Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Chew With Your Mouth Closed

Lately I've been commiserating with other gardeners about the crap "summer" we had this year, and about how various species underperformed or didn't at all, and about how hard it is to be us. And I've been grouchy and glum about how little I canned or pickled. We've begun buying some vegetables much earlier than in previous years, which I take personally as a sign of failure.

The last few days have been wonderfully mild, so I've been out pulling up dead things for compost and giving the living a little weeding and tidying up. Though frosts are regular now, the hardy stuff is thriving. And there is still a great deal of very good food in our garden. It's funny, really, that the act of saying something makes it seem real- even if it's not really true. And as it gets repeated, it supplants reality and settles in as a facet of a worldview. This is why there are Republicans. It's a trait well worth resisting, and exposure to actual reality is the best (only, really) cure. Hence my recent time in the garden has wiped away all my only partially-founded griping and replaced it with an earnest desire to wring as many worthy meals as I can from our piece of soil until more serious weather reduces it to a couple of meager beds cowering under plastic.

Our fall plantings of roots did not fare very well; the lack of sun impeded their growth so that the rutabagas and black radishes and the like are about thumb-sized. Still, though, there are a decent number of them, and a few of the daikon are not bad at all. A couple of days ago I took a little tour, pulling one or two nice specimens of each (also including chioggia beet, red radish, yellow and orange beets, and three colors of carrot). I also picked some kale, chard, and mustard to add to the root greens.

To begin, I had saved the water from pressure-cooking some of our dark beets a few days earlier. I warmed it, and whisked in some very good white miso. And that was it. Nothing else except a few scallion slices. Ridiculously sweet , savory, and comforting.

The roots I washed, cut, and simmered in dashi until they were al dente. I tossed them with tahini, miso, dashi, and kimchi brine plus about half a cup of leftover pinto beans in a nice thick sauce that I don't remember much about. The result was a rich, earthy, satisfying salad.

I had also pulled some leeks, which I caramelized with button mushrooms, then deglazed with white wine and soy sauce. Lots of fresh parsley. Good.

And all those root and other greens got a blanch, drain, and twist in a towel to make oshitashi. I sauced the rolls pretty hard with homemade ponzu. More interesting than just spinach.

Here's an example of another meal, from tonight:

This one centered around a nice hunk of monkfish, but began with another tour of the garden. Potatoes, this time, and a celery root, and lots of carrots. More leeks. I simmered potatoes, leeks, celery root, onion, and yellow carrot in turkey phở from the freezer and then blended it all silky smooth. I neglected to strain it, since we were hungry, but the leftovers I probably will. A good fall soup, and endlessly variable.

More carrots, sliced on a mandoline and then kneaded with salt until tender made a salad. After rinsing and squeezing them, I added ponzu, good unfiltered olive oil, scallions, and pepper. Very addicitve, but like totally good for you.

One of the many joys of a garden is the random little bits and pieces that do not by themselves constitute enough to make a dish, but can be inspiring garnishes. I like to wrap monkfish, since half a fillet is a nice cylindrical shape, so I used a sheet of kombu I simmered in with the roots for a minute. Then I gently cooked the rolls in a little bacon fat until the fish was firm throughout. For a sauce, just a spoon of phở and a little of the smoked salsa I made last weekend. I finished them with flowers and seed pods from some bolted Asian cabbage, which had a nice fresh mustardy note and were much too pretty to throw on the compost.

Lots of deeply flavored, super clean small dishes. This is what you can eat if you shut up and let the garden talk for a change.


The Spiteful Chef said...

You have such nice dishes, Peter. When are you gonna make me one, huh? HUH??

Anyway, this looks more like the good ol' Peter we know and love. Good to see you're feeling more like yourself again.

Zoomie said...

Love that etched glass bowl - it has an old fashioned air that appeals. And, of course, your own are also beautiful in a very different way.

Anonymous said...

Summer hasn't been very good on my side either. Didn't pickle much and i have no jams/fruit preserves. We got crap produce this year.

Your monkfish wrapped in kombu made me think of Sabazushi i had in Kyoto recently. Pickled mackerel, pickled ginger and sushi rice wrapped in kombu. Loved it. Nice creative flow coming from your kitchen. As always!

Brooke said...

Nothing depresses me quite like having to pay good money for produce. I feel your pain. But on the bright side, you make excellent use of the somewhat-poorly-developed garden stragglers. Kudos there.

peter said...

Kristie: There's a kiln full of new ones, almost ready to fire. Can't say any are destined for TX.

Zoomie: Those were my Grandfather's; he collected guilloché glass and we're lousy with it.

M. Zen: I read about your trip. I am insanely jealous and mad that you didn't invite me.

Brooke: There's more, too- it's all about proceeding from the assumption that dinner is coming from the garden.