My Favorite Gazpacho

I returned from a week-long trip to find my vegetable garden laden with tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans, green bell peppers, and okra. I brought all the produce inside, dumped it on the kitchen counter and tried to get inspired to clean and prep all of it; I knew once I got started, I’d be in the kitchen for the rest of the day … A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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Abundant summer harvests call for big recipes, and I have three go-to’s: ratatouille, gazpacho, and marinara sauce. Since there were no eggplants or zucchini, ratatouille was out. Gazpacho and marinara sauce were in. I made both!

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My tried and true gazpacho recipe comes from Open-House Cookbook, by Sarah Leah Chase, published in 1987 to instant acclaim. Over the years, I have found my own way to streamline the vegetable prep work, and, thanks to my mother, who also made this recipe and used Bloody Mary mix to spice it up, I use spicy vegetable juice instead of plain.

Ingredients:
Makes 6 quarts

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2 cups of freshly made breadcrumbs made from crusty bread
1-ounce garlic cloves, about 3-5 cloves depending on size
Juice of one lemon, about 3 tablespoons
2 bunches green onions
3  8 inch cucumbers
5 sweet bell peppers in different colors (I like to use green, yellow and orange)
8 pounds of tomatoes, about 10 large
46 ounces spicy vegetable juice
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 tablespoons extra virgin, first cold-pressed, olive oil
4 teaspoons sea salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper, add more as desired

Instructions:
In the instructions that follow, I’m going to show you how to prep each vegetable. Find a large bowl that will hold 8 quarts of chopped vegetables.

1) Prep Bread, Garlic, and Lemon Juice Mixture: 
-Make 2 cups of homemade breadcrumbs using the method described in Mom’s Meatloaf. Five or six slices of crusty bread should suffice.
-Juice the lemon as shown in the Ricotta and Lemon Cookie recipe.
-Peel the garlic cloves. I used three large cloves. If you are using medium to small cloves, you’ll need all five.  Always remember that uncooked garlic can quickly overpower a recipe, so be careful — you can always add more garlic to your recipe later as you adjust your spices.

Pulse garlic cloves in food processor until minced, add the breadcrumbs and lemon juice. You want the mixture to become pasty, so process it for about 10 seconds.

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2) Prep green onions:
Wash, cut roots off and trim off the top third of stems. Chop stems into 2-inch segments so they will fit nicely into the food processor bowl. If you put produce in the processing bowl uncut, they won’t chop evenly, and you’ll find yourself practically puréeing food to get everything chopped to a consistent size. Pulse green onions until they look like the photo below and then add to your large container.

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3) Prep Cucumbers:
Cut off ends and peel. Cut into long quarters. I always taste a homegrown cucumber before adding it to a recipe because sometimes, if the cucumber went through a dry spell while growing, it can taste bitter. If the cucumber tastes at all bitter, throw it in the compost. Remove seeds by quartering and using a paring knife to remove the “triangle” tip of seeds from each strip. Chop into 2-inch chunks before processing. Once processed, add to large container.

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4) Prep Sweet Bell Peppers:
I had a lot of small green peppers in my garden and used them, plus two colorful peppers I bought at the grocery store. To prep peppers: cut in half vertically, and remove core, seeds, and extra white pith. Chop into 2-inch chunks for even processing in the food processor. Add to the large container.

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5) How to Seed and Prep Tomatoes:
Over the years, I have learned there is no reason to peel the skin off tomatoes. I do, however, remove the seeds. This is easily accomplished by cutting the tomato in half horizontally and using your finger to scoop the seeds out.

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Use a paring knife to remove the stem and white core. Cut into 2″ chunks to process evenly. Pulse in batches. Add to the large container. If you are using homegrown tomatoes, don’t use any that have been pecked by birds or otherwise have skin that is not intact. Save imperfect tomatoes for cooking.  Tomatoes with white mold, ooze, or that have been partially eaten by squirrels go in the compost! (That last sentence is for my husband.)

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Photos of the bowl as it filled up …

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Food, Glorious Food!

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6) Add Vegetable Juice and Seasonings
Add the spicy vegetable juice, the vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasoning.
Me, to my husband: “Try this and tell me what it needs.”
Husband: “It needs a spoon and a bowl!”DSC_0011

Much later that day, after making marinara sauce and blanched string beans in vinaigrette, the kitchen was clean. All that remained was a pile of cucumbers that were going to be made into cold cucumber soup, but I ran out of steam, and my family had lost interest in cleaning up after me. Oh, and the okra, it went into the latest version of my “everything, but the kitchen sink” Shepherd’s Pie.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Spring Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden

A hot pink and green salad. Mother Nature is a creative genius.
DSC_0342This is a close up of the salad we had for dinner this week. We call it the Lily Pulitzer Salad. Every part of it came out of our garden: lettuce, radishes, pea pods, dill, green onions, and tasty radish flowers. I am beaming with delight! To think, these vegetables all started as SEEDS that grew in DIRT, and now they’ve become something delicious, nutritious, and gorgeous! #whywedoit

Here is the newly seeded front garden on Sunday, March 15th.
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Here it is ten weeks later.
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This garden space is 20 by 30 feet. The fence was made using a roll of four-foot chicken-wire framed by wooden posts. Eighteen-inches in from the fencing, I “planted” a necklace of recycled upside-down wine bottles to separate the planting space from the footpath. Because this garden space is never walked on, there is no soil compaction, thus no need for tilling. I reserve the center of the garden for summer crops.

