Italian Spring Dishes Make Life Lovely

Light And Lively Spring Sauces Add Zip To Anything

As the first baby vegetables reach edible size, I find myself backing off from complex sauces in favor of speedy, garden-based ones that can do triple duty as dressings and marinades. I’ve included a few recipes to show how I’ve been enjoying them, but please play around with your own favorite underpinnings. Rice, pasta, steamed or roasted vegetables all make anchoring bases for these bright, piquant sauces.

These days, I’m most often tossing these sauces with cauliflower (my latest craving that just won’t quit). Roasted for half an hour with just a light misting of avocado oil and a little sea salt, cauliflower becomes addictive (to me, anyway), especially when paired with an vividly flavorful sauce. Yow! You can also use these sauces as sandwich spreads (partner with crisp Romaine and sliced cucumber) and raw vegetable dips, slather them into wraps or spoon them over grilled fish…

Italian Parsley Sauce

I learned to make this lilting sauce back when I was a perpetually broke student in Perugia, a lovely Italian hill town. Parsley sauce enlivens pretty much anything and makes a fantastic dressing for fresh or steamed spring greens, asparagus, new potatoes, and baby peas. It’s also great over hot pasta or rice, topped with crumbles of soft goat cheese. Use flat Italian parsley and include the thinner stems as well as the foliage for a more intense flavor.

Salsa di Prezzemolo

2 cups chopped Italian parsley, well packed
1/2 cup fruity Italian olive oil
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1-2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon capers, drained

In a food processor or blender, combine parsley, oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon rind, 1 teaspoon vinegar, the garlic, salt and pepper and puree until smooth. Season to taste with remaining lemon juice and vinegar, stir in capers and serve at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days. Makes about 1 cup.

Italian Tuna Salad

This goes together fast and tastes amazing, with tantalizing flashes of lemon and capers balancing the subtle sweetness of tuna and white beans. It’s also great with cooked salmon and garbanzos, and for vegans, you can omit the fish entirely (just use more beans).

Tuna & White Bean Salad

1 head Romaine lettuce, chopped
1 cup radicchio, chopped
1-1/2 cups cooked white cannellini beans, drained
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 cup thinly sliced brown field mushroom caps
4 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 cup cooked flaked tuna
1/3 cup Salsa di Prezzemolo (see above)

In a serving bowl, toss all ingredients gently and lt stand for 10-15 minutes to meld before serving. Serves 4.

Spring Dug Garlic Sauce

Freshly dug garlic has a sweet side that mellows its fiery bite. Brighten this richly layered sauce with minced fresh garlic greens from your spring-planted crop or use chives for a similar but milder effect. If you leave out the anchovies for your vegans, add brine-cured olives for more body and depth.

Double Garlic Sauce

2 tablespoons raw almonds
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 organic lemon, seeded and chopped
2 anchovy fillets, drained OR 1/4 cup pitted olives
1/4 cup fruity olive oil
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, packed
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
2 tablespoons minced garlic greens OR chives

In a food processor or blender, grind almonds to a coarse paste. Add garlic, lemon and anchovies (or olives) and again grind to a coarse paste. Add oil, oregano, salt and paprika and puree for 8-10 seconds. Stir in minced greens and serve at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days. Makes about 1 cup.

Garlicky Pasta With New Peas

Another speedy dish that cooks in under 20 minutes yet tastes like you spent all day making it (I love getting more credit than I deserve!). This is also an Italian regional dish with many variations, including adding chopped greens to the peas and garnishing with grated hard cheese.

Fettuccine With Fresh Peas & Garlic

10-12 ounces fresh fettuccine
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 pound fresh peas, shelled
1/2 cup Double Garlic Sauce (see above)
1/4 cup chopped snap peas (in the pod)

Cook pasta according to package directions. While water heats, combine butter, garlic, onion, celery and salt in a wide, shallow pan over medium high heat and cook until barely tender (3-4 minutes). Add peas, reduce heat to low, cover pan and sweat peas for 3 minutes. Add Double Garlic Sauce, heat through, remove from heat and toss with hot, drained pasta, garnished with snap peas. Serves 4.

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Garden-Based Vegan Snacks

Good Eating, Fast And Easy

Try as we may to keep healthy food on hand, snacks have a way of penetrating our defenses. Commercial snacks are intended to do that, employing every genetically programmed hook we humans have. A taste for sweet and/or salty foods is a basic part of human nature, and recently, specific fat-sensing areas on the human tongue have been discovered as well. Millennia ago, all this worked in our favor in terms of survival, but most of us need a little protection from today’s unrivaled and often unhealthy smorgasbord.

Fortunately, it is definitely possible and even easy to make truly scrumptious snacks that make our whole bodies happy, from our taste receptors to our bellies and brains. Since more and more family and friends are becoming vegan, I’ve been playing with vegan treats that are both toothsome and wholesome. Some came about because of specific requests (‘I’m supposed to eat more cauliflower and I hate it: what can I do?”), others from sheer love (Kale Crunchies), but all are amazingly more-ish. Ready?

