Beets – A Fresh Idea

Fresh and crunchy summer beet salad

I don’t know what happened but my beet crop was disastrous this year. The “golden” beets I planted in the fall evolved into knotty, dingy beige, woody and inedible roots. Thank goodness my neighbor, Sandy, who is an amazing gardener, gifted me with three beautiful ruby beets as well as the challenge of how to cook them other than the classic steamed or roasted. I immediately thought of my brand new spiralizer that I purchased from my dear friend Laureen who is a director at Pampered Chef. Her products are always top-notch but for some reason, I had procrastinated experimenting with this contraption.

Introducing the Spiralizer by the Pampered Chef

My garden re-landscape has consumed my life ( I just had to have a Fuyu Persimmon!) and I decided to take a break from the dirt to spend a day in the kitchen, my other favorite room. I started the morning baking David Lebovitz’s olive oil muffins, with my touch of added blueberries, then decided to tackle the spiralizer. It is much easier than anticipated! In fact, it is simple.  I choose the fettuccine blade and voila! I was impressed. From the outside, all Sandy’s beets looked the same but when unwrapping them, one’s color was a burgundy wine while the other a party pink.

Easier than a mandoline

I wanted to create something simple but tasty and beautiful. The accompanying ingredient that came to mind was pistachios. I love this green nut which I feel is so undervalued.
Once the beets are thinly sliced, they can be eaten either raw or cooked. I blanched some of the spirals and was disappointed that the brightness of color faded dramatically. I decided to use them raw but you can prepare them anyway you like.

Party pink fettucine of beet

My choice of flavoring was extra virgin mint olive oil, which I tossed into the beets to give them a light, summer flavor. Goat cheese, rolled in the mint olive oil then in chopped pistachios, added character. The cubed avocado provides extra color and a soft texture. I sprinkled around some leftover fennel for color and crunch. For the finale, thick fig balsamic vinegar was drizzled on top. This vinegar really does pair beautifully with the beets. The fun is in “painting” the plate with your ingredients. Feel free to share your beet creations and combos with me!

Ciao for now!

Mary




My Garden’s Fairy Godmother

The delicate beauty of the rich orange pomegranate flower always amazes me.

The delicate beauty of the rich orange pomegranate flower always amazes me. My tree this year, its third, is flush with flowers which means lots of fruit this fall!

Sometimes neglect yields great surprises. My garden is my sanctuary and I feel very disconnected when I am not able to spend time weeding and cultivating. These times when I feel so overwhelmed by life, my friend Mother Nature steps in as if to say, “I’ve taken care of your garden for you so you can catch your breath.” This seems to be a frequent occurrence in my land of fruits and vegetables.

Handfuls of mini, almost like wild, strawberries suddenly populated their leafy home.

Handfuls of mini, almost wild-like strawberries suddenly propagated prolifically in their fertile home.

The month of March entered and left so quickly that when I finally took time yesterday to purge the lettuce gone to seed, I was able to take a closer look at the activity. It was as if a magic spell was cast upon my garden and my fairy godmother left behind a few things to surprise me.

A layer of gravel lays between my raised garden beds. It’s not unusual for random weeds to pop up and survive in this bone dry rocky dirt. Over the weeks, I watched as unusual “weeds” randomly sprouted. I did not pull them out, thinking they might be dandelions. Yesterday their identity was revealed – they are Italian Chicory from last winter’s garden. How amazing that they rooted themselves in gravel, amid serious neglect and are now growing tall dark green stems! Even though I am surprised, these guys found a place to camp that mirrors their native southern Italy with its dry, arid weather. This was one of my favorite plants last year as it finished off its cycle with profuse periwinkle blue blossoms that continued to bloom into May. These squatters can stay as long as they like.

I would never have guessed that Italian Chicory could survive in a land of gravel.

I would never have guessed that Italian Chicory could survive in a land of gravel.

The leaves of my hidden beets are so pretty, I admired them, (and ate their leafy green tops all winter) longer than I should have. As I finally plucked them from the earth, they emerged as veggies on steroids, at least twice their normal size. Lesson learned. These will be pickling beets – ginger pickled – to be enjoyed for weeks to come.

Heirloom beets with an attitude!

Heirloom beets with an attitude!

