Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Green Harvest Soup

Good Day Folks,

Most of these ingredients are available now from your local farmers market vendors. If you are not yet a locavore check out your local farmers markets for the freshest produce.

I adapted this from a recipe I saw in better homes and gardens. Since I am not overly fond of cooked spinach, I chose a sweet potato over a regular potato to sweeten the soup — worked beautifully and the arugula adds just a nice amount of nutty bite.

1 large shallot, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons - 1 tablespoon dried Herbes de Provence or Italian herb blend
1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 cups defatted chicken stock - homemade is best - can substitute vegetable
1 large sweet potato, cleaned, peel left on, chopped
1 package (approx 4 cups) baby spinach (or mixed greens), rinsed well and dried - set aside 1 cup, torn into bite size pieces
1 cup arugula, torn into bite size pieces
Parmesan cheese curls
edible flowers for garnish (I used pansies, calendula petals and sweet alyssum)
baguette slices
salt to taste

Notes: I used spinach, shallot, onion, and sweet potato from the One Windmill Farm and the excellent seeded baguette from Classico Italian Breads. The arugula and edible flowers came from my gardens.

In a heavy pot, melt butter and olive, add shallot, onion and dried herbs and saute on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the stock and sweet potato, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook covered until the sweet potato is tender, about 10 minutes. Begin adding all the spinach (except for the reserved 1 cup) a little at a time until incorporated and wilted. Remove from heat and let sit to cool for about 5 minutes.

I used an immersion (stick) blender, but you can use a regular blender or food processor to puree the soup. Careful! Don't burn yourself - I do love my immersion blender - once you get the hang of it you are not dirtying another container (blender)*.

Taste the pureed soup for salt - you should not need to add any or only a very little.

Ladle into soup bowls, top with a bit of reserved spinach and arugula, edible flowers and cheese curls, and serve with baguette slices.

There are so many healthy benefits to these foods, it is almost a sin to not serve it whenever they are available from your local growers.

*Immersion blenders take only a minute to learn to use and about 2 minutes to do the job! First have your pot of hot whatever off of the burner — make sure the wand is locked on. Plug it in, and dip the blade all the way to the bottom of the pot, holding upright. Use the lowest setting - press and hold and begin to move the wand around near the bottom of the pot, side to side - do not raise it above the top of the liquid or you will have it all over the place. As I say, it will only take a minute to get the hang of it - move side to side and in a circular motion to make sure you are getting all the solids pureed. Release the button and you can now lift the wand - make sure there are no solids hanging out of the slots on the blade cover. Viola - you have pureed the soup in under 2 minutes.

Find more recipes like this one in my book "101+ Recipes from The Herb Lady"

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, February 16, 2009

Frost Burn Damage - Ugly but Healthy!

Good Day Folks,

In the desert we have two types of direct weather related damage — frost damage (really a kind of ‘burn') and sun burn. Both do identical injury to the plants and both should be dealt with in similar fashion.

First — Don't touch the damage until the danger is over! If you are a gardener more interested in beauty than longevity of the plant, you should probably be gardening only with ornamentals, although you will miss the shear pleasure of harvesting your own bounty from your own gardens, while enjoying their beauty most of the year.

Unless we have a severe weather experience, most frost ‘burn' or sun burn are on the top of the plant only, and the damaged, dried out portions provide protection to the lower healthy foliage and fruit. If you cut the damage off before the danger is over it is like exposing new baby skin to full sun or cold - the damage will be greater and you could lose the plant.

Second — watch for new growth below the damaged area, sometimes beginning at the soil level, but often beginning at branching areas. This is a good indication that you can start the pruning process and that the frost danger is over.

Third — once the danger is over, you can begin pruning off the dead branches a "little" at a time — DO NOT cut it all off at once — give the protected growth time to acclimate to the sun and air by working around the plant pruning off about a fourth or fifth of the plant then waiting a day or two and do the next section — it should take you about a week to do all the pruning.

Some plants grown here in the desert such as basil or tomato, which you have successfully wintered over with cloth protection, will take a bit longer to get started — their growth is triggered by the warming soil, not just the lack of frost, so watch FIRST for that new growth at the base or nodes of the plant, before beginning to prune.

As we move into the warmer temps of spring, keep that water meter handy for checking soil moisture content.

Welcome to spring in the desert!

Accuweather is a great site for getting detailed weather forecast info by zipcode. — you can sign up to receive a 5-day brief forecast and go to the site for detailed long range (15 day) information.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

P.S. With the rains we have had this year, we should have a spectacular wild flower display in the desert. To find out where wild flowers are showing up now and later on click here for the desertusa site.