What’s Up Doc? Waskilly Seeds and a Recipe for Velvety Baked Carrots…

January 23rd, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Baked Velvet Carrots

Beautiful Bolero …

Flat leaf Italian parsley from the windowsill herb garden…

Sliced Bolero Carrots…

We all know that old Elmer Fudd thinks Bugs Bunny is a terribly, waskilly wabbit. But frankly I think Elmer has it wrong. I think it’s Bugs Bunny’s carrot that’s a bit waskilly – at least as a seed. Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny carrot seeds are notoriously difficult to sow. Tiny, fine and lighter than a feather, it’s easy to lose track of those little devils. They stick to the packet; slip through your fingers; blow down your shirt; and before you know it they are spilling all over the ground. Waskilly Kawits. Unfortunately, if you want beautifully shaped, full size carrots, then seed spacing is pretty darn important. But you know, I’m also fairly sure that I’m not the only gardener to lose track of how many carrot seeds have fallen into the soil, and how close they ended up being planted together. To solve the spacing problem, some gardeners broadcast seed with sand or coffee grounds. Other gardeners have showed me how they create elaborately folded paper contraptions. And a few frugal New England gardeners I know have ended up breaking down and buying pre-seeded carrot tape. Me? Oh I am stubborn. I usually struggle through the planting and then, weeks later, I test my patience by thinning seedlings with a pair of scissors on a buggy day. But there is another, fully-organic, OMRI approved solution: pelleted seeds. This year I am going to give them a go…

Pelleted carrot seeds with radishes, (photo courtesy of The Old School House Plantery)

Never heard of pelleted, (or pelletized), seeds? Well, they are just regular old seeds, coated with an organic substance, (usually an inert material like starch), that makes them easier to see and handle. The coating is sort of like the dusty, crusty stuff on the outside of a chocolate truffle, (sorry chocoholics, I didn’t mean to do that to you). If you are planning on planting a vegetable garden with kids, or if you have less-than-steady hands, or less-than perfect eyesight, (or, err,  less-than saintly patience, like me), pelletized seeds can come in very handy. I just ordered up pelleted Bolero, Mokum and Sugarsnax carrot seed from Johnny’s Seeds yesterday. I also chose a few packs of pelleted lettuce seed, since I find them a bit waskilly as well. Johnny’s Seeds is a wonderful employee-owned company in the great state of Maine, and they carry a wide variety of organic, heirloom and gourmet vegetables. I order many of my unusual vegetable seeds from Johnny’s Seeds and the other great online companies, including Renee’s Garden Seeds and Botanical Interests, listed in the sidebar at right under “seeds”. I have found that each company usually has some special variety I want, (such as the pelleted seeds from Johnny’s), so I always end up spreading my orders around the country a bit. And this year, I notice seeds are selling out faster than usual, so it’s always helpful to have a few reliable sources.

Carrots are a cook’s kitchen staple. The foundation of many stocks, carrots also add color, sweetness and vitamins to everything from salads, appetizers and soups to savory baked dishes, casseroles and breads. And can you imagine life without carrot cake and cream cheese frosting? For such a rewarding crop, carrots are remarkably easy to grow in the garden. These bright colored veggies aren’t fussy, but they do like very deep, loose, compost-rich soil. So if you have rocky loam, you might have better luck with carrots if you raise your beds with mounds or planters. Many gardeners use radishes as companions for carrots to mark the row, and to help break the crusty soil. Of course it also helps to keep the soil evenly moist during germination, (but be sure not to overwater carrots during the growing season). During the hot summer, carrots will benefit from a layer of mulch; keeping their roots cool and their tops warm enhances flavor. I also like to shade carrot roots by planting them between rows of leafy lettuce, spinach and/or chard. If you sow a fast maturing variety in the early part of the season, (when soil temps reach a consistent 60° F), and then plant a second crop when the soil is warm enough to plant tomatoes, (70-75°), you can harvest carrots all year long, (and for those of us with frozen tundra, carrots will also store well in root cellars, layered in damp sand).

Hungry yet? There’s nothing like a serving of bright orange, velvety carrots to remind me of summer’s sweetness, and I truly love this rich, savory old recipe. Brilliantly colored baked carrots are the perfect side dish for a potato-vegetable gratin or a roasted or baked pretty-much-anything. Mmmmm. Sweet Bolero, my lovely carrot, you don’t seem quite so rascally now….

Greene on Greens

Velvety Baked Carrots

(an oldie but a goodie, from Bert Greene’s Greene on Greens cookbook)

Ingredients (serves 4-6 as a side dish):

3 1/2 c       homemade vegetable stock or chicken broth

1 pound     peeled carrots cut in half lengthwise

3 Tbs         unsalted butter

3 Tbs         all-purpose flour

1/2 c          heavy cream

1/8 tsp       ground allspice

1/8 tsp       fresh grated nutmeg

dash          Sriracha hot chili sauce, (or other pepper sauce)

to taste      salt

to taste      fresh ground pepper

1/4 c          fresh bread crumbs

2 Tbs         fresh chopped parsley

1 Tbs         grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Wash and peel carrots, and slice them in half lengthwise, (more if they are particularly large). In a medium saucepan, bring 3 1/2 cups of vegetable, (or chicken), broth to a boil.  Slowly add the carrots and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the carrots, uncovered, until they are soft. Test with a fork after 25 minutes. Drain the carrots over a bowl, reserving the broth. Place the carrots in a separate bowl and mash, (lightly with a potato masher), until smooth but still attractively textured. Set aside.

