Friday, August 31, 2012

Ratatouille My Way

I have to admit that I have never been a big fan of ratatouille.  Maybe it's because my mom's version has capers in it.  (No offense, Mom.)  You see, I do not like olives AT ALL, and while I tolerate a caper here or there, they remind me of olives, and I think that made it less appealing. But when the garden provided a zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes that needed to be used, it was all I could come up with on the spot, so I made some. 
And, I must also admit, that it was pretty damn good.  Maybe it was the fact that everything was fresh, or that they grew in my garden, or that I was the one making the ratatouille.  No matter.

There are lots of recipes out there, many with peppers, and capers, and sauce or tomato paste, but I kept this very simple.  It made enough for a side dish with dinner, and then was part of lunch for both of us for a couple of days.

Ratatouille My Way

one medium to large zucchini, sliced
one long, thin eggplant, sliced
three tomatoes, seeds removed and sliced
one onion, sliced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup basil, minced
1/2 cup parsley, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, minced

Side note: Look at how pretty this variety of zucchini is when sliced, with it's little ridges.  It has a really nice flavor, too.  It's called Costata Romano.

Roast the eggplant and zucchini slices with a little olive oil in the oven at 450 for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, slice the onion and cook slowly over medium low for 15-20 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir for one minute.  Add the tomatoes and let them cook for 5 minutes.  Add the eggplant and zucchini and herbs, and cook for about 5 minutes. 

I prefer it served warm, with good bread, but you can also serve it at room temperature.

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Late Blight on the Tomatoes

A little time has passed and I'm feeling like I'm ready to talk about it. 

At first, I was in denial.  I noticed some spots on the lower leaves of a few tomato plants, and did a little Googling.  I thought it could be late blight, but it could also be a late blight imitator.  Sometimes drought stress causes leaves to spot, and we had been less frequent with our watering.  The trick to distinguishing one from the other is that drought stress will result in spots on the edges of the leaves, while late blight spots can show up anywhere.  And late blight will have a fuzzy white appearance to it. I didn't see anything fuzzy, so I waited.

After a week or so it became more clear.  (These spots didn't start at the edge of the leaves.)

And, then things progressed.

The fruit started to show tell-tale signs of infection.
And I was very sad.  All eight of the tomato plants in the upper garden were showing signs of late blight, and more Googling told me that the right thing to do would be to bag all of the infected plants and bring them to the dump.  Late blight is an airborne disease, and wind will spread it to my other tomato plants, and to my neighbors.  But then I read a little further and it seemed the woman who writes one of the gardening blogs I follow (Skippy's Vegetable Garden) was suffering similarly, and she had decided to remove as many of the diseased leaves as possible, and leave the tomatoes to ripen.  She also sprayed with an organic copper fungicide to slow the spread of the disease.  I've bought some, but I have to admit I haven't used mine yet.

We removed many of the diseased leaves, and some of the tomatoes that were beyond saving, and we decided to wait.  This is what our upper garden looks like today.

This is what it looked like just a few short weeks ago.

There are a few tomatoes that don't have any blight damage, yet.  I'm waiting for them to ripen just enough so I can pick them and let them finish the job inside.  (I put them on the windowsill with fine results, though there are lots of other ways to do it, apparently better ways.) Other tomatoes have a little damage, but you can still eat the remaining, healthy part of the tomato with no ill effects.  For some of the gigantic tomatoes, I've sliced off a big hunk and still had plenty of large, healthy looking slices. 

What else have I learned?
  • The late blight won't overwinter in our garden.  It can only survive on live plant tissue.  Still, rotating crops (three years is ideal) is always good practice for preventing other diseases from coming back.
  • Late blight won't effect the seeds.  I can still save the seeds from some of the ripe tomatoes and have healthy tomatoes next year. 
  • Late blight spreads by air, usually during wet, humid summers.  It has definitely been a very humid summer here.  This is also another reason to water at the base of the plant, and in the morning, so the plants dry in the sun during the day.
  • You can prevent late blight by spacing your plants far apart, giving them plenty of air circulation, room to breathe.  We did not do that.
The University of Massachusetts Extension has a great late blight fact sheet, as does Cornell.

The five tomato plants in our lower garden are showing some signs of blight on the leaves, but we've been picking them off and it's been slower to spread, thanks to the mostly dry weather.  The fruit looks okay, so far.  This is where I should be spraying the copper fungicide, to preserve what I can.  I will do that today.

In the meantime, we still have lots of tomatoes to use up, and I've been trying out some new recipes.  I'll share a few soon. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

We Grew a Zucchini!

