If you've strolled through your local farmers market lately, you've noticed that for most of us around the continent, we're seeing the peak of harvest season. Farmers pile their tables high with intensely red tomatoes, brilliantly hued hot peppers, earthy potatoes, luscious fruits of multiple varieties, and plenty of vivid green zucchini and beans and other vegetables. Who doesn't love shopping for produce at this time of year?
Well... it's not that we don't love it, really. But for those of us who are experiencing the harvest season firsthand through our Victory Gardens, sometimes even the excitement of the farmers market pales in comparison to the first pickings of a carefully nurtured — perhaps even heirloom — fruit or vegetable.
All of the Ethicurean Victory Gardeners have put a great deal of effort into growing, weeding, harvesting, and even preserving a portion of our many crops this summer. And with the Labor Day holiday approaching, it seemed appropriate to make this month's Victory Garden update a virtual potluck so that we can share the fruits of our labors with all of you as well as with each other. We may not all be geographic neighbors, but our shared experiences this year have given us a deeper sense of community here at the Ethicurean, and we hope it's done the same for you.
So tuck that napkin into your collar and grab a fork. We've got good food waiting...
Elanor reports that the chilly weather in the Bay Area (around 65 each day and "quite windy near my plot") that preceded this weekend's heat wave had slowed her garden, but she's gradually tallying her crops. She's done harvesting the beans and has saved some to plant next year, and she's working on protecting her cauliflower from aphids, using a spray mixture of "water, dish soap, mouthwash, and (ew!), which seems to be doing the trick... I'm thinking of it as a big science experiment." Her collards, basil, and chile peppers have "hit their stride," leading her to pickle a bunch of serrano peppers.
She's also having a bumper crop of tomatoes: "I've come to understand the full potential of the indeterminate tomato; my Bloody Butcher continues to produce at an insane pace, while the green zebras, sungolds, and the Cherokee purples plod along behind. It's going to be a good tomato year."
For her contribution to the potluck, Elanor shares a summer pasta meal based on her new favorite way of cooking tomatoes: roasting at very high temperatures for a very short time.
Simple summertime pasta
1 lb. fresh pasta (I have recently come to understand the deliciousness of fresh pasta, and while I'm not at the point of making my own, I did decide to splurge on fresh from the Italian store nearby for this dish. It was worth it, and not much more expensive than a box of dried pasta from the supermarket.)
8 oz. fresh ricotta (again, worth splurging for fresh from a cheese store, if you have one nearby, since this dish has so few ingredients; it's worth highlighting the good stuff!)
Pesto. Everyone has their favorite recipe; I just dropped a few handfuls of basil, three cloves of chopped garlic, a handful of toasted pine nuts, and a whole bunch of freshly grated Parmesan into the food processor, gave it a whirl, poured in some olive oil, and whirled again.)
1 batch roasted tomatoes. To make: Wash a variety of tomatoes (I used sungolds, bloody butchers, and a few small green zebras) and chop the larger ones into halves or quarters (not too small). Heat a well-seasoned cast iron pan over high heat on the stove until the pan is quite hot, almost smoking (about 5 minutes of heating). Quickly, pour in a tablespoon or two of olive oil, swirl the pan, and slide in the tomatoes. They will sizzle madly. Give it a stir and let sit for a minute or two; then stir again. The tomatoes will start to brown. I've been cooking this for about 10 minutes total, stirring every minute or two, until the tomatoes are mushy and most of the liquid has boiled off. Add a few pinches of salt, stir, and you're done.
Top the pasta with pesto, roasted tomatoes, and a dollop of fresh ricotta. Season with salt. We ate this with a side of my Blue Lake green beans, steamed, with a little butter and lemon juice. Oh, and a big glass of red wine. Bon appetit!
It's a good tomato year elsewhere, too. Up in Montana, Charlotte has been enjoying the first of her tomatoes (link goes to her Living Small post): the heirloom varieties Sasha's Altai, Prairie Fire, and Galinas. She's got the right idea by eating them fresh, adorned simply with fresh herbs. Could we get you to bring some of those to the table, Charlotte?
Here in northern Ohio, I've been frustrated with the regularly cool evenings that have slowed the march to ripeness for my Rutgers tomatoes. The fruit has ended up mostly small, but when they finally ripen, they display a perfect balance between juicy and meaty. Right now, the tomatoes are the main crop in my garden: what beans were left after the mystery muncher did its damage have been pulled and dried, and what few carrots remain will stay in the ground as long as possible so they can continue to develop. I've planted a few rows of kale for fall, and those are coming up nicely, but aside from that, my sole remaining greens (aside from the wild ones) are the amaranth and the nasturtium leaves.
After a long wait (and a bumpy start), I'm finally — finally! — starting to harvest the first melons from the garden. I thought for sure the watermelon would ripen first as it set many fruit well before the cantaloupe got started, but just this week I ended up with a perfect little cantaloupe (about 5 1/2" in diameter) that smelled so fresh and ripe I could barely keep myself from cutting into it on the spot. (If you want melon for this potluck, though, you'll probably have to fight me for it — I've made quite a dent in it already!)
Since my pickings are fairly small, then, I have just a simple salad to offer for the potluck: sliced tomatoes on a bed of peppery nasturtium leaves, with an optional drizzle of olive oil or balsamic vinegar. (If you really like, you can add slices of fresh mozzarella or goat cheese.) Can you really get enough fresh ripe tomatoes at this time of year?
Janet thinks no one cares to invite her to the potluck, but she is so wrong! Though all she grew intentionally were herbs, she learned enough about foraging earlier this summer to offer a salad of wild greens, including plantain (Plantago), wood sorrel (Rumex acetosa), and dandelion. If you like, she'll toss in some black walnuts, even though she detests them. As she notes, "Anyone who loves strong flavors will love that salad." She's even offered to provide a centerpiece made from her homegrown rosemary, bay laurel, and sage — wonderfully fragrant herbs to enhance all the other scents — and a pitcher of mint tea.
Not everyone's garden is in full swing yet. As Kathryn reports with a heavy sigh, "My garden hasn't produced enough yet for potlicking." (And yes, that's exactly what she meant to write.)
Come to the table and join us — what are you eating from your Victory Garden this weekend?
Victory Garden poster image courtesy of the University of North Texas Libraries Digital World War Poster Collection.