Thursday, August 23, 2007

It will be a late fall harvest this year

Poor, poor garden. It needs so much work, it's overrun with weeds, and I won't be able to take care of it for a month. Theoretically I should be planting my fall seeds in the next couple weeks, but I won't be here. Before I do that, I should be pulling out old plants, starting to turn the soil and add compost, and getting things ready for the fall, but I'm going to be a month too late. It's so sad =(

Today I think I picked the last of the green beans. We didn't have a bad harvest. I think we had around 12-15 plants in the end. Lessons for next year include planting them in easier to reach locations, such as in a row along a path, or around a block of other plants. Planting them in a big block made it really difficult to pick the ones in the middle. Also, picking them regularly in small amounts is much easier than spending 1-2 hours picking them in the hot sun.

The tomatoes are totally pulling their supports over. Lessons for next year include using more stakes, putting the stakes in deeper, planting the rows slightly farther apart, doing a better job of tying up the plants, and doing a MUCH better job of cutting off the suckers before the plants get out of control. And that goes double for the heirlooms, which are finally easing off, as well.

Next year I also want to do ONE green zucchini plant and one yellow one. And that's it. Also, just one pickling cucumber and no other ones. And maybe not a melon, either. I'll put the peppers closer together and maybe have more of them, and keep the eggplants all together, too. And maybe not so many. Certainly more purple ones and fewer white ones.

My garden is also invaded with bermuda grass. I'm terrified of having to get rid of it when I get back. I'm going to have to spend an entire day in the garden, and I really hope the weather will cool off. And it would be great to get some help, but I don't think that's going to happen. I'm looking forward to planting: beets, radishes, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, chard, onion, garlic, and hopefully quite a few other winter veggies this year. It's going to be a LOT of hard work! Whew!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Getting ready for vacation ... poor garden

My garden is not in such great shape these days. It's really overrun by weeds, and some of the plants desperately need to be cut back or removed.

I picked a bunch more peppers today, and an eggplant, some zucchini (it never stops), and tomatoes. There are actually still a few green beans, but I don't know if it's worth it to pick them.

The last two days we've done a great job of eating veggies, since we're trying to get rid of stuff before we leave for Italia. Two days ago we had another peperonata and a zucchini frittata. Last night we had an heirloom tomato appetizer with gorgonzola, onions, oil and vinegar, and ratatouille made with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, green beans, garlic, and parsley from the garden (and onions and potatoes not from the garden). It was really delish.

I think I might make roasted peppers for dinner tonight. I have to get started on bread for dinner, too, but we are actually having a hot day today (which I can't complain about considering the mild summer we've had), and I don't feel like turning on the oven. But as long as I'm turning it on for bread, I might as well roast me some peppers.

I also have to make and can some tomato juice, but as I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm a bit tired of canning. There's always tomorrow ...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes (and peppers!)

Just went to the garden after a weekend away, and I came away with a cloth bag 2/3 full of romas again. I counted my jars of sauce today - I think I have around 54 (they're not all pint jars, but a few are bigger and a few are smaller, so I think they balance each other out). I think that's enough tomato sauce for one year. Luckily, the last time I made sauce, after straining it through a T-shirt to try to get rid of excess water, I found that at a certain point it just wouldn't strain anymore and I ended up using a hand-held strainer to scoop out the tomato flesh and dump it into my anti-seed-and-skin machine. What I was left with looked like tomato juice, so, being the tireless kitchen taster that I am, I tried it. It tasted like tomato juice, too, except better and with a lot less salt. Yum! So that's what I'm going to do with the last of my tomatoes before I leave for Italy in something like 5 days.

A note on preserving basil. I have made TONS of pesto. More than we will ever use (well, maybe not). But anyway, I wanted to preserve some basil as just basil, and not a paste with olive oil, and salt, and garlic. So I looked up info online and in my various cook books and garden books and herb books (yes, I have books just about herbs), and consulted with my food-snob Italian husband, and decided to freeze it. I stripped the leaves from the stems, blanched them in boiling water for about 8-10 seconds, patted them as dry as possible, and packed them in a thin layer in a freezer bag and stuck them in the freezer. I haven't tried them yet (I still have way too much fresh basil), but it seems to have worked well. So today I'm doing a ton more basil, a bit of purple basil, and some parsley. I guess we'll see this winter.

And the peppers are coming! The peppers are coming! They're all turning beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow, in spite of their burned spots. A few of them unfortunately rotted, but I am getting quite a few. Right before I leave, of course. I think we'll make peperonata today (still need to post that recipe), and at the end of the week I'll roast whatever's left and preserve them under oil or vinegar or something. I guess we'll see.