As I made my way to the back fence to check on my grapes, all I could do was gasp. My severe pruning last fall paid off and now the vines are reaching over the fence. The best surprise – teeny, tiny clusters of lime green infant grapes clinging to the tendrils! It was as if they grew a foot overnight. Summer fruits awaits.

I love the delicious green grape leaves that will soon decorate the length of my fence.

I love the delicious green grape leaves that will soon decorate the length of my fence.

It’s time to plant tomatoes and I am in love once again! Thank you my gardening fairy godmother for continuing to keep me dazzled and inspired.

“However many years she lived, Mary always felt that ‘she should never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow’.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Ciao for now! Love,

Mary




A Spontaneous Dinner Party

My friends Meghan and Nick devouring the shitake mushrooms al' Italiana

My friends Meghan and Nick devouring the shiitake mushrooms italiano

Sometimes you just need to get out of the norm. Last night I planned a dinner party but did not plan the menu, hence a spontaneous dinner! I prefer to cook “with” friends rather than “for” friends.

Cooking together is such a personal experience. You get to spend quality time with people you like and share great food and wine. Food definitely speaks to people’s souls and activates openness in communication at a deeper level than any way I know.

When my young friends, Meghan and Nick asked me if I would show them a few ways to expand their vegetarian repertoire, I eagerly agreed. Assisting me with this event was Eva, a fabulous cook and bread baker, with a brilliant mind for improvising. Instead of just sharing my favorite recipes, I thought it would be fun to do a spontaneity themed dinner. By this I mean, have lots of great ingredients on hand, a few ideas to get started, then let the creativity flow. And flow it did into an explosion of flavors and colors.

Farm fresh ingredients, a zingy dressing and a mouthful of flavor.

Farm fresh ingredients, a zingy dressing and a mouthful of flavor.

Here’s what we started with and how it played out for a delicious spring dinner.

Our ingredients: Fennel, spinach, zucchini, red peppers, red onions, yellow onions, garlic, shallots, fresh basil, beets, yellow pear tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, parsley, oranges, feta cheese, walnuts, pine nuts, garbanzo beans, Dijon mustard, breadcrumbs and LOTS of great olive oil.

For starters I share a shiitake mushroom appetizer my Italian friend taught me. We ate them so fast that I almost forgot to take a photo!

Delectable, easy appetizer with a happiness factor included for free!

Delectable, easy appetizer. They go quickly so make lots!

Drizzle the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Place about 12 medium shiitake mushrooms (for four people) on the dish, stems straight up. Drizzle more olive oil on top, sprinkle with a generous amount of finely chopped garlic and parsley, sprinkle with salt and top with breadcrumbs. A final drizzle of oil on top, then pop into a 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Eat hot right out of the oven when preparing the other courses.

These mushrooms seriously make everybody happy!

These mushrooms seriously elicit the happiness factor in us all!

Eva approves!

Eva approves!

The rest of the dinner unfolded like we were following a recipe, but we weren’t. Fresh fennel, sliced thin, combined with orange slices, sliced red onion, chopped parsley, and Eva’s vinaigrette made with mandarin orange olive oil and the juice of the orange. This was the favorite, next to the shiitake!

The fennel salad gets a final drizzle of orange vinaigrette.

The fennel salad gets a final drizzle of orange vinaigrette.

My beet harvest consisted of one giant beet. Yes, I planted about 20 seedlings I grew from seeds, but only one survived.

The ruby lines of my beet sing of nature's simplicity.

The ruby lines of my beet sing of nature’s simplicity.

I ended up with the biggest beet ever and sliced it thinly into rings, then roasted them. Next I cut the beet slices into triangles and made a “pickle” of white balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar, bay leaf, peppercorns and a dash of olive oil. This would be the heart of a spinach salad.

Our array of ingredients for the spinach and beet salad.

Our array of ingredients for the spinach and beet salad.

To beef up the salad we added garbanzo beans, walnuts and halved yellow pear tomatoes. The dressing came from the pickling marinade.

Colorful, healthy and infused with flavor.

Colorful, healthy and infused with flavor.

For a main entrée, we decided on a roasted veggie pasta. The propane on my grill breathed its final breath so I ended up grilling the veggies on the stove. We grilled onions, red peppers and zucchini and tossed them with penne pasta, chunks of pecorino cheese, fresh basil and a generous amount of basil olive oil. Most of us also dressed our personal bowls of pasta with a generous splash of garlic olive oil. Delicioso!

