, the Mountain Silverbell)

My friend Jennifer has been raving about Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake —from Dorie Greespan’s wonderful book of recipes, Around My French Table— for nearly a year now. And just last week, Jen reminded me of Dorie’s recipe again when she happened to mention that she’d baked this delicious dessert to share with her husband on their anniversary. I love Dorie Greenspan’s books —as well as her fantastic blog, which you can visit by clicking here— and I’ve been wanting to give this recipe a try since  Around My French Table arrived on my doorstep last fall. But the cake specifically calls for four divers apples (Dorie’s French friend, Marie-Hélène’s way of saying different kinds), so I waited until autumn arrived again to try it with fresh, heirloom apples. And this weekend, with a special birthday cake to bake and Scott Farm apples in season, I finally found the perfect opportunity to use one Calville Blanc d’Hiver, one Belle de Boskoop, one Ashmead’s Kernel and one Bramley’s Seedling heirloom apple  …

Fruit in the Kitchen and Passing Showers in the Garden

I Love Looking Outside While I Play Around in the Kitchen. Sometimes, At This Time of Year,  I’ll Spot Foraging Turkey or a Red Fox on the Hunt, But Most of the Time, I just Admire the Autumn Colors …. 

Apple Cake, Ready for Baking!

Fresh from the Oven: Golden, Warm, Fragrant Apple Cake. I Wish Your Screen Could be Scratch and Sniff

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake from Dorie Greenspan’s Cookbook Around My French Table

Ingredients:

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
4 large heirloom apples (different kinds)
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons rum (dark)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons melted butter, cooled

Directions:

Set oven rack to center brackets. Preheat oven to 350° F and butter an 8 or 9 inch round, spring-form pan.

In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together until blended.

Peel and core four apples of different kinds, and cut them into chunks roughly 1-2″ in size.

Whisk eggs in a medium bowl until they foam. Slowly add sugar and whisk a bit longer until well blended. Add the vanilla and the rum and whisk some more. While continuing to whisk, slowly add half of the dry ingredients. When absorbed into the batter, add half the melted butter. Repeat until all butter and flour mixture are smooth and well blended. Slowly fold in the apples using a spatula. Be sure all apples are completely coated with bater.

Push the apple batter (it will be very thick) into the buttered pan,

Place the pan on the center rack and bake approximately one hour, checking the cake toward the end of the baking time. Remove when the top is golden brown, and when an inserted knife pulls clean from the cake.

Cool for five minutes, then loosen the cake from the sides of a pan with a butter knife. Slowly open the form and let the cake cool to room temperature before serving. You can use a spatula to release the bottom of the cake from the form, or use a wax string. Place a serving dish on top of the cake and carefully invert.

Serve with homemade whipped cream or ice cream.

A Delightfully Unusual, Autumn Birthday Cake

All Heirloom Apples in This Post are from Scott Farm Orchard, Vermont. Stay Tuned for More Heirloom Orchard Mania this Week, Including Heirloom Apples for Cooking and Eating, Unusual Fruit, and Recommended Fruit Trees for Home Gardens

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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Gems in the Rough: Heirloom Potatoes & Delightfully Crispy Faux French Frites {Plus Tips for Root Cellaring Your Spuds}

October 13th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Crispy Faux Frites

I confess a weakness for frites. Real frites, mind you, not the soggy, pale-yellow excuse for French fries found in fast food restaurants. I’m talking about genuine, golden-brown, warm, crispy, sea-salty, flavorful French frites. The last time I had really great French fried potatoes I was in San Francisco of all places, in a little bistro run by a real Frenchman. I ordered two helpings. Yes, of course I know that fried foods aren’t good for me, but every once in awhile I crave a little naughty luxury … Doesn’t everyone?

Well imagine my delight when I stumbled upon Patricia Wells’ recipe for Fake Frites while flipping through her wonderful cookbook, At Home in Provence. Ordinarily I wouldn’t trust a recipe for fake anything; especially fake French anything. But here I find the Patricia Wells — Patricia Wells! — advising a method for no-fry French frites. Of course, I had to give it a try …

Potatoes Fresh From the Earth (Left to Right: Adirondack Red, Bintje, Peruvian Purple, Rose Gold, Yukon Gold, Rose Finn Apple Fingerling and La Ratte French Fingerling)

Although the instructions are simple as usual, Wells is very particular about both method and ingredients in order to achieve gourmet results. According to Wells, steaming is key to the faux-fried, crispiness of the frites, as it creates a starchy, textural coating on the surface of the potato. While it’s true that Idaho russets can be used here, for making the most flavorful fake frites, Wells’ top potato choices are Charlotte, La Ratte (fingerlings) or Bintje. And lucky me, I just happen to have a bumper crop of gourmet and heirloom potatoes this year; jewel like spuds in every imaginable flavor and texture. Given their petite shape and size —similar to fries even before cutting— I decided to try the La Ratte fingerlings first …

La Ratte Fingerlings: Freshly Washed, Roughly Peeled and Coarse-Cut for Faux Frites (Also On My Countertop: Peruvian Purple, Yukon Gold, Rose Gold, Rose Finn Apple Fingerling, and Ozette Fingerling Potatoes in Colander)

Look Like the Real Thing, Now Don’t They?

