Ah, another tax day. Regardless of your political persuasion or tax bracket, tax day tends to sting a little. But at least we are still alive to see another one. And I guess it makes sense that tax day is in spring (can you imagine it in the dead of winter? Ugh.). The day may feel a bit black, but all you need to do is look outside and you can find a few flowers to bring some welcome color back to your life. And these flowers are free. So here is a little early “refund” from all of us here at the farm. Now go find, and enjoy, some flowers of your own…..
Ah, fennel. We have a special relationship with this spring veggie here at the farm. Not only do we grow it, but our Caramelized Fennel recipe somehow ended up as one of the most popular on the web and brings us plenty of visitors. Why? Dunno…but we are certainly happy about it (again, thanks to Alice Waters, we really just riffed on her recipe).
It’s funny, but as far as Google is concerned Putney Farm is a place where people mostly eat fennel and mix drinks. And while that doesn’t sound all bad, we can assure you there are other things going on than cooking fennel…
Regardless, we do love our fennel, and while caramelizing is our go-to cooking method, there are other ways to enjoy these funky anise-flavored bulbs. The key thing to remember about fennel is that it loses much of the anise flavor when cooked, and the same cooking will bring out some of the fennel’s natural sugars. In the end, you often get flavors and textures that will remind you of roasted or fried eggplant. And we think that is a good thing.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that along with caramelizing fennel, an approach like eggplant parmesan will yield very tasty results. And we found a recipe to adapt from “Vegetable Literacy” by Deborah Madison, that heads in just this direction, Fennel al Forno.
In this recipe you cook fennel and aromatics in a broth of fennel seeds, thyme, saffron, tomato paste and chicken (or vegetable) stock. Then you put the fennel in a gratin dish, add some mozzarella and parmesan cheese and bake the whole thing. Sounds good, huh?
And it is good. Very good. The rich tomato-saffron broth accents the sweet fennel, the cheese adds more richness and texture while the slight anise notes balance the flavors. This dish works very well as a side, but you can also serve it as a light lunch on toasted brown bread (this is now a household favorite).
Well, we never really got winter this year in Norcal. We did get some rain, and may get some more, but what we call “cold and wintry weather” (but really isn’t) never arrived. I guess it was sucked in by the polar vortex. Once the rains came, the plants came roaring back to life. The bees are working the wisteria, the roses are about to burst, hummingbirds are sprinting from flower to flower and the bluebirds flicker in the sun. We will take it.
Meanwhile, in the garden the greens look beautiful (taste good, too) and the blueberries are in flower. We have fennel everywhere and the artichokes are sending up canes. The herb garden seems to double in size every day (at least the mint). Excellent.
In the orchard, this is our favorite time of year. The citrus is at its best, with Meyer and Eureka lemons and Cara-cara oranges all looking and tasting lovely. Some seem to make their way into a few cocktails. And the stone fruit trees are starting to flower. Nothing prettier in the world….So much for winter. We will gladly take the spring.
Kauai is known as the “Garden Isle”, and for good reason. It rains. A lot. Over many consecutive
weeksdays. And then sometimes the sun comes out and all that rain seems worthwhile. Kauai is one of the greenest places on earth, but along with the green comes the flowers. And you don’t need to go far to find them.
Some of the flowers of Kauai are hidden treasures that require special knowledge and long, treacherous secret hikes. But most are there for all to see, on the sides of the road or even in your back yard. A quiet stroll in Kauai might just give you some of the best colors you will see in your lifetime….or you might just get rained on. It’s worth the risk.
We don’t take much to complaining here at the farm. Life is a blessing, and while things can (and do) go wrong all the time, we prefer to look at the positive. When its 75 degrees and sunny in late January, it’s hard to complain. When you still have mint in the garden, flowers, bees and hummingbirds, it’s hard to complain. And it is even harder to complain when we have tasty winter veggies and citrus thriving in the garden.
But this seemingly endless summer is a problem. Outside the fence line (and away from irrigation) California is brown and dry. Parched. We have a serious drought. And even for a state that always seems short on water, we are truly short right now. Usually California is green in winter and then brown in summer. It’s looking like a brown year.
It’s traditional in the south to serve slow-cooked, smoky collard greens to celebrate the New Year, and we are all for it. But frankly, collards are so good, we enjoy them any time we can get them. Here in California, that usually means winter after a frost. And while we have had almost no winter rains so far, it has gotten cold enough that we saw some collards at the farmers market. We bought a big batch, cooked them up for the New Years and are still enjoying them. We never seem to get enough greens.
Unfamiliar with collard greens? Basically a forerunner of kale (and in the same family) collards are big leafy greens with larger, rounder leaves than kale and with a bigger, earthier flavor. The main differences (that we know of) is that collards need to cook longer than most types of kale and loses its color a bit more during cooking. But the flavor is so rich, and so deep, that we prefer collards to kale for long slow cooking, particularly if pork is involved.