Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What are you doing with your tomatoes?

San Marzano 2011

Over 12 lbs. of San Marzano's, 27 lbs. of Cherokee Purples, and nearly 20 lbs. of cherry tomatoes (so far). Despite that episode of blight in mid-August, this year's tomato harvest had us eating them just about every single day this month and I ain't complaining. It wasn't/still isn't that big of a deal to find creative ways to prepare them, but it does help that we love pomodori that much! If anything, the humble tomato aced the category of Best Supporting Ingredient. Some photos of how I put all of those love apples to good use.

MCPELT BLEEPT Processing tomatoes

In sandwiches: MCPELT (mortadella, coppa, pepper, eggplant, lettuce, tomato), BLEEPT (bacon, lettuce, eggplant, egg, pepper (bell), tomato). Oven and sun-drying and saucing.

Pizza e cozze Pasta alla Norma Sformato di ricotta & pomodoro

Pizza sauce (plus 4 types of cheese!) and with french moules de bouchot. In so many dishes of pasta and in a sformato di ricotta.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When is the best time to harvest hardy kiwis?

Kiwi Arguta Issai

Apparently not during the month of September as stated in the nursery's company catalog and also from where we purchased green and purple-skinned kiwi vines. The kiwis that I'm referring to are the impossibly cute miniature ones. They're the size of grapes, fuzzless, and entirely edible. I've seen the green type at a supermarket here in Lecco, and that was only once, so to find plants at Ingegnoli in Milan was a surprise - we just had to get both.

Getting back to harvesting them... When we purchased the green vine it already had several full-grown kiwis on it so I figured just wait until September. But earlier this week I noticed one that had gone rather soft so I picked it and voila! An intensely sweet delight that now posed a problem - are they ready or not? My garden sense told me that if they're sold at the markets hard as rocks, then the same must apply to these minis. A few days at room temp would do its ripening magic. Still, I wanted someone in-the-know to confirm this theory and found my answer in an article on Sunset Magazine's website. Yes they can be picked while still firm, but it's all a matter of timing for home gardeners like myself.


Average daytime temperature: 30°C / 86°F

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Omar's Lebanese taste test

Omar's Lebanese 2011

Despite being the heaviest hit from that sudden case of blight, I was able to harvest one Omar's Lebanese that I had left to ripen completely on the vine (albeit naked of leaves and severely cropped). It weighed in at 22 ounces which sorta lessened the pain of losing them just before they had a chance to completely turn color. I placed the saved green ones in the basement and a few ripened on their own with no sign of blight. *Deep sigh of relief here*

Omar's Lebanese sliced At different stages of ripening. The color turns a deep red-pink.

This pink beefsteak tomato tastes more on the sweet side to me. The surprising thing about OL is that there was much more flesh in relation to seed pulp, but the tomato itself is very juicy. I'm more of a black or purple tomato person as I love the smoky flavor that they develop into, but I can't even remember my CP's having this higher ratio of flesh. This is a good one to end up in a blt or on top of a burger.

Omar's Lebanese wedges

Another thing about Omar's Lebanese is that the vines are incredibly robust! Maybe a little too much if you consider the "hemorrhoids" of the one below. Indefinite to the extremes in my garden - they just kept reaching for the sky. Heavy flower production but they were the last to set fruit. It's not common to use tomato cages in Italy (I've never even seen them here), so the only alternative is to use bamboo poles or stakes and fasten them with ties. Not sure how things would've worked out if there had been 2 to 4 pound fruit as I've seen mentioned by other gardeners. In any case, I don't intend to grow these again next year.

Tomato with hemorrhoids?

Average daytime temperature: 33°C / 91°F

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Blight on my tomatoes...arghghgh!

Tomato blight 2011

It was a massacre of the highest level on two fronts and all I can say is that I'm glad we didn't run off somewhere for vacation. [Cue Chopin's Funeral March] Those wretched weekly rainstorms and humidity became too much for the tomatoes, even if I thought I was doing a pretty good job of keeping the problem in check by snipping off infected leaves. I woke up to this full-blown case of blight on my Omar's Lebanese tomatoes and immediately went to work on pulling them out, every single one. I also had to trim heavily on the Cherokee Purple's, San Marzano's and cherry tomatoes, and they're looking naked without much leaf cover. Dammit...gardening can be so cruel. I saved all that I could but have no idea if it'll be worth the trouble. Better luck next year?

Tomatoes with blight

Are blighted tomatoes worth saving?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thank Garden It's Friday: redless rhubarb

Rabarbaro | rhubarb

Five stalks...and only 2 ended up being usable. I've been keeping an eye on the lone rhubarb since the month of June, but it's clear that mine do not have any inclination whatsoever of losing their green color. Wait all you want ma'am...we are going to stay green until you are blue in the face. Of the 3 that were tossed, the stalks were fibrous with some tiny brown holes that were very obvious in the cross-section (bugs? worms?). If I'm lucky there might be enough left from the remaining stalks to make a rhubarb dessert. I'm tempted to just dig the whole thing out.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The eggplant that made me look twice

I wish I could say that these came straight out of my garden but the credit goes to a farm in Tuscany. Aren't they gorgeous? The label on the box described them as melanzana striata (striped eggplant), but these look alot like the Listada di Gandia eggplants that are spoken so highly of by just about every eggplant-loving person on the planet. I've never cooked this type although it's been said that the flesh is firm but turns into a wonderful creamy texture when done.

I almost squealed when I spotted these last night at Esselunga supermarket. Guess how much? Only 1.75€ for each 1.5 kilo (3lb 5oz) box, which, if I did the math right comes out to something like 75¢ per pound. SCORE!

And....not to be forgotten. Thank Garden It's Friday means a big deal to me this week - drum roll please - we have tomatoes! This is what happens when I gripe less than a week ago for only having a few cherry tomatoes - mother nature shoots back with nearly 4 pounds of cherokee purples to keep my mouth shut for awhile.

Quick, bust out the burrata!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Eat your greens!

Radish leaves on the verge of bolting

That is not something that my mother ever told me (she would give me “the look” instead), so if she were here to see how I eat now, I know she'd be thoroughly pleased. My 2nd sowing of radish seeds grew nicely despite the fickle weather, but for some reason the roots never developed into round orbs like the last batch. Instead, they were red and thin, and the leaves were the only ones taking off like wild. It might've been too nitrogen-rich where I planted (the sweet peas were there before them), or it could be the couple handfuls of horse manure pellets that I mixed in before sowing. In any case, I pulled them out for the compost and picked the youngest and most tender leaves for cooking. A good amount of the radish tops had already been nailed by cabbage moths and their offspring leaving all that tiny dark poop...

Heats shoots and leaves

From garden to table

Ever tried pumpkin or squash vine shoots? In Italy they're called tenerumi and I believe using them is more common in southern italian cooking. I picked a few off of the sicilian serpent squash to cook along with the radish tops and a hot chile pepper from the garden. The flavor of both the radish tops and pumpkin shoots is mild (no bitterness) and doesn't really stand out, but when cooked in olive oil and garlic, it makes a nice accompanying dish to braised pork shanks with rice or potatoes. We went heavy on the vegetables last night and I made some fava bean puree, a side dish of halved cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced rounds of raw zukes dressed in lemon juice, evoo and s&p - the later two from the garden which really felt like an accomplishment. An article by has great photos and video on edible pumpkin leaves.

Fave and braised greens

About the sicilian serpent squash...

A squash that turns into a snake

This is the first time trying to grow these but already I see that something wicked is at it again in the garden....a couple new holes found in the ground means the poison isn't doing all of them in. A third of the squash vines are dead - damn rodents!