The first vegetable I plant is always peas. I plant them sometime between Valentine’s Day and March 15th, depending on the weather. A few weeks before planting, I invite the chickens inside to scratch up the dirt as they look for bugs (tilling), eat the CHICKweed (weeding), and leave their nutrient-rich poop (fertilizer) — a free-for-all for them and a bonanza for me!
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To prepare the necklace for planting, I use a pitchfork to lightly aerate the soil, trying to not disturb old roots and worms who do the bulk of the work of loosening the soil during the winter.
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Next, I plant peas along the fence for support, spring onion sets in the middle, and one row of radishes next to the bottles. I was careful to space the radish seeds four inches apart for better root formation this season. I planted many different varieties of radishes.

March 15th

March 30th

April 17th

April 30th

Here is What I Planted Inside the Front Necklace Garden:

Sugar Ann Peas
There is an old gardening tradition that says to plant your peas on Valentine’s Day. That is always the goal, but seldom the reality. This year was no exception. In fact, we were iced-in for most of February, and I didn’t get to plant anything until mid-March. This may be the reason my Sugar Ann peas failed so miserably. The other reason is they probably got crowded out by the quick growth of the onions and radishes in front of them. Next year, I may start the peas two weeks earlier than the onions and radishes or soak the peas before planting for quicker germination.

I typically plant two varieties of peas: a sugar snap and a snow pea. They grow in the same way. And both need vine support.

May 21

Sugar Snaps are an edible-podded cultivar that have plump peas inside. They are a cross between shelling English peas and snow peas. They are super sweet and hardly ever make it to the kitchen.

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Snow peas also have flat edible pods and are not as sweet as snap peas.

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They are often used in Asian cooking. Look for a “stringless” variety. The chickens love pea plants and often eat whatever pokes out of the fencing.

 

Spring Onions (aka Scallions or Green Onions)
Sets planted 3/15. Harvest started six weeks later and is ongoing. I plant the purple variety because I love the color, and you can’t find them in a grocery store. I planted 200 sets this year; I cannot get enough of spring onions.

For more information on growing spring onions, radishes, and turnips, go to my blog post, Urban Farming Part 1: Fall Planting.

“Easter Egg” Radishes
Seeds planted 3/15. 30 days to maturity. Started harvesting on 4/17. Sweet, mild, crispy, and colorful. Flowers and leaves are edible.

spring garden

“Red Meat” Radish (aka “Watermelon” Radish)
Planted 3/15. 50 days to maturity. Started harvesting on May 18. Crisp, have more of a bite, and have a beautiful hot pink color inside. Their leaves and flowers are edible, too.

Cauliflower and Broccoli
On each end of the rectangular garden, I planted cauliflower and broccoli seedlings. Both crops were a failure. Something ate all the leaves within one week of planting. Every spring, I swear I will not grow these two vegetables, and every year I cave when I see them at the garden center. I remember the glory days when I grew gorgeous broccoli plants but forget about the pesticides I used to keep insects away. Now that I have free-range chickens, I do not use any insecticides (or herbicides) in my backyard. I often joke that my hens keep me honest whenever I get tempted.

Here is What I Planted in the Back Raised Bed Garden:

“Premier Blend” Kale
Seeds planted March 23. Days to maturity: 28 baby-size, 55 bunching. Harvesting began in late April.
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“Bright Lights” Swiss Chard
Seeds planted 3/23. Days to maturity: 28 baby-size, 55 bunching. Harvesting began 5/26
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“Hakurei Hybrid” Turnips
Seeds planted 3/23. Days to maturity: 38. Harvesting began 5/26

These small, white, crisp, sweetish turnips have been the tastiest surprise of all the vegetables growing in my garden. When sliced, they can be used as low-cal scoops for dips like hummus. As with other turnip varieties (and radishes), you can cook the greens. I like to sauté them with green onions and garlic in olive oil.

Beets 
Planted as seedlings 4/2. Days to maturity 55. I haven’t started harvesting the beets yet because they are still small. I have, however, been harvesting the beet greens. I should have separated the seedlings when I first planted them for better root ball formation. New gardening rule: all plants with edible roots need to be planted with sufficient space around them for root ball formation!
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“Red Norland” and “Yukon Gold” Seed Potatoes
Sets planted 3/16. Harvesting began 5/26.  To prep seed potatoes for planting, slice the potatoes into 2″ chunks with 1-2 “eyes” each. This is called “chitting.”

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Allow to dry out for a couple of days to form calluses to help prevent sets from rotting in the soil.

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When the potato leaves turn yellow, it’s time to harvest, but you can start digging for “new potatoes” long before that.

April 4th

May 19th
garden 5/19

May 25th
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Every bit of this colorful food was harvested on April 17th!

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Related Articles:
Seed Starting in Recycled Milk Jugs @judyschickens
How to Build a 4 x 4 Raised Garden Bed
Spring Porch Pots!
Morning Rounds in the Garden, April
Morning Rounds in the Garden, May
Fall Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
WWMD? A Bucket of Spring Veggies as a Centerpiece
Edible Landscaping with Nashville Foodscapes

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© 2014-2021 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may not be reproduced without the written consent of Judy Wright.