Blackberry time is here. The canes in the garden have started to produce, and should all go well, continue to produce for another 4 weeks. Which is good, because blackberries (and eggplants) are one of the consolations of a typical Virginia summer, especially the kinds we’ve been seeing the last few years: hot, hotter, no rain, and yet muggy. Ouch.
But at least we have blackberries. That means blackberry sorbet, blackberry sourcream sherbet, creme de blackberry, blackberry shrub. But not blackberry gastrique nor blackberry jam, of which we still have plenty. We eat them. We freeze them. Me make juice. We sell them. It’s blackberry time, I tell you.
It’s also hot. So, preparations with minimum applications of heat are ideal. And blackberries, with their sweet-tart flavor, lend themselves well to savory dishes.
Recently, I prepared a smoked duck salad as an appetizer for a 32-guest lunch (inspired by this recipe from the James Beard Foundation). I simplified the James Beard Foundation recipe by using smoked duck breasts prepared by The Whole Ox Butcher Shop in Marshall, VA (which sliced paper-thin with their meat slicer); changed the sauce a little bit… and reduced the plate to appetizer size.
An easy dish and attractive that’s great for a crowd, as all the components can be prepared ahead and assembled up to 30 minutes before serving (because we are using robust greens that can stand to the sauce).
So there, Smoked Duck Breast & Blackberry Salad – Appetizer for 12 Read more
Summer has been cooler here than in prior years. So while tomatoes are really just starting to ripen and yield – finally!!!! – for real (a good 2 weeks past my usual tomato target date though), cabbage, kale (kale!!! in July! edible!) and lettuce greens are doing just well. On the other hand, the sweet potatoes are looking anemic, and the okra… well, we won’t talk about the okra. Frankly, there isn’t much to talk about!
Let’s talk instead about the colorful lunch (or dinner) plate that one can make from the garden at the moment . Everything can be cooked, days in advance, and assembled just a few minutes before serving. Perfect for when one feels lazy or is hurried. For example, today’s lunch:
First, spread a variery of lettuce leaves on the plate; Read more
The secret is in the dressing.
Well, not really. The secret is a just-picked mix of lettuce and other greens such oak leaf-lettuce, Reine des Glaces, baby arugula, baby spinach, frisee, a few pea shoots, an asparagus or two (thinly sliced), sorrel, escarole, a smattering a baby mustard, flowering tips of kale and cabbage, a wee bit of anise hyssop & mint, and the very very last of the mache. To tell the truth, the baby arugula, baby spinach and baby mustard, are – truly! – thinnings: I sow the seeds too close, on purpose, knowing that I will harvest every other plant (several times) until the correct spacing is left for final crop to mature nicely. Meanwhile, the thinnings are big enough to make a real salad, and make a better use of preciopus real estate: no need to wait for that bed space to fill. Sow thickly & harvest with scissors.
But a good dressing matters: at the bottom of the salad bowl, whisk one part balsamic vinegar of Modena & 3 parts extra virgin olive oil. Add the salad. Toss. Scatter a handful of Johnny-Jump-up flowers (Viola tricolor) on top so they can make faces at you. Needless to say the flowers have not received a drop of pesticide or herbicide…. only use edible organic flowers (and greens too of course) – in other words don’t expect to pick up a flat of pansies at the garden center and pluck the flowers for your salad. They are likely to have ben sprayed with stuff you do not want next to you plate – let alone swallow. Or grow some: they are some accommodating, so cheery and so daintily robust!
Take your prettiest chipped plate. Add a dollop of pork rillettes (French-style potted meat from pastured pork), a chunk of crusty homemade baguette and a large serving of salad. Sit down. Tuck in. That’s lunch!
Note for locavore log: homemade bread, rillettes made with Rappahannock pork + garden herbs, all the greens and flowers from the garden.
Potatoes fried in duck fat, with garlic & parsley, a very fresh green salad (with not a leaf of lettuce in sight) topped with a little bit of duck breast – a perfect lunch for this blessedly rainy Sunday.
Obviously, he thought so too (and had an intense lemon tart with coffee for dessert).
This meal is characteristic of improvised cooking; you know, cooking without a recipe based on what you’ve got. We had a breast of duck left from a roast and duck fat just rendered from that same roast, and potatoes, of course. That calls for potatoes in duck fat, reminiscent of Pommes de Terre à la Sarladaise, a dish named after the town of Sarlat in Southwest France. While one variations on this homey dish includes truffles, the poor woman’s version (mine) makes do with garlic. Don’t knock it off until you’ve tried it: duck fat makes the best fried potatoes. As far as the green salad, it was a mix of mache, sorrel, baby red Russian kale & Tuscan kale, and frisée endive, fresh from the garden. Any good-quality store bought mesclun will do; make sure it’s on the robust side so it can take the hot dressing, and with a hint of bitterness or tartness to stand up to the richness of the potatoes.
End of Winter Salad with Duck Breast & Potatoes in Duck Fat Read more
I think I love my kitchen garden more in the fall then in the spring: cooler temperatures are accompanied by a lot less bugs and the beds are brimming with salad greens (sorrel, lettuce, frisée, endive, mache, arugula), cooking greens (tatsoi, pakchoi and other mustard, kale, Swiss Chard), peas (the shoots of which are delicious in salad too – besides the pods), carrots, celeriac, beets (the tops of which are also edible) and some cabbages. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash & pumpkins have been harvested and stored. The last of the tomatoes were brought in to ripen and the peppers picked before the first frost will remain good for a few more weeks.
But what I really love in that time of the year when we often have a little spell of Indian Summer with sunny warm days and mild nights is to feast on big bowls of fresh mixed greens salad. Back in August I was urging you to go and plant your fall garden. Remember? I hope you did sow your fall garden seeds then and are now harvesting the leaves of that effort. I am.
The two pictures above explain my planting fervor back in the heat of summer: the first one was taken on September 12 after transplanting various seedlings that had been sown in August. The second one was on October 24. (Click on the picture for a larger – and cleaner- version.)
The result is lots of salad lunches! Read more