Fresh from the Garden
The sun is shining brightly and most of the humidity has disappeared, at least for the day. But that humidity did a world of wonder for many vegetables in my garden.
The green and yellow bush beans are blossoming, many of the tomato plants have growing fruit, and the cucumbers and gourds are beginning to send out vines.
It’s a fabulous time of year. We enjoy a huge variety of lettuces in our daily salads, sometimes with red, zesty radishes and a couple of the growing fresh onions. Soon, real tomatoes will be added to the mix. I’m so pleased that my butter lettuce is producing so well. It’s so tender and subtly sweet that it’s my favorite. The spinach leaves are still tender and the beet greens are about to be harvested. With so much healthy produce just waiting for the picking, this is my very favorite time of the growing season.
Soon, if I’m lucky and everything continues to grow and produce, I’ll be spending many hours in a hot kitchen canning tomatoes, beans, beets, corn, tomato juice, and who knows what else. I hope to freeze broccoli and Brussels sprouts and make sauerkraut from some of the cabbages.
But just for now, the produce I pick is used that very same day. Although lettuces in the supermarkets have improved substantially over the years, nothing beats the greens picked fresh from the garden and eaten within an hour or two.
It’s so much fun to wander in the garden to decide what our green salad will be for supper. Sometimes it’s all red lettuce, other times, all green, and still other times, it’s a combination of what looks good. Add a few tender spinach leaves and maybe a couple of small, tender beet or turnip greens (for zing), a fresh onion or two, maybe a few baby carrots, and for even more zest, several chopped up nasturtium leaves. Top it all off with some blooming pansies. They are edible, too.
If I’m feeling extravagant, I may add half a jar of cut-up artichoke hearts and a little of the juice. A fresh green salad calls for a light dressing so all that freshness will come through.
The simplest dressing is made from two-thirds oil (canola, vegetable, or olive) and one-third vinegar (cider or wine). Add salt and pepper, a few sprinkles of garlic powder or very finely minced garlic cloves. Stirring in a teaspoon or two of poppy seeds adds calcium and flavor. Other fresh herbs may be added, according to taste.
If fresh dill or basil are available, stir in one of those. I’m almost always successful with my curly and Italian parsley crops, so I usually chop up a few of their leaves, too, which adds lots of vitamins. Salads don’t get any better than these during the months of July, August, September, and if I’m lucky, October. I start lettuce either in the garden or in a pot about every two weeks so we’ll have fresh lettuce almost until the snow blows.
And this year, I plan to try growing some inside, under grow lights.
Hot summer weather calls for easy, nutritious lunches and suppers. In a few weeks, the cucumbers will start coming in. One of our favorite salads or sandwiches simply combines a can of drained tuna and chopped up cukes.
Cucumber Tuna Salad (2 generous sandwiches)
1 5-6 ounce can of tuna, drained
one-half cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 scallions, chopped, or about one-quarter cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
one-half teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
A dill sprig or two, or a few seeds
Lettuce to line each sandwich or pita bread
Combine all ingredients except the lettuce. Let chill. When ready to serve, line two sandwiches or pita breads with lettuce. Stuff with filling. Serve with ice tea and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Every once in a while the temperature will drop during a summer’s night. Use some of those fresh greens, such as spinach, Swiss chard, or escarole to top off this healthy soup.
White Beans and Pasta (serves 6)
1 cup finely chopped onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 14 to 16-ounce jar/can of tomatoes with juice, diced
2 cups whole wheat shell-shaped pasta
2 cups water or chicken stock
2 14 to 16-ounce cans cannelini or great northern white beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups chopped fresh greens
1 tablespoon dried, or 3 tablespoons fresh, chopped basil
one-quarter teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or dried red peppers
one-half teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a soup pot, sauté onion, garlic and red bell pepper in the oil until soft. Add remaining ingredients (except the salt and pepper) and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
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