The “F” bomb will be coming to our neck of the woods soon enough. I am starting to think about improvisations to ensure a daily diet of greens. My palette has grown accustom to fresh organic arugula and lettuce since May. I think a fresh pot of microgreens seeded every 3 or 4 weeks throughout the colder months will do it. I have the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen to put my pot(s) with the patio door to provide light. My herbs feed me nutrients also. Smaller terracotta pots of herbs will be seated in the kitchen window. The 480 square-foot room addition extending the kitchen into a family room and a small guest bedroom will give a new place for my green friends. There is always a place for green life in my home. How about yours? Where do your green friends stay in your home?
I use my abundant, pungent arugula in my salads as well as egg, pasta, and rice dishes these days. A little goes a long way, so most of my culinary creations as of late include my fresh grown arugula. One important aspect to the culinary arts is that improvisation goes a long way. It is easier to substitute ingredients with cooking versus baking. I find arugula can be used in place of spinach in most dishes and salads. There is a taste difference with these 2 greens, but cooking properties similar. Arugula like spinach is a great source of vitamin A and C as well as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Arugula grows much like spinach, spring and autumn sowing here in Missouri.
I love creamed spinach! The best I ever had is crafted by the executive chef Gerard Germain. I learned much from the culinary experts while working at Dierbergs School of Cooking. Chef Gerard dazzles his students’ appetites with Italian and French cuisines. A first generation French immigrant applies his old world culinary magic in the kitchen of a fine Italian establishment in St. Louis called Tony’s. The next best thing is spinach in a white sauce over pasta. So here is my attempt to a lighter version of Pasta alla Fiorentina … Pasta Arugula (or the Italians say rucola), but my recipe is American-style. I lessen the butter and use a little olive oil as a base for the slurry as well as use whole milk instead of cream or half & half. Of course, arugula goes in the recipe instead of spinach. Noted for the recipe this evening, I cooked too much whole-grain pasta for the amount of white sauce I made, and did not add enough arugula. Fresh arugula shrinks considerably while sauteed. Tonight I served the Pasta Arugula with locally-made chicken Italian sausage and crusty bread. I sipped a glass of lavender sparkling water, and Dean downed a domestic beer this rainy summer evening.
Green swatches with flecks of purple and pink will completely cover this bed. Just need a few more sunny days and rain or well water. Our raised bed is a patchwork garden. One month ago seeds of the early spring greens, chives, and sugar snap and large pod peas went into the cold organic soil situated in this raised bed on the screenhouse side of our greenhouse. The lettuce and spinach are sparse. Either bad seeds, but most likely not enough watering and near freezing mornings a few days in April. We will reseed this week. One end are the early spring lettuces, spinach, and chives sowed in patches rather than rows. Then the 2 rows of peas in the middle. On Sunday I sowed a row of bush beans near the pea patch. At the other end of the raised bed are patches of herbs sowed into the soil; cilantro, a blend of basils, thyme, and marjoram. We selected Olds Seed Company organic vegetable and herb seeds bought at the local country store late winter.
The little pea patch is coming along just fine. This weekend we strung twine along the rows for the pea plants to climb. We have about another month until the date of maturity for both varieties. The delicate blossoms should be appearing soon. This legume can be grown just for the bouquet of flowers and fragance. Nutrients are provided for the soil as well. I cherish the fresh, delicious peas with a pinch of kosher salt and dabble of sweet butter. About as many varieties of peas there are, is about how many sweet sayings, poems, and songs referring to the pea. Babies, children and lovers have been called “sweet pea” for centuries. “Two peas in a pod” is a phrase I say when two people act alike. Mostly, sweet pea is a term of endearment such as from Amos Lee’s song…
Sweet pea, apple of my eye
Don’t know when and I don’t know why
You’re the only reason I keep on coming home.
“Herbs deserve to be used much more liberally,” quoting food writer and chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. I keep telling my friends, family, and co-workers the marvelous benefits of herbs. Bursting flavor and full of nutrition! I recently found this guide, the ANDI guide which rates foods based on nutrient density. My ravings on herbs are justified according to ANDI. ANDI stands for “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index,” a scoring system that rates foods on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on nutrient content. ANDI scores are calculated by evaluating an extensive range of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities.
Here is a list of basic herbs and their scores to illustrate this concept.
