Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bicol Express

Bicol Express

This is hardly the sort of dish that a winter climate would inspire, but as long as greenhouses exist, I can still enjoy the taste of this quick and easy recipe of sweet green peppers with coconut milk. I actually tasted Bicol Express for the first time in Milan of all places (from a hot pink food truck parked in front of the Philippine embassy). It was delicious on hot rice, but much too heavy with pork and pork fat. I came up with a lighter recipe that goes easy on the pork fat, but measured everything by "eye" as shown in this photo.

bicol express  ingredients

This dish comes together fast; the only time-consuming part is topping off and removing the seeds and white membrane within the peppers. Also, if you don't like hot hot, use a less fiery pepper than a habanero or use none at all.

Make a slit in the habanero (this will allow some of that spicy heat to blend into the dish). Saute pork with the garlic, onion, and ginger in a small amount of vegetable oil. When it's no longer pink, add a can of coconut milk, the cleaned peppers, the habanero and bagoong. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until green peppers are soft and limp. Season to taste with salt.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pepper pickin' in Piemonte

Centro Peperoni Carmagnola

No, it's not like we went to a pick-your-own bell pepper farm, but seeing that we stopped at a couple of veggie stands in Carmagnola, that's almost as good as what Peter got himself into.

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, Where's the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?

Located in the eastern region of Piemonte, Carmagnola is the city of peppers and holds a tremendously popular fair in September of each year. The 4 primary peperoni are: quadrato (so-named for to its squared shape), corno di bue (ox horn), tumaticot and trottola. We haven't yet been able to time it right in order to attend this event, but it's possible to buy loads of peppers at any of the roadside stands located on the outskirts of the city.

Corno di bue and tumaticot

We picked up about 10 pounds total with these corno di bue and tumaticot peppers.

Tumaticot peppers

The tumaticot has thick sides, is rather wide and squat, and aren't very crisp, but they hold up well when stuffed and baked. They actually take less time to bake (or also cooked in a covered skillet) because the filling is spread out in the wider cavity of the pepper. I just cut off the top third and save tops to use in something else.

At 2,50€/kilo they're not exactly cheap, but they certainly beat the stuff that I get at big chain supermarkets.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Green, green, green...and purple!

And that pretty much sums up the current state of the garden - the green part - with the occasional handful of cherry tomatoes when they're ripe enough to pick. I can't say I'm shocked that a month has already passed since the last post, but summer seems to have flown by much faster with me having less to fiddle with in the garden. Just as well (the less work part), because we took off for Provence at peak season and saw acres and acres of lavender fields wherever we went. Hence, the video included at the end.

Despite their greenness, Ananas Noire and Cherokee Purple are sizing up beautifully. I tried growing Tumbling Tom Red for the first time this year, and the 2 red tomatoes in the photo will be the first to get picked and tasted. I realized too late that this is a determinate plant and got rid of the suckers early on because they were getting very unruly.

Ananas Noire

Cherokee Purple

Tumbling Tom Red

Friday, July 19, 2013

Water timers & drip irrigation: vacay dilemma resolved!

Why didn't we ever think of this before? Maybe because we thought it would mean an expensive and elaborate irrigation system? Or that setting up the tubes would require more work than it was worth? I wish someone had planted the idea in my head much earlier, because even if we're never away during summer for more than a week at a time, we've always relied on a lawn sprinkler (set on a timer) to water the plants. This worked out fine for the yard, but with water rates going up each year, I wanted a solution where the H2O goes exactly where it's needed and not sprinkling all over the vegetable rows. Since the lay of the garden is on a slope, it made arranging the 25-meter long tube awkward, but I'm satisfied that now we're watering the vegs and not weeds along the garden paths where they flourished.

It has been 6 weeks since the last post (it just pains me that this year there is so little to report on the garden), and here are the brussel sprout plants now. It's amazing to see how much they've grown although I still need to keep them under protective cover from possible hailstorms. So far no problems with cabbage moths or slugs.

The tomato plants have thrived as well from being placed in the sunniest spot next to the house (I had to put some type of "fencing" to let the dogs know that it was off-limits). All that extra heat bouncing off the walls has done nothing but good for their growth. Other tomato plants growing in the ground are less robust compared to these.

First harvest for this year: 500 grams of gooseberries from our only plant, and a couple of zukes. The smaller one is from a zucchini bush that is bred to produce mainly flowers instead of fruit, but if female flowers are left to develop, they'll produce tiny zucchini like this one.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Protecting the summer garden

Fast forward 8 months through one very stubborn winter and a sorrowfully dreary spring. L'Orto is back! One too many cloudy days, heavy rainstorms, and an unexpected snowfall at the latter end of May put a stop to getting anything into the ground. Everyone was anxious for the weather to turn around, and now that it seems to be doing just that, I share the latest news on what's growing in the chestnut forest.

Tunnel de forçage

Brussel sprouts. Flanked by leeks and a couple of red bell pepper plants. Everything came from the nursery, but the row covers - tunnel de forçage - are from a french garden shop that we visted last fall. This is the first time trying them and they are WONDERFUL. Unlike the plastic sheet covers that I need to pin down over the frames, the tunnels are sturdy and heavy enough that all I need do is place them over the row of seedlings. So far I've had no problems with cabbage moths laying eggs on the leaves, and other pests still haven't found their way in. There are evenly spaced holes in the top, allowing water to drip in, but when I'm in a rush, the tunnels are a breeze to lift and set aside.

Tomatoes. Grown in pots and bags. I picked up several sacks of potting soil specifically formulated for tomatoes, eggplants and bell peppers. Since I had to do crop rotation this year, I'm out on a lot of space in the back garden (where the toms used to grow) and moved them to the front yard. I've also got some tomatoes growing in a small patch of dirt at the edge of the lawn, but anything else is in a container. I picked up grafted plants to get things moving faster and am growing one each of datterino, pachino, Black Krim and Black Truffle. Note the "barriers" that are necessary to keep the dogs from biting off the leaves. I also started some Cherokee Purple and Black Pineapple from seed but they are barely 6 inches tall at this point.

We're still getting the occasional hailstorm so I put up some plastic sheeting for protection. Between the 7 eggplants, basil, parsley, yellow bell peppers and tomato seedlings, it's a tight squeeze but this part of the front yard faces south and they get a lot of sunlight.

Two zucchini plants get hail protection with a lid from an old cold frame.

Calceolaria. After such a colorless spring I couldn't help but add this to the shopping cart, along with a whole bunch of herbs and a caper plant. They don't have any kind of attractive smell but the yellow and orange remind me of summertime, barbecues, ice cold drinks and long, lazy days ahead of us.