Monday, January 12, 2009
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Here I am the day before Thanksgiving, rain pouring down on the roof and the garden, thinking about tomorrow and the menu for dinner. Thanksgiving offers opportunity to explore an abundance of new food styles, however if I stray to far from my Family traditions and cook something new I miss the chance to feel that connection with my parents and grandparents because of our traditional Thanksgiving food. Nothing makes the connection to our Family like food can. When I cook something that my Dad would cook I feel as close to him as if he were in the room, and when I eat something out of the garden fresh picked I say to myself 'Dad would have loved this tomato" and know how proud he would have been with my tomato harvest this year. My connection to my Family is strongest with regards to food and the garden, in fact I don't see a difference between food and the garden, to me it's just food. All my life I have listened to stories about my Great Grandparents and the wonderful food they would grow and prepare. I never met them but feel as though I know them so well because of these stories, like the story of a pumpkin that my Great Grandfather grew. The seed was brought from Italy by my Great Grandmothers brother Frank and my Grandmother told me how her dad fed the pumpkins he grew to his hogs and how good the meat was because of the pumpkin. I've been told of this pumpkin by my Aunt Carmela and how unusual it was and that it didn't look like a regular pumpkin because it wasn't orange, but was good to eat. Well, I always hoped I would find the pumpkin and grow it someday, but thought it was lost for good when my Great Grandfather died. Three months ago I spoke to my Uncle Luigi and got a description of the pumpkin "not orange, sort of green and striped with an odd shape". Uhmmm?? . After some research I sent him photos of an old heirloom pumpkin that Franchi seeds offers called "Lungo di Napoli", Bingo!! I found it. Needless to say we are both very happy and look forward to growing the pumpkin next year. So me and Uncle Luigi will have this connection to his Father, my Great Grandfather, all because of a pumpkin. I guess one of the things I'm greatful for this year is pumpkin, they're fun to grow and have so many uses in the kitchen. The small gray pumpkin in the photo is an old heirloom from near Venice Italy called "Marina di Chioggia", I specifically grow this variety to use for gnocci. They make the most tender delicious gnocci with a sauce of cream infused with fresh sage........Yes. But back to Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie, one of my favorite ways to eat a pumpkin. I always bake my pies the night before to give them time to rest and allow the flavors to completely meld, so off to the kitchen for me. Happy Thanksgiving from My Cooks Garden.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Misticanza di Lattughe. A fantastic mix of greens from Franchi seeds of Italy. I would say it was about 4 weeks from sowing until I could pick some outer leaves to eat, of course I ate them as I picked, cool and crisp from my garden. Something every person should experience is to have access to fresh food from your own garden you've grown yourself, so simple, yet so satisfying. I prefer to have fresh salad greens dressed with as little as possible, on their own they have so much flavor and can very easily be masked. I remember my Grandma would make a salad of Greens, avocado and tiny shrimp, dressed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil seasoned with salt and fresh ground black pepper served with crusty Italian bread and butter. What else did it need? Nothing, it was complete in it's simplicity, each element of the salad complimented the other without any unnecessary additions. This salad is a perfect example to tell the story of the style of food preparation that I prefer and one that I learned from my grandmother, Marie Dellaragione Ruggless. She was raised in a family of very poor Italian immigrants and had to learn to do for herself and most importantly make the most from the least. So when it came to food this adversity served her well as well as our Family, all eager for her cooking. She could truly make something out of "nothing" and when I look back and think about the small selection of spices and herbs she used you would never think it could be as great as it was. Salt, pepper, oregano, basil, garlic and good olive oil and not much more, she didn't need much to cook as good as she did. What she did have was technique, she knew how to prepare food to enhance what she had to work with and make it the best it could be, like tasting tomatoes before any seasoning is added, because what went into one sauce doesn't work for another, if your tomatoes are particularly sweet or maybe acidic the next time you will need to account for this. She understood what would correct these subtle difference in the ingredients she worked with to make the most of what she had. The only way I know to learn what she knew is to cook often and to really pay attention to the food to be prepared and the subtle differences that will guide you. I look forward to sharing more of my experiences and food from my cooks garden.
This beet was grown from Franchi seeds of Italy stock. I purposely over planted the rows with the seed so I would have lots of baby beet tops to eat. The first thinning harvest was about 5 weeks after sowing and produced an abundance of tops to serve two. I prefer as simple a preparation as can be for something so tender, so a quick wilt in a saute pan in olive oil and finished with course salt and cracked black pepper and it's done. The results are fantastic, nothing distracts from the taste of the greens so the earthy fresh taste is clear. I may add garlic in the next bunch I prepare, however, very sparingly because nothing will take away from a simple dish like garlic can. I use garlic very carefully, there is a point in which garlic will cease to enhance a recipe and simply take over. When using home grown ripe tomatoes for a sauce you have something with a depth of flavor and subtle nuance that will quickly be lost when it is overcome by the wrong balance of seasoning. I have just planted a new bed of mixed beets that include yellow, gold and red, so I'm looking forward to more good food from My cooks garden.