Most people who grow zucchini complain about having an excess, but we're proud to have produced one.  And there's at least one more that's looking like it'll be ready for picking in a day or so.  I don't know what to attribute it to, but I am curious as to whether or not this guy had something to do with it.

Can you see the snake coiled up in the middle there?  I was not at all happy to see him, and obviously didn't want to get close enough to take a good photo (and was too nervous to think about using the zoom).  Maybe he ate the cucumber beetles (though I still see some) or maybe the wilt disease ran it's course.  No matter.  We will enjoy what we can get.  We had a quick zucchini sauté (courtesy of Smitten Kitchen) alongside a piece of fish the other night.  Just sauté a couple tablespoons of sliced almonds in a couple tablespoons of olive oil for a couple of minutes, then add julienned zucchini and cook for a couple minutes more, and top with salt, pepper, and a little grated parmesan cheese.  You can skip the cheese, but we really thought it added something.  It's amazing how delicious something so simple can be. 

So, that's the good news.  The bad news is that more than half of our tomatoes have succumbed to late blight, and it has probably spread to the five plants that remain in the lower garden. 

Devastated.  Heartbroken.  Too soon to talk about it.  I'll share the terrible details when I'm ready.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Rainy-Day BLTs

It doesn't have to be a rainy day to eat these- I'd eat one every day if I could- but there were two key factors that went into making this meal possible.  One: It is August and we have delicious, flavorful tomatoes growing in our backyard.  And, two: It was raining, ruling out all of the other outdoor possibilities with which one likes to fill a summer Saturday, and making turning on the oven to cook bacon a not-so-crazy idea.  It was as if the stars aligned for prime sandwich making. 

Check out these babies:

And, just in case their size doesn't immediately impress you:

That's a Gold Medal on the left, and a Brandwine on the right.  I'm not sure what the reason is, but a few of the first tomatoes in our garden are gigantic.  Those growing above them are more normal-sized, waiting patiently for these monstrosities to ripen so they can have their turn.

First, I assembled my ingredients:
fresh tomatoes
fresh lettuce
thick-cut bacon
bakery white bread

The bacon went into the oven (I use an inverted grill pan over a cookie sheet, so the grease drips away from the bacon) at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

I sliced the tomatoes, and sampled liberally.

I washed the lettuce, a mix of Baby Romaine and Butterhead from the pots in our yard.

And, I sliced and toasted the bread, from the amazing Cape Cod bakery, Pain D'Avignon.

Each slice of bread (top and bottom) got a thin coat of mayo, and then I put it all together.  Lettuce first, then three slices of bacon, halved, per sandwich.

And then the tomatoes, seasoned with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

And then it was time to eat.

Happy tummies.  This was my "project" while Matt and his dad were working on the bathroom upstairs.  Were you wondering what ever happened to our bathroom?  Yes, it's still there.  Much like making BLTs, working in a hot upstairs bathroom isn't usually the first choice for a summer Saturday, but the rain made that possible, too.  There are still some loose ends to tidy up and then there's lots of painting to do, but I hope we'll be able to share some photos soon. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dinner from the Garden

The time has finally come.  The tomatoes are starting to ripen, the eggplant are still doing their thing, and we can actually make a meal out of things from the garden.  Those are Brandywine tomatoes at the top, a few Black Cherry, and a couple not-so-big Big Boys.  There's also a pale Fairy Tale eggplant, a couple of Orient Express eggplants, and plenty of basil.  We've still got lots of varieties of tomatoes to try once they're ready, and I'm looking forward to lots of tomato salad and BLTs over the next month, and hopefully longer.

Last night I made a very simple sauce by sautéing a few cloves of our homegrown garlic in a puddle of olive oil, adding eggplant, salt and pepper, and toward the end, fresh chopped tomatoes and basil.

It looked like this:

And we ate it over raviolis, topped with parmesan.  Parsley would have been a nice touch, but I'm just thinking of that now.  Fresh and delicious.

Have a happy weekend!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Mid-August Garden

Everything is in full swing.

The Upper Garden
There are 8 tomato plants in there, the tallest of which (Black Cherry), is over 7 feet.

The Lower Garden
There are 5 tomato plants on stakes in the back (the tallest of which is, again, Black Cherry).  The basil on the left is elbow height, and in front of that there are 3 peppers (2 out of 3 with one pepper growing on each so far), and then our two prolific eggplants in front of those.  The zucchini on the right overcrowded and shaded the cucumbers so they never grew, but they probably never stood a chance, because they're prone to the same sad disease(s) the zucchini harbor.  The plants look healthy from a distance, but we haven't eaten a zucchini yet, and we probably won't.  Some would say I should have pulled the plants, but I'm still hoping for a miraculous come back.  I think it's bacterial wilt, brought on by the yellow and black striped cucumber beetles I just can't seem to shake.  Little zucchini do form, but then they rot before they grow.

