Thursday, April 21, 2011

edible landscaping...it's everywhere

Looking for a little inspiration to help plan your edible landscape this year? Think outside the rows and check out this slideshow from the San Francisco Chronicle. Here's one image that reminds me...if you need a fence to keep critters out of the garden, make the fence a feature!


Monday, April 4, 2011

what do you do with all that chard?

Golden chard, zinnias and dill.
One of my favorite garden combos.
For anyone who has heard me speak about edible landscaping lately, you've probably noticed I have a thing for Swiss chard. A big thing. A somewhat overly-enthusiastic thing. But I can explain. To me, it's just the perfect plant for the edible landscape. It's easy to grow - meaning it is easy to start from seed, grows quickly, is perfectly happy in cool or hot temps, will not send up a flower stalk like many other greens, and has virtually no issues with insect pests or diseases. The gardener can harvest the outer leaves all season long and it will just keep growing and growing...all the way through the first few frosts of fall. In fact, it responds best to regular harvests, since the outer leaves will become very large and likely crack in half if left on the plant all season. If all that weren't enough, the various colors are fabulous for designing into the landscape, and chard looks great paired with other colorful greens and backed by bright pastel zinnias (just to name a few).

But when I expound the virtues of chard to a group of gardeners, I'm often met with several crinkled brows. Inevitably the question arises, "But what do you do with all that chard?" And that is indeed a great question, because the point here really is to have food to eat, not only to grow it because it looks good in the garden. I didn't really know what to do with chard before I started growing it, but once I had baskets of chard coming out of the garden day after day I knew I had to figure it out. Google helped me find a wide range of recipes, from omeletes to stir frys and everything in between. Here are a few recipes I use regularly with chard from my garden, or from the market in the winter. If you have chard recipes you'd like to share, do so in a comment below. I'd love to hear how others use this fabulous vegetable in the kitchen.

This recipe for a Swiss Chard Tart: Pasticcio di Bietole al Forno, from Mario Batali on the Food Network has become a standby for me. It's easy to throw together, and I'll sometimes make it for a weekend breakfast treat only to eat the rest of it a few hours later at lunch. It's great hot, but also really good cold for lunch. If it's in fridge, I find myself cutting off wedge after tiny wedge as a little snack until, poof, somehow it's gone! The recipe says to cut off and discard the tough stems, then to boil the leaves for 15 mintues. No and double no! The leaves absolutely do not need to be cooked down so much. And please don't discard the stems! They add so much body and flavor. Cut them off, dice 'em up and sautee them in a little olive oil for 5-10 minutes. Then add the chopped up leaves, a little water and put a lid on it for about 5 minutes. That'll soften everything just enough, but not wilt it down to nothing. The rest of the recipe works well and the result is delicious.
Provencal Zucchini and Swiss Chard Tart. Photo borrowed
from Andrew Scrivani, The New York Times.

I also really like this recipe for a Provencal Zucchini and Swiss Chard Tart that appeared in the New York Times in 2009. This is similar to the above recipe, except this one has a crust. I made this for a summer progressive dinner with a French theme, and it garnered rave reviews. I highly recommend making your own crust. If you're not fond of whole wheat crust, use another savory crust recipe you like. It is absolutely worth the effort to make your own. I used to be scared of making my own crust, but with a pastry cutter or a couple of knives you can make a crust that is flaky, light and delicious (no food-processor required)! You just have to be good at following directions. But back to the chard...this recipe is a nice pairing of chard and zucchini, and the Gruyere gives it a wonderful richness. You could always use any cheese you have in the fridge, but the Gruyere is worth the trip to the market. The flavors balance really well. If you don't have a tart pan, just use a pie plate...it'll be just as tasty.

If you're short on time and need a quick dinner, this recipe for Penne with Swiss Chard from a 1997 issue of Gourmet magazine is for you. Again, sautee the stems first, then add the leaves. Now I know the nutmeg sounds a little strange, but don't skip it...trust me. It brings out the flavor of the chard, and along with the cream and red pepper...let me just say yum. It's quick, easy and super-delish!

Just as I was pulling these recipes from my browser bookmarks I came across this one, also from the Food Network. Haven't tried it yet, but it sounds wonderful. This'll be the next one I try.