Our last two melons (out of five) came off the vine today. It's possible there are more I haven't noticed, but I'm not sure the melons were worth growing. They only cost 50 cents to a dollar to buy them, and they take up a lot of space in the garden. But they are really good. I'll have to think about it for next year.

A last note - I decided to check on one of my butternut squashes that is close to the sprinkler, to make sure it wasn't rotting from sitting in a wet spot. I lifted it up and twisted it a bit to check underneath and snap! Off it came. So it's my first experiment in curing winter squash. I think I'll stick it outside in the yard in the sunny end where the sprinklers don't reach, and see what happens in 5 days or so when I have to pick all the rest right before I leave. If I can say anything, it's that we won't starve this winter with all that tomato sauce and butternut squash!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I didn't go to the garden since last Thursday because of my friend Amy Lu's wedding, up in the mountains. Although I am aware of how many bags of veggies I bring home each week, it's still a bit of a shock to come home with one bag completely full of tomatoes and another bag completely full of other things. I hadn't really realized how fast the zucchini grow, until after three days without a trip to the garden I ended up with five huge zucchini. I'm definitely going to have to can or freeze some of this.

And I am completely full of tomatoes yet again. After canning 9 large jars of giardiniera yesterday, I'm getting sick of canning, but it's hard to turn down another 5-10 jars of homemade tomato sauce. This time I guess I can make big jars (since I'm completely out of pints), to use when we have guests or we're making melanzane alla pargmigiana.

Today I'm going to check out the butternut squash. I've read that it's ready to pick when you can't puncture the skin with a fingernail, and some of mine are certainly starting to look like they are at that stage. You then cure them at room temperature for 10-20 days, and then store them (although I must admit I don't have anywhere significantly colder to store them at the moment).

I'm going to Italy in just about 10 days, so that will be the perfect time to cure the butternut squash. But I haven't figured out how I'm going to get my garden cared for while I'm gone. Or my kitty!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Musings on tomato sauce

I'm making more tomato sauce today, possibly the last big batch of the season. The last two batches produced, I think, around 28 or 29 jars, total. Unfortunately, they were pretty watery. I cooked the tomatoes and ran them through the "Sauce Master", but didn't do anything to try to thicken the sauce, so that's probably why I got so many jars. My friend Gianluca advised me to scoop out some of the water that the tomatoes release when cooking, which I did try, but it didn't help too much. So this time, before running the tomatoes through the sauce master, I'm straining them in a colander lined with a T-shirt. It works pretty well, but it takes a bit longer.

I watered the tomatoes yesterday (and accidentally left the water on - oops). Someone from the garden apparently turned it off and disconnected the hose, but the problem now is that I don't know when that happened, so I have no idea how much water they got. I'll have to keep an eye to see how fast the ground dries out.

We seem to finally be getting towards the end of the tomato season. It's been a strange season here, we had such a mild, early spring, I was able to get the plants in the ground really early. Which is why it's the beginning of August and I'm already finishing the tomato sauce season, and the beans are drying up. Then, after a REALLY short hot spell (instead of the usual two months), it's been unseasonably cool. I'm not complaining on my own behalf, but I don't know how happy the garden is.

Loris is making peperonata tonight, so I can post that recipe once I'm reminded how to do it. We are also making sauteed carrots with teleme jack cheese. You just slice up a bunch of carrots, chop up some garlic, saute the garlic in a bit of olive oil before adding the carrots and some salt, and then saute everything over medium heat until it sort of caramelizes. Eat each bite with a bit of teleme jack cheese (or stracchino/crescenza if you can find it).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

More of everything and zucchini soup

I spent a good part of my morning in the garden, picking veggies, weeding, and generally checking on things. I picked green beans, sauce tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, only one zucchini (woohoo!), an eggplant, a bunch of peppers (with burned spots), and parsley. And a ton of weeds. I have bermuda grass in the garden. That really sucks, especially because it's underneath a lot of my plants I don't want to disturb too much, and getting rid of it requires disturbing things, so I'd rather wait until I pull the plants out altogether. Which means I have to hope the grass doesn't take over the garden by then.

Bermuda grass is really evil stuff. It spreads everywhere. It's incredibly invasive, and difficult to get rid of without completely turning over the soil and digging out all the roots. I'm not looking forward to it.

I'm learning more and more about growing peppers. Since my plants aren't standing up, they are (of course) falling over. Which means sometimes a pepper or two is sitting in the water when the sprinklers have been on. Which means that sometimes they rot. Sorta the way some of the tomatoes do. So having a plan for next years' peppers is going to be crucial. Especially since buying peppers costs more than a mortgage for a house. Anywhere but Davis, that is.

