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 a 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 in amazement! To think, these vegetables all started out as tiny seeds planted in brown dirt, and now they’ve become something delicious, nutritious and gorgeous.

Here is how the newly planted garden looked on Sunday afternoon, March 15th after I spent the day tending to the soil and seeds.

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Here it is today, just ten weeks later.

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This was the first vegetable garden we built in our yard. I think of it as my summer Italian garden because later in the season, I will grow tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, onions, and basil in it. The garden space is 20 by 30 feet. The fence was made using four-foot high chicken wire and wood. About 18 inches from the fence sides, I “planted” a necklace of empty, upside-down, wine bottles to separate the spring planting space from the summer planting space. By keeping the center of the garden open and available, I no longer have to wait for spring crops to die off before I plant summer crops in early May.

People often ask when it is I start working the soil and planting vegetable seeds. The first vegetable I plant is always peas. I aim for getting them in the ground by March 1st, at the latest, which means I have to get the perimeter planting space prepped before then. This year, I invited the chickens to help out by doing what comes naturally to them: scratching up the dirt (tilling), eating the CHICKweed (weeding), and leaving some of their nutrient-rich poop (fertilizer) scattered about. It was a free-for-all for them and a bonanza for me.

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To prepare the necklace space for planting, all I do is use a pitchfork to loosen the soil. I let worms and old roots do the bulk of the work of aerating the soil. I try to stay out of the way of nature. Additionally, because the perimeter space is off the beaten path, it doesn’t get compacted by foot traffic which also helps keep the soil loose and ready for the next planting season.

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Next, I planted a row of peas along the fence (notice the white dots in the soil), and then I planted two rows of green onion sets in the middle row, and finally, one row of radishes next to the bottles. This season, I was careful to space the radish seeds about every four inches to help with good root ball formation. I planted a different variety of radishes on each side of the garden, one that was quick to mature and one that would mature later in the spring.

Inside the Necklace Space: peas, onions, and radishes photographed 3/30, 4/17, and  5/30. Mixed in there were some dill seeds that had self-seeded from last year’s dill crop.

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 around to planting anything until mid-March. This may be the reason my Sugar Ann peas, a new variety for me, 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. If I use this same planting plan next year, I’ll start the peas two weeks earlier than the onions and radishes.

In previous years, I planted two varieties of peas: a sugar snap and a snow pea. They both grow the same way and need a trellis or fence for vine support.

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Sugar snaps are an edible-podded cultivar that has plump peas inside. If you harvest while young, you can still eat the pods. If you harvest late, you would need to shell the peas and discard the pod. These are so delicious raw; they hardly ever make it to the kitchen.

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Snow peas have edible pods, as well, but are flat with tiny peas inside. Snow pea pods are often used in Asian cooking. I like to use a “stringless” variety of snow peas. The chickens love the pea plants, including the leaves, and will often eat what pokes out of the chicken wire fence. One of them took a bite out of a snow pea in the photo below.

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Spring Onions (aka Scallions or Green Onions)
Sets planted 3/15. Harvest started six weeks later and continues. Even though you can buy white, yellow, or purple onion sets, I plant the purple variety for one reason, I love the color. I planted 200 sets this year. I cannot get enough of spring onions. I use them sliced and uncooked in salads, sautéed in mirepoix, and roasted whole in the oven or on the grill. Yum.

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

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

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

Cauliflower and Broccoli
On each end of the rectangular garden, I planted cauliflower and broccoli. Both crops were a failure. Something ate the leaves within a week of planting them. Every year, I swear I’m not going to grow these two plants ever again and every year I cave when I see them at the garden center. It’s a case of tunnel vision — I remember the glory days of gorgeous broccoli and forget about the pesticides I used to keep caterpillars from chomping away at them. Now that I have free-range chickens in my yard, I don’t use any chemicals. In fact, I often joke that the hens keep me honest whenever I get tempted.

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Raised Beds: kale, chard, turnips, beets, potatoes

“Premier Blend” Kale
Seeds planted March 23. Days to maturity: 28 baby, 55 bunching. Harvesting began late April

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“Bright Lights” Swiss Chard
Seeds planted 3/23. Days to maturity: 28 baby, 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 white turnips have been the tastiest surprise of all the vegetables growing in my garden. This pure white variety of turnips are so light and crisp you can eat them like an apple. Truly. When sliced, they can be used as low-cal scoops for hummus and other dips. I’m so glad I planted two rows of them! As with other turnip varieties, you can cook the greens. I like to sauté them together with radish greens, green onions, and garlic in olive oil.

Turnip 4/17

Beets 
Planted as seedlings 4/2. Days to maturity 55. I haven’t started harvesting the beets yet because they are still quite small. I have, however, been harvesting the beet greens for the last month. I should have separated the seedlings when I first planted them for better root ball formation. In the picture below you can see how small the beets are. New gardening rule: all plants with edible roots need to be planted with sufficient space around them for good root ball formation.

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My healthiest vegetable seedlings came from my annual subscription to The Nashville Food Project‘s “Project Grow,”  a plant CSA. All plants are grown organically in TNFP’s greenhouse. The plant subscription includes herbs, leafy greens, edible flowers, tomatoes, eggplants, squashes, and peppers. Pick-up is once a month at their urban gardening site. The beet seedlings below were part of the March selection.

“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/sets that each contain 1-2 “eyes.” Allow to dry out for a couple of days to form calluses over the cut sides to help prevent sets from rotting in the soil. In general, when the plant leaves turn yellow, it’s time to harvest, but you can start digging for a few “new potatoes” long before that.

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Photos of potato plant growth taken on 4/4, 5/19, and 5/26:

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Every bit of the delightfully colored food in this photo was harvested on April 17th.

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LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

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