Return the saucepan to the stove and melt 2 Tbs. of butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, continuously stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add 1 cup of the reserved cooking stock and whisk together while brining the mix to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add the nutmeg, allspice, pepper sauce. Whisk in 1/2 cup of cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the mixture from the heat and combine with the mashed carrots. Pour into a buttered, shallow baking dish and set aside.

In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and stir into the butter, cooking and turning until golden brown. Remove from the heat and add in the chopped parsley. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the carrots and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the topping is bubbling.

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Potato Leek Soup: The Antidote to Brrr ! Plus Tips on Storing Leeks in the Root Cellar…

January 10th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

potato-leek-soup ⓒ michaela medina - thegardenerseden.comPotato Leek Soup

Brrr is certainly the word. It’s really cold here in the northeast. I keep hearing rumors of rising temperatures, but so far they are just that – rumors. I take comfort in the fact that there’s a good snow-cover insulating the garden, and inside, my wood stove is cranking out some serious BTUs. But just to be sure I keep the chill at bay, I have made a big pot of potato leek soup to keep me warm. Mmmm. Isn’t it wonderful how a simmering pot of soup fills the entire house with fragrance ? Oh how I love that. Potato leek soup is particularly aromatic and earthy – just the thing on a grey day. Plus this year, everything in this soup comes from the garden, and there is a kind of comfort coming from that as well.

2009 was a great year for growing leeks. It may not have been a great year for most other things – but it was definitely a leek year. Rain. Rain. Rain. Well, it’s a good thing that leeks love moisture. They grow best in a cooling trench filled with rich, but well-drained soil, (it’s almost impossible to over-water and overfeed them). They are truly one of my favorite crops, and because they store well in wooden boxes of damp sand , (in a cellar is best with temp. range 32-42 F), they can be enjoyed all winter, (it’s best to keep leeks away from other vegetables in the root cellar, as they produce a strong, overpowering odor).

When I bring leeks up from the cellar, (or when digging them to eat straight from the garden), I take care to wash them thoroughly in a sink filled with cool water. It’s important to get rid of all the sand, so I soak them first and rinse between the layers, (with the dark green ends pointing down). For this particular recipe, the dark parts are chopped off.  After cutting, I rinse them one more time. No one likes sand in their soup !

Potato leek soup can be made with many different kinds of potatoes, from everyday white to gourmet gold. I used some of the smallish white potatoes I have on hand in the root cellar, (an unmarked variety from Agway), but I am going to be planting some more interesting varieties from Ronnigers in the coming season. My country-neighbors, the Millers, have been educating me about gourmet potatoes, (they are British, and they know their roots!). The more flavorful the potato, the better the soup ! And speaking of flavor – fresh herbs make all the difference in home cooking, and having them close-by insures that they will be used daily. I grow parsley in the hoop-house year-round, and I keep thyme going on the kitchen windowsill. A few herbs also make for a pretty garnish in the bowl.

The recipe below is one from a stained and curled-up card in my box. I’ve also noticed a few variations online recently. One from David Lebovitz looks particularly delightful, as does an older post from Elise Bauer on her blog, Simply Recipes. Lebovitz’s soup is sophisticated and smooth, and Bauer’s is hearty and chunky, (both of these sites are great resources for home cooks). My own recipe lies somewhere between the two.

So it may be cold outside, but I have the antidote here on the stove. Soup is definitely ON !


Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8 ):

3-4       Leeks – dark green ends cut off, (washed thoroughly to remove sand),

cut lengthwise and chopped, ( light white to light green parts), very coarsely.

3 tbs    Butter

2 c       Water

2 c       Vegetable or chicken stock (homemade is best)

2 lbs    Potatoes, washed, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch or smaller pieces

2           Bay leaves

2 tsp     Fresh thyme, washed and chopped fine (plus extra for garnish )

2 tbs     Fresh parsley, washed and chopped fine

1 tsp     Salt

1/2 tsp  Fresh ground white pepper

1/8 tsp  Sriracha,(“rooster”), hot chili sauce, (or sub tabasco )

1tsp       Per bowl, creme fraiche , (or thick sour cream), for serving

Directions:

In a good size stock pot, melt 3 tbs of butter. Add leeks, salt and pepper and cook on low heat for approximately 10 minutes. Watch the leeks carefully, and do not let them brown !

Add water, vegetable or chicken stock, potatoes and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes or until potatoes are soft all the way through, (check with a fork).

Remove bay leaves and carefully puree 3/4 of the soup in a blender, (not a food processor). You will need to do this in two batches or you risk burning yourself with an over-filled blender. Return the pureed soup to the pot. If you prefer a completely smooth soup, then puree the entire batch. I like some potato chunks. Add herbs and Sriracha sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. Continue simmering for at least 10 – 15 minutes.

Serve warm in bowls garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche and sprigs of fresh thyme.

Fresh thyme from the windowsill garden


Leeks and potatoes, washed and cut…

The Secret Ingredient…

potato-leek-soup-2 ⓒ michaela medina - thegardenerseden.compgThe antidote to Brrr: Mmmm!

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