So anyway, after spending a good part of the day making and canning more ketchup, for dinner tonight we had zucchini soup, based on Loris' family recipe (which, as all Degioanni family recipes, is rather loosely passed on). So here goes:

A bunch of zucchini (two large ones made a good pot of soup)
Some onion
2-3 potatoes
Olive oil

Chop up the zucchini into smallish chunks. Chop up the potato as well.

Chop the onion pretty finely. Put some olive oil into a decent sized pot and set it over medium heat. Add the onion, and stir-fry for several minutes until the onion starts browning and getting fragrant. Add the zucchini, potatoes, and enough broth to cover the veggies. Cover and let cook until the veggies are soft. Add the parsley (to taste) and salt (to taste). Blend. If you prefer a thinner soup than what you've got, add more broth. Adjust the seasonings (parsley and salt), and serve. That's it!

Friday, August 3, 2007

finally Friday!

I am finished with canning, at least for this week. After 13 jars of tomato sauce, 8 quarts of giardiniera, and 6 jars of ketchup, I'm done.

Giardiniera, btw, is an Italian pickled vegetable recipe. It's basically vegetables cut up into small chunks and cooked in a mix of crushed tomatoes, vinegar, oil, salt and sugar. It's heavenly. I could probably bribe a few of my friends to do just about anything if I promised them a jar of giardiniera. As it happens, I've been promising those same friends to teach them the recipe. Which means I won't have bribing capabilities anymore.

The garden was looking good yesterday. Some of the peppers are finally getting mature. They've been turning red on only the side that faces up, while staying green underneath. Some of them have now turned partially a color closer to brown. I'm not sure if that means they're done changing colors, or if it's a step between green and red. Overall, they're disappointingly small and most of them have spots of thin papery brown skin where I believe they have burned. I'll have to chalk it up to a learning experience. Except that buying peppers is so damn expensive.

The good news is that the tomatoes are still doing well. After my huge canning spree the other day, I have brought home two more baskets of tomatoes, and I just have to decide if I want to make more ketchup or just make sauce. I also keep bringing more heirlooms, but they finally seem to be slacking off, thank goodness.

I cut back one of my areas of basil about halfway, to see what will happen. I haven't been able to keep this section pinched back enough, so I was constantly fighting the basil in an attempt to keep it from flowering. So I finally decided to just cut it all back and turn it into pesto. I'm starting to get a bit tired of making pesto. We have plenty for ourselves at this point, and the garden just keeps producing basil. I've grown it in pots before, and it never grew much, so when I decided to put it in the garden I tried to make up for what I thought was slow growth by planting a lot. Now I'm drowning in it.

I'm probably almost not going to the garden today, I need a day off. Especially after I cut my finger open trying to cut peppers off the plant. I will probably be making the pretzel recipe from the Fresh Loaf website (see link to the right), which is an excellent recipe, but requires a lot of reading to figure out which version of the recipe to make. I do the easy version and dunk the bagels in a bath of 1tbsp. baking soda to 1 cup water, and it turns out really well. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Another busy day

We had our first slices of ambrosia melon last night. They were so good! I was worried because although the melon "slipped" off the vine, it didn't seem ripe and I thought maybe I had just been pulling too hard. But after a day or two on the counter, it got softer and developed a wonderful ripe smell. Whew.

I'm not too happy with the new mixer so far. I tried to make a really wet dough this morning, and it seems like the dough hook only mixed the top 1/4 of the dough. Underneath, the flour wasn't incorporating at all. I don't know if the bowl is too big for the recipe, the calibration of the machine is off so the hook doesn't go down far enough, or what. I had to scrape down the sides to the point that I was more or less mixing the dough by hand, then I switched to the paddle attachment just to get the dough mixed (since the dough was so wet that it was somewhat batter-like), then switched back to the hook to knead, although it still seemed like it was only moving around the top of the mixture, so I don't know how effective the kneading was. Really disappointing. I'll have to try some stiffer doughs before I see if there's really something wrong.

The ketchup yesterday turned out delish, btw! Thank goodness for that! And it cooked down in only 3-4 hours (which helps since it took so long to get rid of the peels and seeds).

For the rest of the day, I made tomato sauce and giardiniera. And that took forever. I got thirteen jars of tomato sauce (fourteen originally, but one broke while I was sterilizing it), and so far 4 large jars of giardiniera. I ran out of pint jars. And then I ran out of time. I was sweating so badly in the kitchen with the hot giardiniera, the boiling water from the canning bath, the oven from baking bread, and the heat outside. Whew! Doing all this stuff is hot sweaty work!