• Calm Before The Garden Storm

    Eggplant blossom.

    Eggplant blossom.

    Life is never really “stormy” here at the farm, or in our garden. But we are in our early season lull before our late summer “pop”. The blueberries, herbs and flowers are in full swing, but otherwise we are in a quiet period. Our cherries are long since gone, but the farmer’s market has more (we aren’t quite done with cherries, stay tuned). The strawberries are between crops, the peaches and nectarines are weeks away, the apples and pears are further out.

    prep2prep3But the tomatoes, squash, cukes, peppers and eggplant are coming, and when they come, they come on strong. If we have a good season (and that is a big “if”), the challenge will be keeping up with the tomatoes. This is a good problem to have, one we look forward to. Giving away tomatoes is a very good way to buy new friends and keep existing ones…and we aren’t above that sort of thing.

    prep4prep1But for now we wait, work and watch the bees in the flowers. It’s summer. The sun shines during the day, the stars sparkle at night and the garden has new surprises every morning. The storm is coming, but it will be welcomed with open arms.

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  • Tomato, Cheddar And Bacon Salad

    Tomato, Cheddar and Bacon Salad.

    Here in California, Indian summer is (finally) in full swing. This means we get a few weeks of end-of-season tomatoes, and we do try and make the most of them. As noted in the blog, we generally make Caprese salads with our tomatoes, or even match them with blue cheese for a tangy dish. But as we move toward fall, we like to match up the tomatoes with bigger, meatier flavors. Around here, that usually means adding bacon.

    And since we make our own bacon and need to use our ripe tomatoes, this dish pops-up regularly on our table. And if matching tomatoes and bacon, then cheddar cheese won’t be far behind (no, we don’t make our own cheese…yet). In fact, this salad is really a deconstructed version of one of our favorite versions of grilled cheese and/or filling for omelets. The sweet acidity of the tomato matches with the salty, crunchy bacon and the sharp, creamy cheddar cheese- a good range of flavors and textures. We also add some Italian parsley, oil, vinegar, seasoning and (optionally) a little hot sauce to round out the dish. This salad has a lot of flavor and will please a crowd.

    Making the salad is as easy as browning some bacon or pancetta, slicing tomatoes and grating cheese. But we do suggest a few things to make the most of the dish. Firstly, using a few varieties of tomatoes (we used purple Cherokee, Valencia and Sungolds) adds depth of flavor and texture. Secondly, be sure to use the best bacon you can get and cook until very crispy, the crunch adds a lot to the dish. Sharp cheddar cheese, white or orange, works best. Sherry vinegar plays very well with tomatoes, but cider vinegar will also work. A little heat will add a lot to the dish, if there is a hot sauce you like, a few dashes on the tomatoes will take this dish over the top. Finally, make the dish a few minutes ahead, allowing time for the cheese to reach room temperature and the flavors to meld is worth the wait.

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  • Simple Garden Recipes: Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

    Oven-roasted tomato sauce.

    Sometimes when we say “simple”, we really mean it. Ripe tomatoes, a little onion, some olive oil (bacon fat, if you like), salt and pepper. And some time (mostly inactive). What do you get? Sweet and tasty tomato sauce. And what about herbs and other seasonings? We’ll get there, bear with us….

    One of the keys for this sauce is taking the time to roast the tomatoes in the oven before you simmer them in the pot. The roasting caramelizes the tomatoes and adds more sweetness and complexity to the final sauce. The other key is using very ripe, even slightly overripe tomatoes- we just happen to have a bunch of our tomatoes and we need to use them. But many farmer’s markets will have late-season tomatoes, ask for their sweetest, ripe tomatoes. And go ahead and buy the ugly tomatoes- it’s all going into sauce anyway.

    Not necessary, but gets you a smooth texture.

    Making the sauce, as we noted, is easy. Roast the tomatoes (a lot of them). Meanwhile, add some olive oil and/or bacon fat to a big pot and sweat about half an onion. When the tomatoes roast and start to brown, remove them from the oven and add them (and any liquid) to the pot. Simmer at low heat for an hour, add a touch of water if the consistency gets too dry (don’t worry about dilution, plenty of flavor here). Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

    At this stage you have a choice. If you like a more “rustic” sauce with skins and seeds, just mash-up any large chunks with a wooden spoon and you’re done. If, like us, you like a smooth consistency there is a bit more work to do. We take an immersion blender to the sauce for a few seconds (a potato masher also works really well) and then strain the sauce through a mesh strainer to remove skins and seeds. We use a ladle to mash the sauce into the strainer to get as much sauce as we can. This sounds fussy, but it only takes 2-3 minutes and you do a get a smooth, glossy sauce. Your choice.

    Finally, how do we serve the sauce? This is where the sauce really shines. We use this sauce as a base and then do a quick cook with any other flavors we want to add, just before service. This time we browned a bit of home-cured bacon, added the sauce, a bit more pepper and a chiffonade of basil at the end. Yum. But a bit of garlic, thyme, oregano and olive oil would be great. Some Italian sausage? Excellent. You get the idea. So make this sauce and then add whatever you like, the sweet tomatoes are a great foundation to work from.