Crispy and Delicous as Traditional French Fries, But Much Healthier: Faux Frites

Faux French Frites

(Based on Patricia Wells’ recipe from her cookbook, At Home in Provence)

Ingredients:

2 lbs baking potatoes. Charlotte, La Ratte, Bintje or Idaho Russet

2-3  Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

Fine Sea Salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 500° F (260° C)

The original recipe suggests peeling and cutting the potatoes into thick fries, approximately 3/4″ thick and 3″ long. This is easy with fingerling potatoes like La Rattes. However, I decided to coarsely peel about half of the potatoes, leaving some of the skin on for a rustic texture and flavor. You can make them either way.

Steam the prepared potatoes (covered) over simmering water for approximately 10-12 minutes. It’s very important that you steam, not boil, in order to create a starchy texture on the surface of the potatoes. Be careful not to overcook. Test the potatoes with a knife and remove from heat as soon a sharp blade can puncture the flesh and pull away easily.

Place the steamed potatoes in a large bowl and gently toss while drizzling with the extra virgin olive oil.

Using a slotted spoon, arrange the potatoes  in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet. Be sure to spread them well, so they bake evenly.

Bake at 500 degrees fahrenheit for approximately 20 minutes, turning the potatoes (a wooden spatula works well) every 5 minutes or so to insure even browning. Remove when the potatoes are dark gold with brown edges, and very crispy.

Season to taste with sea salt while turning on the hot pan and serve immediately; solo or with your favorite burger or other french-fry-friendly meal.

Harvesting Gourmet and Heirloom Potato Varieties from My Potager

Tips for Harvesting and Storing Homegrown Potatoes

There’s nothing quite like the flavor and texture of freshly-harvested, homegrown potatoes. Once you taste the first, new potatoes —pulled straight from the earth and steamed or boiled in your kitchen— you’ll never be satisfied with grocery store-bought spuds again. Potatoes are a relatively simple crop to grow (click back to this previous post for favorite online places to order potatoes). I plant my potatoes in early spring, about two weeks before the last frost —or as soon as the soil is dry and ready to be worked— using the simple, old-fashioned hilling method with clean straw mulch to conserve moisture and keep down weeds. I begin harvesting new potatoes from a few plants as soon as they begin to bloom; usually late spring or early summer (click here for a post on harvesting new potatoes and a frittata recipe) From then on —growing a wide variety with a range of maturity dates— I enjoy freshly dug potatoes straight through the frost.

About two weeks after the potato plants senesce —the point at which the top growth naturally withers and dies back to the ground— the main crop is ready  to harvest. It is then that I begin to carefully dig —pushing down into the earth well beyond the hill and gently lifting in an upward motion toward the hill— with a garden fork or shovel. If I am harvesting potatoes to cook immediately, or over the next few days, then I simply brush off the dirt and wash them. If I am harvesting for long term storage, I dig on a clear, sunny morning and toss the potatoes up onto the topsoil, allowing them to dry out a bit as I work. I then backtrack and carefully go over the potatoes; brushing off the earth while sorting and selecting damage-free tubers for root cellaring. Storage potatoes are placed in wood crates or harvest baskets and loosely covered with cardboard; then taken to a well-ventilated, dry room for a few days to “cure” (room temp of 55-65 degrees is good). The crates are then placed on shelves in a dark, dry root cellar for long term keeping. Green potatoes, and any with insect damage, are tossed aside or sent to compost. Any tubers I’ve accidentally nicked or cut during harvest are placed in a basket to use right away. Never wash potatoes intended for long-term storage, simply brush off the excess dirt while curing.

Some potatoes store better than others, with many of the later-maturing varieties keeping for up to six months when cellared between 35-40° F. Always store potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place to prevent greening (green indicates the presence of solanine, which is a toxin). The stairs of a cellar bulkhead, a non-freezing woodshed or other outbuildings can sometimes provide good alternative space for storing vegetables if you don’t have a root cellar. But remember never to store fruits and vegetables in garages or any place where fuels, or equipment containing fuels or chemicals, are kept. Avoid storing apples near potatoes. In general, the later a potato variety matures, the better it will store. Some less-common potatoes with excellent long-term storage value include Bintje, All-Blue, Ozette, Charlotte.

La Ratte and Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings are Good Medium-Long Term Keepers. Remember, Do Not Wash Storage Potatoes Until You Intend to Use Them.

Freshly Dug Potatoes (Adirondack Red, Rose Gold and a Variety of Fingerlings) in My Potager

Once Washed, Potatoes Should be Used Right Away (Shown here: La Ratte and Rose Finn Apple Fingerlings)

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