Monday, March 22, 2010

Garden Salad

The first of the fennel came ready this week.  The bulbs are still really small, but the color and the soft, wispy greens are truly beautiful.  I went out into the garden to harvest cauliflower for my Auntie Hannah's pasta, and was inspired to make a small salad to go with the meal.  I plucked up one of the larger fennel bulbs, snipped a bunch of new growth from one of the parsley plants, and picked a few bright nasturtium flowers.  Just a few things I passed in the patch that jumped out at me in the moment. 

Onto a dinner plate, I used my japanese ceramic slicer to thinly shave the fennel.  On top of the fennel, I layered the roughly chopped parsley and torn flower petals.  I sprinkled it with sea salt and fresh pepper, our "good" olive oil, and a healthy squeeze of lemon. Done.

The quick bit of inspiration from the garden was fresh, crispy, cool, and a fun combo of flavors.  It went well with the savory pasta and, as Jeremy was quick to comment, was super pretty! 

So definitely not so much a "garden salad" garden salad.  More just a salad from our garden.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cauliflower Pasta from the Rancho

Several years ago my mom described to me, in great detail, a meal that she had eaten at my aunt and uncle's house.  A simple pasta dish, but one that she had found so surprising and delicious that she couldn't stop talking about it.  My Aunt Hannah had cooked down loads of onions on the stove top until they were soft and sweet, and then added very roughly chopped cauliflower.  After the the veg had cooked awhile, she seasoned it with salt and crushed red pepper, mixed it with penne pasta, and topped it with grated pecorino romano cheese.  It sounded fine, I thought, but not necessarily warranting this extent of my mom's praise.  I decided I would have to make it myself to see what the fuss was all about.  My mom couldn't have been more right.  The dish was simple, with few ingredients, but highly delicious.  Not overly rich like macaroni and cheese or alfredo sauce, but creamy and flavorful, and really satisfying.  It quickly became a favorite.  It also set cauliflower as an absolute given in our garden.  Despite attracting colonies of dusky, gray aphids to our vegetable beds, I have increased the number of seeds sown each year.  Last night, in celebration of getting to spend more time in the garden after work now with day light savings, I harvested our first two heads of the season and made my aunt's delicious dish.

Ultimately, I found out that my aunt had adapted it after seeing Mario Batali prepare it - on television I think.  Following is my interpretation of hers.

Auntie Hannah's Cauliflower Pasta

  • red onions, 4 large - cut into 1/8 inch half moons
  • cauliflower, 2 large head - cut roughly into large chunks
  • flat leaf parsley, 1/2 cup or more - chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon - I like long strips, but grated could work, too
  • crushed red pepper flakes - I like quite a lot, but to your own taste
  • salt
  • good olive oil
  • Pecorino Romano, or other salty, hard cheese -1 cup grated
  • Penne or fusilli, 1 bag

1.  Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.
2.  Add onions.  Sprinkle on a couple hearty pinches of salt to get them going.  
     (It seems like way too much, but they will cook down significantly.)
3.  Cook 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and beginning to color.
4.  Add cauliflower. Stir to combine. Continue cooking until cauliflower softens to desired bite.  

note:  The softer it is, the creamier/saucier the dish turns out.  We like some whole pieces of cauliflower left.  I usually cook it at this phase for 20-25 minutes.  The smaller pieces break down, with the larger pieces staying whole and more firm.

5.  While cauliflower is cooking, heat salted water and cook pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving some pasta water.

6.  When cauliflower is softened, add pepper flakes, zest, and parsley.  Stirring gently to combine.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt if needed.
7.  Add pasta. Add in stages, until you have the ratio of veg to pasta that you prefer. (I don't usually use quite all of the pasta.)  Gently combine.
8.  Add cheese.  Combine.  Use reserved pasta water if you need to loosen the dish to desired consistency.
9.  Serve.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Yard Projects

middle patio - before

The new goal is to complete all of our yard infrastructure by Summer.  A couple of Fridays ago I made significant progress towards this end by completing our middle patio.  A month ago I dug down and leveled the patio, hauled the excess dirt to various other areas of the yard and moved 10 or so wheel barrow loads of gravel base.  The following weekend I moved the remaining sand as well as the pavers that we had left after finishing our patio.  To finish the area off, I leveled the pavers (24"x24" 'Broadway Pavers' from Bourget Brothers) and bought and moved the gravel (14, 100lb bags of 3/4"-1/2" Del Rio gravel from Throop).

middle patio - gravel base 2/13

middle patio - complete (mostly) 2/27

My next step is to finish edging and dressing the top of the vegetable bed broken concrete walls:

dressing concrete

After that I will finish the planter south of the patio, which includes weeding, drips for the future fruit trees, painting the fence, finishing and setting the electrical pullbox, backfilling and dressing the top of the broken concrete wall.  This area will get a nice healthy layer of mulch - one thing I wish I had done comprehensively over our yard a long time ago.

planter south of patio

Next, clean, final grade and plant out of the middle hill:

middle hill - almost ready for succullents

Then the lower patio:

lower patio - lots of work needed here

Lastly, there is the lawn area as well as the lower planting beds.  We also need to figure out where the chicken coop is going...