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  • Caprese Salad

    Caprese Salad. Sometimes simple is best.

    We feel a bit sheepish even posting this recipe, as the Caprese is as simple as it gets (and there are hundreds of recipes online). But we have our own tomatoes and basil, and a good source of local mozzarella, so this is what we are eating. Tomatoes/mozzarella/basil might be our favorite flavor combination, perhaps only matched by potatoes/fat/salt and butter/sugar/flour ;-) . We will eat this dish almost daily until the tomatoes run out…so might as well take some photos and write a post

    Just a few ingredients. But a variety of tomatoes and vinegars adds extra pop.

    And while the Caprese salad is a very common recipe, there are a few ways to make the most of the dish. Firstly, you need fresh ingredients. Ripe tomatoes and fresh basil are key, as is good quality mozzarella. If you have a good local producer of mozzarella, try their cheese. If not, ask a good cheesemonger for a recommendation, as there are good nationally distributed mozzarella. Secondly, adding salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar will add flavor and depth to the dish- without distracting from the core ingredients. Using two vinegars also brightens the flavor, we like sherry and balsamic vinegars, just not too much. Third, using a variety of tasty, ripe tomatoes provides more flavors and textures- and it looks good too (although most Caprese salads look good). UPDATE: And finally, as Stefan from Stefan’s Gourmet Blog (one of our faves) points out in the comments below, letting the cheese come to room temperature is a big help- it improves both the flavor and texture.

    We like the extra color on the plate.

    Arrange the tomatoes and season.

    We also suggest a few techniques to make the most of the salad. We season each layer as we build the salad, this sounds fussy, but you want salt and pepper on each tomato slice. And a chiffonade of basil combined with whole leaves provides the most basil aroma, which is hard to beat. A chiffonade is simply thin strips of herbs or leafy vegetables. To make a chiffonade, roll some basil leaves into a cylinder and then thinly slice crosswise into thin strips. The slicing will release more of that awesome basil perfume, but also discolors the basil somewhat, so it is best to make the chiffonade just before assembling and serving the dish.

    Add the basil.

    Add the cheese, oil and vinegar. Season and arrange the whole basil leaves. Serve.

    Served with seared skirt steak, a very nice dinner.

    And how do you serve a Caprese salad? Just about any way you want. This dish works as a starter, side salad, or even a main course. Put it between a few slices of bread and you have a great sandwich. We like to serve the Caprese as a large side salad along with a small serving of meat or fish- we are particularly fond of seared skirt steak with the Caprese. And while we love our cocktails, a good bright red or white wine will certainly go well with this dish. A sunny day doesn’t hurt either…

    Caprese Salad:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • Fresh, ripe tomatoes are key. If you don’t have them, don’t bother.
    • Fleur de sel or quality sea salt, with its crunch, is a good salt to use on this dish.

    What You Get: One of the best dishes in the world. Seriously.

    What You Need: No special equipment required. Just good ingredients.

    How Long? Five minutes or less. Slice, arrange, season and serve. Anytime dish when tomatoes are in season.

    Ingredients:

    (Serves 2 as a large salad, 4 as a side dish or starter)

    • 1 and 1/2 pounds of ripe tomatoes (3 large or 5-6 medium tomatoes)
    • 3/4 pound of fresh mozzarella cheese
    • 12 basil leaves
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
    • Kosher salt or fleur de sel
    • Fresh black pepper

    Assemble:

    1. Wash, core and slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch disks. Slice the cheese into 1/4 inch disks or break the cheese into small pieces. Layer tomato slices on a serving plate and season with the salt and pepper. Add half of the oil and vinegars.
    2. Chiffonade half of the basil leaves and scatter over the tomatoes. Evenly distribute the cheese over the tomatoes and basil. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle on the rest of the oil and the vinegars. Arrange the whole basil leaves on top of the cheese and serve.
  • Back To The Garden

    One sun sets….

    …but the garden has its own version of the sun.

    Our trip to the east coast is over. We are back in California. The air is warmer and drier. The water colder, but just as wet. And instead of other’s gardens and farms, we get to enjoy our own. It was a great trip, but we are glad to be home.

    Sungolds, good in just about everything.

    Macintosh apple coming in.

    Gravenstein apples showing their colors.

    The garden is about where we expected, but the progress always amazes. So much change in just a few weeks. The tomatoes, beans, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant are in full swing. The melons are on the cusp, and we are very excited that we have enough to experiment. The strawberries are in their prime and will produce for a few more months.

    The bees love the mint flowers. We are curious what impact, if any, on the honey.

    Potato blossom. Another crop coming soon.

    This is what happens to lettuces when they bolt. Oops.

    In the orchard, a few peaches are still out there and we will harvest them in a few days. The Comice pears and figs are coming along. And the Gravenstein and Macintosh apples are ripening. Summer is here, but we do feel fall around the corner.

    Our happy cucumber plant.

    The eggplant are thriving, we know its been hot.

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