In my opinion, you can never add too much olive oil!

In my opinion, you can never add too much olive oil!

Sharing good food, friendships and laughter is always good for the soul.

Sharing good food, friendships and laughter is always good for the soul.

For dessert, I had prepared my favorite go-to lemon olive oil cake with fresh strawberries drenched in limoncello.

Get the recipe here: Lemon Olive Oil Cake

A moist cake with an almost herbal flavor from the fruity olive oil.

A moist cake with an almost herbal flavor from the fruity olive oil.

Such a whirlwind of activity, chatter and light-hearted fun. I really enjoy cooking this way and recommend it to anyone who wants to have a relaxing cooking experience, expand their mind and their culinary collection.

By the way, the olive oil I use, and love, is Galantino from the southern heel of Puglia in Italy. I will soon be importing these fine oils and have them for sale on my website.

Ciao and love for now!

Mary




The Beet Goes On

My first tomato of the season!

My first tomato of the season!

I’d love to step into Op’s shoes, or whatever goddesses wear on their feet. While perusing websites relating to my upcoming trip to Italy, I came upon a dictionary of goddesses. This one caught my attention. Ops, rumored to be married to Saturn, is “an agricultural goddess of abundance personifying the earth’s riches.”*

Ops is the Goddess of the Harvest and Opulence

Ops is the Goddess of the Harvest and Abundance

Today my mom and I were the Ops twins; she cleaning up my raised beds and harvesting beets, Swiss chard, peas and red cabbage and moi; filling holes dug by my dogs, planting a new baby bay laurel tree, staking up my berry vines and eternally weeding.

red cabbageFinally ready to harvest after 5 1/2 months of TLC.

My Ops Twin - Mom

My Ops Twin – Mom

Giggling and chatting away like two teenagers who just love spending time together, the work energized our souls. The golden warmth of the sun embraced my body, almost magically pulling me closer to the earth. I was the goddess of agriculture if only for a moment. It felt really good.

These brilliant chard stems were too gorgeous not to share.

These brilliant chard stems were too gorgeous not to share.

In honor of my beet harvest, I decided to make something out of my comfort zone. My neighbor, Ione, makes delicious pickled beets. In fact, she is the pickling queen, using vinegar for everything from octopus to fava beans.

Roasted in foil at 400 degress for about an hour.

Roasted in foil at 400 degrees for about an hour.

I asked for her recipe. Roast, peel, then slice or cube the beets, she replied. Top with balsamic vinegar, a bay leaf and a sprinkling of peppercorns. That’s it! Marinate a few hours or a few days. I marinated one batch with a traditional red balsamic vinegar and one with a white balsamic vinegar from The San Felipe Olive Oil Company who makes thick and delicious vinegars. It has a slight sweetness that I think marries well with the sugar in the beets.

My salade compose. The darker beets on the left were marinated in red balsamic vinegar and the beets on the right drank the white balsamic with a dash of pomegranate vinegar. The peas are freshly harvested and so tender, I decided not to cook them.

My salade composée. The darker, velvet-colored beets on the left were marinated in red balsamic vinegar and the pinker beets on the right drank the white balsamic with a dash of pomegranate vinegar. The peas are freshly harvested and so tender, I decided not to cook them. Drizzle with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. A beautiful lunch!

After harvesting nine large maroon rubies and roasting the root, there still remained the beet greens in plentitude. The leaves are tender and hold their shape when sautéed with olive oil, mushrooms and a shallot. For those whose taste buds require a softer taste in greens, or think the kales are too strong in flavor, try beet greens. You will be pleasantly surprised and by utilizing the entire plant, you are getting two veggies for the price of one!

A smart way to enjoy the greens and keep them fresh!

A smart way to enjoy the greens and keep them fresh!

As gardening connects the soul to the earth; cooking opens the soul to the arts; and believing expands the soul to the future. Mary Knight

Avec l’amour de ma maison à la vôtre, le bonheur et la bonne santé  (With love from my house to yours, happiness and good health)

Mary

* www.jesterbear.com/Aradia/goddesses.html#Diana

** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ops