Sneak Peak at Our 2015 Garden Plans

We had our first planning meeting this morning, and I wanted to share with you a sneak peak of what will be coming this year. Our theme for the year is “simpler is better” for a number of reasons. We are still going to be trying some fun things, but nothing as crazy as last year!

2015 MapAs you can see, this doesn’t tell you much. I think the two things that a lot of gardeners are going to be very interested in are the varieties of squash that are “supposed” to be more resistant to squash vine borer and squash bugs, as well as how we grow the parthenocarpic zucchini (don’t need pollination to set fruit) under row covers to prevent squash vine borer damage.

We will be doing more detailed planning of these areas over the next couple weeks, so I will be sharing more about our plans as details are available.

Cooking Our Garden-Grown Beans

I know it has been awhile, but waaaay back in the summer we were growing some different beans in the garden. In the Italian garden we had some borlotto beans growing and in the Indian garden we had both chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and cowpeas (black-eyed peas) growing. We harvested them and shelled them when they were dry, and they have since been sitting on bags on my desk, waiting for me to do something with them. This week was the week! I made a different dish with each type of bean so that everyone could sample them.

Step 1: Sorting

I’ve always sorted the beans when I buy bags of dry beans, but usually you are looking for small rocks and things like that. In this instance, I wasn’t concerned about rocks. I was concerned about looking for moldy beans (stored before fully dry) or damaged beans (primarily munched on by bugs).

Here are the culls. There were quite a number, particularly cowpeas, that had been munched on. Different challenges with homegrown beans!

We ended up with about 3/4 cup of the ‘Black Kabouli’ Chickpeas, 1.25 cups of the cowpeas, and 1.5 cups of the Italian borlotto beans.

To put that in context a bit more:

18 sq. ft of Italian borlotto beans yielded 1.5 cups.

17.5 sq. ft. of chickpeas yielded 3/4 cup.

17.5 sq. ft. of cowpeas (that sprawled everywhere) yielded 1.25 cups.

So…certainly not a spectacular yield. It’s not to say they weren’t fun to grow, but they are more of a novelty item that a really productive use of space.

Step 2: Soaking

If you’ve never cooked dried beans before, after the sorting step you need to soak them overnight.

These are the Italian beans. I put them in a large bowl and covered them with plenty of water.

By the next morning they had absorbed quite a bit of water and were nicely puffed up.

Step 3: Cooking/Par-Cooking

Because the recipes I wanted to use called for canned beans, which are essentially pre-cooked, I decided to cook the beans plain first, and then save them for the recipes I wanted to try.

I put each type of bean in a pot, covered them with water, added a little salt, and turned on the heat. They took about an hour of simmering to get to the cooked-but-not-mushy stage. Sorry, I didn’t take any pictures. Pictures of beans boiling is only slightly more exciting than pictures of beans soaking, and I already subjected you to those!

After they were cooked, I drained and rinsed them, then refrigerated them to use later.

Step 4: Cooking into Something Tasty

I wanted to use each type of bean in a semi-authentic recipe, so the next step was finding the right one.

Chickpeas

I was planning to make hummus with the chickpeas, but the skins didn’t crack when I cooked them. I didn’t want to take the trouble to remove the skins and making hummus with the skins on would have resulted in a gritty, grey-colored hummus (the chickpeas had black skins). I ended up making Crispy Roasted Chickpeas. There are about a thousand recipes on the web for different spice variations if you care to try several flavors. I used cumin, coriander, salt, and cayenne pepper. You toss the chickpeas in olive oil and the spices and then roast them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until crispy. Ironically, the skins and whole peas split while roasting, after refusing to split while boiling. Oh well.

Italian Borlotto Beans

For the Italian beans, I found a recipe for Fresh Stewed Borlotti Beans that called for fresh rather than dry beans. We were past the “fresh” stage, obviously, so that’s why I par-cooked the beans first. Beyond that, it was pretty straightforward. Cook the aromatics (celery, onion, garlic) in oil, add the beans, tomatoes, and parsley. Cook until the beans are the texture you prefer.

The beans had an interesting nutty and sweet flavor, so I didn’t cook them down too much. They were softer than they started, but still pretty much whole, not to the mushy stage.

Cowpeas

The cowpeas had ind of an interesting grassy/earthy taste after the initial cooking. Not bad, but very different from the other two. I decided to make a Cowpea and Potato Curry using them.

If you don’t routinely cook this type of dish, it is the one that you will probably have to make a special trip to the grocery store or a specialty store to find all the ingredients. We cook a fair amountĀ of Indian-inspired food at home, so I have all of the spices on hand. Things you may not have include: cumin, turmeric, garam masala (you can find it at Spice Merchant if you are in Wichita), fresh mint and cilantro, garlic-ginger paste (or fresh ginger to make your own).

This recipe starts by sauteing the onions, garlic, ginger, and spices, then adding the potatoes. After a few minutes you add the chickpeas, tomato puree, water, and simmer until everything is cooked. Last you add the mint and cilantro paste and cook a few more minutes. Served over rice, it will make a great vegetarian meal.

So, that is that! I have to say that cooking dry beans that you grew yourself do taste even better than cooking dry beans from the store and MUCH better than using canned beans. Each type of bean also has its own flavor profile. Still…growing dry beans is more of a fun project than anything else if you don’t have much space.

Two Fennel Recipes

One of the things we had in the Fall Italian Garden was bulbing fennel, which you may sometimes see in the grocery store labeled “Anise.”