The Good:

Black Cherry

Ripening Brandywine
The Bad:

Sick Zucchini

Bacterial wilt?
And, the Future:


I also planted carrots, beets, cilantro, kale and swiss chard.  We'll see what happens!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Surprise Plant Tricks

Once upon a time, my sister brought me an abandoned plant that she found on the side of the road.  I accepted it into my home, but sentenced it to a not-so-bright corner of the dining room, far from other plants, in case it carried bugs or disease. 

A few months later it bloomed.

I used my internet sleuthing capabilities and advice from family members to determine that it was possibly an orange jasmine

A leaf close-up:

For a couple of years now, I've kept it alive by watering it once a week, and periodically wondering if there's a better spot for it, but ultimately deciding that it's just too big for any place where it would get a good amount of light.  And in another week, I'd water it again.

But now, it's got my attention. As if to say, "Hey, I'm not chopped liver, look what I can do," the sad looking plant produced this last week.

Is it a lime?  A lemon? More internet sleuthing has found lime and lemon trees that look very similar.  But I've also found that the orange jasmine (a healthy one, anyway) produces little red fruits, which start out green.  This thing is half the size of a lime, though, so I'm hoping it's something edible.  And I'm starting to think that the leaves and blossoms look more like those in the lime and lemon tree link above, than an orange jasmine.  I guess we'll have to wait and see. 

Of course, now we're going to need to build a greenhouse to give this plant a proper spot. 

I hope you have a weekend filled with fun surprises!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cooking with Japanese Eggplant

Much like last year, the eggplant and tomatoes are doing well, but the cucumbers and zucchini are not.  I'll discuss the woes another time, but right now, we are enjoying the eggplant.  We're growing two varieties this year- Orient Express and Fairy Tale- after having great success with our first year of little Fairy Tales in 2011.  Both plants are looking great, and producing eggplant that needs to be picked every few days. 
Orient Express

Fairy Tale

For no good reason, I feel the need to use the Fairy Tale in Italian recipes, and I'm trying to experiment with the Orient Express in Asian fare.  Last night I pulled out a recipe a friend once gave me, from her Indian cooking class. 

Bengan Bharta

1 large eggplant (I used 2 Japanese)
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 green chilies, diced (I removed half the seeds and ribs)
1/2" piece of ginger, minced (I was more generous)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro (I was more generous)
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1 Tablespoon dhana-jira power (1/2 cumin, 1/2 coriander)
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons oil

The recipe calls for peeling the eggplant, but I didn't because the skins on the fresh picked eggplant are really tender.  I cut it into bite-size pieces, and steamed it for about 4 minutes, though you can roast it for a smokier flavor, and then mash it.

While you're cooking the eggplant, chop the vegetables.

Heat the oil in a frying pan.  When hot, add onions and green chiles. Stir for half a minute.  Add ginger and garlic and stir for 2-3 minutes.  Add tomatoes and half the cilantro and cook for one minute.  Add all the spices and mix well.

Add the eggplant and cook until it is completely heated through.  Sprinkle remaining cilantro on top.  It can be served with hot bread (someday I'd like to try making this homemade naan), as a dip, or I serve it with basmati rice.

I'm on the lookout for more eggplant recipes.  This won't be the last one you'll see.  If you have suggestions, send them my way!

P.S. I'm hoping we'll soon be able to cook with our own garden tomatoes alongside the eggplant.  The first is just starting to ripen.  These are "Big Boy" though they are not very big.

but there are plenty more of all colors and sizes, coming soon.
Black Cherry

Rosso Sicilian

Green Zebra

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hibiscus in Bloom

We split this plant from my in-laws last spring.  It's huge and very reliable with its gigantic flowers in August.

These flowers are bigger than my hand.

I was told it was a hibiscus, but I have no idea what kind.  I went online to try to identify it and some of the images I found of Swamp Mallow looked the same.  A lovely name. 

It seems there's two types of hibiscus we can grow here in Zone 6.  One is a shrub- Althea or Rose of Sharon- and the other is a hardy perennial that dies back to the ground every winter.  That's what we've got. 

The buds look like this

and the flowers last only a day or so before they fall off, but just as many are opening as the others drop.

What amazes me is how big it gets- approximately 6 feet by 6 feet- starting from scratch again every year. 

Swamp Mallow can also be called Rose Mallow, which I think I prefer.  More flattering, don't you think?

We've got a second plant near the lower vegetable garden, but it's more shaded and doesn't grow as big.  I think I'll move it to a sunnier spot for next year.

I hope you all had a beautiful weekend!