Few things give me more pleasure than going out in the garden, digging my hands in the rich soil of our garden, and pulling out something for dinner.
Picking food off the vine is also fun, but there is something about getting your hands dirty serving a meal that I find deeply satisfying.
So, when planning the garden, the first items on my list are potatoes and leeks, the base for a leek and potato soup that is hotly applauded at the Long Family Dinner table. (The recipe appears with the allium vegetables.)
Synchronizing your garden with the way you cook takes a bit of practice, but you can start by thinking about what dishes you like to prepare and what ingredients you use most often.
Check out these suggestions – a few basics for the home cook’s garden – as well as some of the recipes gardeners like me think of when we innovate in the spring.
The most versatile and useful vegetables in the garden in terms of daily cooking are allium vegetables, which include onions, shallots, garlic, chives, and leeks. They are an essential part of adding flavor to recipes of all kinds. Here are some of their common uses.
Onions (white, yellow and red): Soups and stews, salads, casseroles, sandwich toppings, salsas, omelets.
Shallots: Dressings, roasted whole with other vegetables or in a casserole dish.
Garlic: Soups, breads, sauces, pasta, salsas, whole roasts.
Chives: Dressings, potato toppings, salad and casserole toppings, soups.
Leeks: Salads, roasts with other vegetables, and The Food Guy’s favorite soups.
Peppery Potato Soup
• 3 leeks, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons of chopped shallots
• 4 tablespoons of butter, divided
• 1 liter of chicken broth
• 1/8 teaspoon of celery seeds
• ½ teaspoon of salt
• 2 tablespoons of chopped celery
• 4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
• ½ cup of milk
• ½ cup light cream
• 1 teaspoon of fresh parsley, chopped
• salt and ground pepper, to taste
In a large saucepan, lightly brown the leeks and shallots in half the butter for about 7 minutes. Add the broth, celery seeds, salt, celery and potatoes. Bring to a boil then reduce to low-medium heat and simmer 25 minutes. Using a potato masher, break up the potatoes to your preferred texture. Stir in the milk, cream, parsley and the rest of the butter. Season with salt and pepper. For a more finely textured soup, run a hand mixer through the final product.
The home cook can find as many uses for peppers as there are varieties of this multifaceted vegetable, but if you think concretely, a crop of colorful peppers (green, yellow, orange, red, purple) can add color at meals without the hassle of measuring heat.
Still, you’ll want to keep a jalapeño or red chili on hand when the timing and recipe is right.
Gina D’Ambrosio, owner of Food For Thought Catering in Lancaster, sent this garden-fresh recipe of marinated jalapeños with red onion and carrots.
She suggests eating it with friends and family on a blanket in your garden, and pairing it with burgers, tacos, burritos, nachos, chili, carnitas, barbecue, smoked or grilled meats or your favorite sandwich.
“There is a heat factor in this recipe,” she says, “so alert your guests and offer plenty of cold drinks. “
Marinated jalapeños with red onions and carrots
• 1½ cup white vinegar or unseasoned rice wine vinegar
• ¼ cup) sugar
• 8 jalapeños, sliced into 1-inch or slightly smaller rings
• 2 cups peeled and sliced red onion
• 2 carrots, cut into ¼ inch slices
• 1 cup of water
• 1 tablespoon of sea or kosher salt
• 10 peppercorns, lightly crushed
• 2 peeled garlic cloves
• 1 dry bay leaf
• 1 sprig of fresh dill
Bring the vinegar and sugar to a slow boil, just to dissolve the sugar. Pour the hot liquid over the rest of the ingredients and let steep for 1 hour.
Let cool and store in a glass jar or airtight container.
Lancaster cook and avid gardener Kim Klein believes, as many do, that tomatoes are the quintessential summer food. Klein gives tomatoes top priority when planning her garden and in the past she has rooted over 100 plants.
Her favorite strains include Green Zebra, Purple Cherokee, Yellow Pear, Black Krim, Brandywine Pink and Red, Black Cherokee, Red Zebra, and Jaune Flamme.
She has used them in salsa, salads, tomato sauce, ketchup, soup, canning and more. His tomato salad recipe takes full advantage of the range of tastes and textures of the fruit.
• 2 to 2½ pounds of mixed ripe tomatoes, different shapes and colors
• Fresh basil leaves, to taste
• 1 part of red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
• 3 parts extra virgin olive oil
• Ground black pepper and sea salt, to taste
• 1 to 2 cloves of fresh garlic
Gently wash the tomatoes.
Depending on the size of the tomatoes, use a serrated knife to cut some in half, some into quarters, and some into uneven pieces.
Place in a large clear glass bowl to showcase colors and textures.
Wash and dry the fresh basil leaves. Kitchen scissors are great for cutting leaves into strips. Spread the basil over the tomatoes.
For the dressing:
Mix 1 part vinegar with 3 parts olive oil. Add the crushed or chopped garlic cloves, sea salt and black pepper.
Stir in mixture to combine, then pour over tomatoes. Mix gently with a spatula or wooden spoon.
Michael Long welcomes emails to [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @mlongLNP.