This is the fennel that was harvested before the cold weather set in a couple weeks ago. Most of it was pretty good sized. As a recap, we started the seeds indoors and then transplanted in early August. It is edible at any size of bulb development, and I know that sometimes people like the smaller ones to roast whole. The bulbs were good sized a few weeks before we harvested, but I always like to see how big we can grow things in the fall and how long they will last in the garden.

So…what do you do with bulb fennel? I had tried a fennel gratin recipe several years ago that was pretty disgusting, so I went looking for some better options. I ended up with a recipe for Roasted Fennel, Carrots, & Shallots and another recipe for a Radicchio, Fennel, and Olive Panzanella (bread salad). It was a bonus, since we had radicchio in the garden too!

I cut the tops off the fennel, quartered it, rinsed it well (there was some dirt between the layers, but not too much), and tossed the pieces with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

I sliced the carrots, and topped the red bunching onions. The original recipe called for shallots, but I had a whole bunch of these red bunching onions from the garden as well that were pretty sweet, so I opted to use them instead. These were also tossed with oil, salt, and pepper, then spread on a baking sheet.

Everything was roasted at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until tender.

The finished product! (Technically the recipe called for garnishing with parsley and a few fronds from the fennel tops. Oh well.) This dish was a huge hit, even though it was so simple. Sometimes the simple dishes are the best. Almost everyone really enjoyed the flavor of the roasted fennel.

The second recipe was actually a bit more complex, even though it was a salad. I also didn’t manage to get pictures of every step, so bear with me. Here’s a link to the original recipe: Radicchio, Fennel, and Olive Panzanella.

The first step was to toast the bread. The cubes of bread were tossed with lemon zest, oil, salt, and pepper. Then they were toasted in the oven until just crisp. (Not all the way to crouton stage.)

The dressing was pretty simple: minced shallot (I subbed the red onion again), chopped parsley, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper, all whisked together.

The fennel was easy to deal with. I just took a couple of the smaller bulbs and thinly sliced them. Done!

Then the radicchio…

Eew! When I harvested it, the outer leaves looked good, but as I peeled it down to the inner head, I got to this slimy layer. I don’t know if this is normal, if the plants were too crowded, if it was too warm and wet for most of the fall, or what the story was. I’m sure that many of you, getting to this point, would have just chucked the whole thing in the trash and moved on. Luckily you have me to delve through the slime to find out if there was anything good underneath!

What do you know! There was something worth having! One of the heads that I stripped down still had some good green leaves before getting to the red interior leaves. The others needed to be cleaned further, down to the red leaves. But the radicchio “hearts” were just fine to use. No sliminess in evidence at all.

Here’s the bigger “green exterior” head sliced. The center is nice and red. (Recap again: the radicchio was also started inside and transplanted in early August.”)

The final salad: the bread, radicchio, and fennel were tossed, as well as some halved green olives, chopped parsley, a little cheese, some salami and the dressing. It was a colorful and interesting salad. Because the greens were all radicchio, it had a stronger, more bitter flavor than our American palates are used to. Some people really liked it and others didn’t care for it. To make it appeal to a broader audience, I added some sweet lettuces (like bibb lettuce) to cut the bitter greens a bit. The fennel really wasn’t very prominent in this dish by the time everything else was added, but it was a great use for radicchio!

Friday PhotoEssay: Year in Review

I’ve been meaning to do the Year in Review post for the Friday PhotoEssay “whole garden” pictures for a couple weeks now. I guess it is good that I waited until now to get a true “after” shot from the cold.

March 10th after a snow!

April 3rd

April 11th

April 25th

May 2nd

May 9th

May 16th

May 23rd

May 30th

June 6th

June 13th

June 20th

June 27th

July 7th

July 11th

July 18th – I think this was pretty much the peak of the garden for the summer, don’t you? Maybe one of the two previous weeks, but this was a pretty green week.

July 24th

August 1st

August 8th

August 15th

August 22nd

August 28th – You can tell things are on the downhill slide now!

September 15th

September 19th

September 26th

October 3rd

October 17th

October 31st – The end of “summer” for the year.

November 21st – Almost put to bed for the winter!

Preparing for the Sudden Onslaught of Winter

I feel like I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the weather, but it really isn’t just idle conversation! The weather is extremely important to our success as gardeners. After one light freeze and lots of unseasonably warm weather, we are looking at more than a week of unseasonably cold temperatures. Overnight lows look like they will be hovering in the upper teens to low 20s for the better part of the next two weeks. (At least that low of 9 degrees is gone, for now!) Many of the cool season vegetables will tolerate temperatures down to 24 or 25 without significant damage, but two weeks of lows down around 20 is probably a bit much for them to tolerate, especially when they haven’t been hardened off with cold-but-not-too-cold temperatures.

So…it was time to harvest some things and cover others this afternoon! Because I can’t resist experimenting, I left one or two plants of almost everything in the garden, just to see what would happen.

We already had the cold frame out, but still open. We closed it up and tucked some straw along the back edge to keep the cold air out.

We also put hoops and row cover over the main section of spinach and radicchio. Normally I’d leave those out, but I think this will be a bit cold all of a sudden.

I left some of the other spinach around the garden uncovered, including the Indian variety. (I don’t have great hopes for its cold hardiness!)

I harvested a few of the radicchio plants to see what stage they were at. I also harvested the watermelon radishes, fennel, half the bunching onions, and most of the dandelion greens. I was just going to leave the lemongrass, but then I just couldn’t let it go to waste, so it went to our Foods & Nutrition department.

I’ll post more pictures and show what I did with some of the different vegetables later in the week!

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