Herbs/ ANDI Score
Bay Leaves/ 271
Basil rated the highest of all the herbs! Such an easy herb to grow in terra cotta pots in the kitchen window sill or in a sunny garden spot. Our bed of herbs in the screenhouse of our greenhouse include a few varieties of basil. Genovese, lemon, and Tai to name three. In the heat of the summer, it is prolific! Basil nutrients rate up there with arugula, leaf lettuce, and radishes. It’s about 50% the value of superfoods kale and garden cress, but 4 or 5 times more than soybeans or pinto beans. The Italian and Mediterranean cultures include basil in many of their recipes as well as Thai and Mexican cultures. Where I live and work in the St. Louis, Missouri region, there is an Italian restaurant or pizzeria on every corner of the block and in between. We love our pasta and pizza! My home kitchen has the flavors of Italy with my own fresh homegrown basil. Cost pennies to grow. Last night I made homemade pizza with a cup of fresh Genovese basil leaves cut into strips and atop tomato sauce, Italian sausage, Canadian bacon, garlic and black olives. Sometimes its a veggie pizza, with chunky tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach, arugula, black olives, etc. You know, the plumposity of veggies in a single slice of pizza pie! Then there’s pesto! It’s flavor tastes how the word sounds when you say it. PEST-O! More flavors to discover in this nutrient dense herb … sweet, lemon, Tai, spicy, lime, Genovese, cinnamon, anise. Cannot wait to make some lemon scones with the lemon basil this weekend. What herb has captured your taste buds?
As a personal chef by nature I wonder if I should name my summer time culinary creations a nosh, dish, bowl, or plate. I improvise when I cook in my kitchen. With the ingredients in hand from the garden or farmer’s market, they make way for creativity. A casual menu on a whim. This summer my herbs climb with the summer humidity. My chicken risotto served in individual bowls one weekend was laced with a leafy green herb Dean brought home from the greenhouse. It had a spicy bite to it unknown to be parsley as I had thought it might be by its look. When returning to the greenhouse mid-week for watering, I discovered on the garden sign it was watercress added to Sunday’s risotto bowl. I had never grown or cooked with this newly discovered herb before, and it paired deliciously with the farm fresh eggs for egg salad on dollar rolls last night. I hear it is the new kale in the farm-to-table culinary world. Just 1 cup of chopped water cress is power-packed with potassium and vitamins A & C. There are only 4 calories in 1 cup of chopped watercress. Calorie breakdown: 8% fat, 42% carbs, 50% protein. Oh, the flavors burst, so it goes a long way!
Fresh sprigs of dill were snipped into the red potato-celery salad. This week a spare bottle of local summer ale went into the crockpot with the turkey breast sprinkled with lemon pepper from the Olde Town Spice Shoppe, slow-cooked for 10 hours. Succulent! Accompanied with farm fresh, roasted yellow beets, red potatoes, and carrots in a bowl! The leftover turkey breast had filled a casserole dish of enchiladas another night. When I cook, I cook for 2 or 3 meals, using one dish to accent another. Rarely does food go to waste in my home. That stock left from the turkey breast is put into the freezer and will make another risotto another rainy night. Tonight it is small plates of Three-Cheese Italian Herb-Veggie Foccocia and Italian Breaded Chicken Tenderloins. What nosh, dish, bowl, or plate are you making tonight with your garden fresh ingredients?
Are you a locavore? Congratulations, if you! Others may be asking, “what is a locavore?” Here is the paraphrased dictionary definition to this 3-year old word: One who eats local foods whenever possible, typically foods grown, raised, and produced within the consumer’s 100-mile radius. I am a locavore. And whenever possible I shop local for most of my other consumer needs. So what are the top 5 reasons to buy local foods and goods? #1 You boost the local economy. #2 You know the integrity of the product you are buying, if you know the farmer or producer. #3 With most foods, you will have a longer shelf life. #4 With herbs, vegetables, and fruits, you know the produce was harvested within a day or two for better nutritional value, not weeks or months ago. #5 You have encouraged “green practices” with less fuel usage with less travel of the product.
For me, it is all about the food! One of my many passwords is “arugula4me”. Each time I enter this password, it reminds of the fresh arugula that will come from Deanna Greens And Garden Art 1/4 acre plot at Boone Hollow Farm in a few short days. I am salivating just writing about it! Dean loves the way the word “arruugulaa” rolls off my tongue, the only time I sound like I am from Italy. Do you have a farmers’ market in your neighborhood? What do you buy from your local farmer(s)?