Spicy Crunchy Chickpeas

I ran into a friend browsing the canned bean isle this week, seeking unsalted organic chickpeas. She’d tried a complicated online recipe that was yummy but way too salty, and as we talked, I recognized it as a classic Indian snack. Back home, I dug out Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation To Indian Cooking, a long-ago gift from an Indian friend. Sure enough, a Punjabi dal dish called Chana Masaledar involved stir-frying cooked chickpeas until crispy with an arsenal of spices. Short on time, I made an extremely simplified version that knocked the socks off my dinner companions. You can dress it up with almost anything (MJ’s version includes cumin, onion, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, garlic, fresh ginger, tomato paste, lemon juice, cayenne, and salt; whew!), but try this first and see where you want to take it–or just love it like it is; crispy and spicy on the outside, creamy on the inside…yum. Clearly, such a simple dish is only as good as the paprika, and I strongly suggest using a spectacular brand such as Safinter.

Basic Crunchy Chickpeas

1 tablespoon avocado or coconut oil
2-3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon hot smoked paprika

Cook oil and garlic in a heavy frying pan over medium high heat to the fragrance point. Add chickpeas and salt and paprika to taste, then cook, stirring often, until crispy (8-10 minutes; watch so they don’t burn). Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes about 2 cups.

Irresistible Kale

Though kale has been a foodie darling for years now, there are still a few hold-outs (in my family anyway). If anybody on the planet does not know how to make kale chips, here’s a basic-plus recipe that really is irresistible. Kids and recalcitrant adults alike will eat amazing quantities of kale made this way, especially if you don’t explain what it is (definitely do not mention nutritional yeast to anybody exposed to the nasty brewer’s yeast common in the 70s and 80s. Nutritional yeast is delicious now, nutty and cheesy, but once burned..). There are zillions of variations to try as well, but like the old song says, ‘the original is still the greatest’.

Quick Kale Crunchies

1 bunch Tuscan (black or dragonskin) kale
2-3 teaspoons avocado (high temp) oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2-3 tablespoons flaked nutritional yeast

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Rinse kale, pat dry, trim off stems and cut in inch-wide ribbons (chiffonade). Pour oil into a rimmed baking sheet and rub it evenly over the whole sheet. Add kale and gently rub with oil until all is lightly coated. Spread in a single layer, sprinkle with salt and roast until crisp (12-15 minutes). Gently toss with nutritional yeast and serve warm or at room temperature. Serves at least one.

Coconut Chutney Cauliflower

1 large head cauliflower (any color), cut in florets
1-2 teaspoons coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds

Steam cauliflower florets until just tender (3-4 minutes) and place in a bowl. Cook oil, salt, and seeds over medium high heat until seeds pop (2-3 minutes), gently toss with cauliflower. Serve with Coconut Chutney on the side for dipping. Serves 4-6.

Fresh Chutney

In India, fresh chutneys are served with vegetable pakoras, with naan breads, with all kinds of bean-and-pea dishes, and even with fresh fruit. You can make this fresh chutney with fresh, raw coconut, finely grated, but this quicker version is intensely flavorful and a lot simpler to prepare.

Coconut Chutney

1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup stemmed cilantro, packed down
1 fresh green hot chile (Jalapeno or any), seeded and chopped
1 inch ginger root, peeled and chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup plain Greek style yogurt
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place coconut flakes in a single layer in a rimmed baking sheet and toast at 350 F until golden (about 8 minutes), set aside. In a food processor, combine cilantro, chile, ginger, garlic, salt and 1/4 cup water and puree to a slurry. Stir in yogurt and add lemon juice to taste. Stir in toasted coconut just before serving. Makes about 1 cup.

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All Fruit (&/Or Veggie) Ice Cream

Crazy Cool Treats From The Garden And Beyond

First of all, I should explain that I don’t get out much. Thus, stuff that’s old hat for many folks is often screamingly new and exciting to me. Anyway, this weekend I combined perennial planting (one of my favorite all-time activities) with a trip to The Mall, a place I rarely visit. In fact, I only go if somebody else will drive! Naturally enough, I didn’t find more perennials there, but I DID come home with a totally fun gadget that makes sorbet that’s as creamy and rich flavored as ice cream even though it only includes frozen fruit (or vegetables).

Called Yonanas, this gizmo grinds frozen foods into creamy puree with the texture of soft ice cream. The original recipes are based on frozen ripe bananas, which I often have on hand, since I never know if my grandson will be in banana mode or not. As a single person, I often find it a challenge to use up fruit before it gets overripe, so this machine seemed like a great idea. When bananas or avocados or raspberries or blueberries are edging past their prime, I freeze them, sometimes for months on end. Now I have something new to do with the bounty, just in time for summer.

Beyond Bananas

The really good news is that if you run short of bananas, you can take the basic idea all over the place. In just a few days, I’ve moved past banana strawberry “ice cream” to peach blueberry sorbet, avocado basil sorbet, and banana almond sorbet with chocolate chunks and toasted coconut flakes stirred in. In the process of making pineapple ginger sorbet, I discovered that the Yonanas is not a Vita Mix replacement or even a blender. In fact, you have to cook harder, stringier and/or denser foods before freezing and using them, or figure out a work-around. This is not an industrial strength machine (though they make them, apparently), so it works best when you stick with soft stuff that’s been frozen at least overnight, then partially thawed.

The strength of the gadget is that it makes soft sorbet or ice cream in a few seconds (if you don’t count freezing/thawing times). If you don’t have one of these things, you can get a similar effect by grinding fruit in a food processor, then freezing the slush in an ice cream maker (just freezing it will make it rock hard). The other trick is that works best is to peel bananas BEFORE freezing them…

Ice Creamy Banana Strawberry Sorbet

2 ripe, peeled, frozen bananas
1 cup frozen strawberries
1 teaspoon minced fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
pinch of sea salt

Thaw fruit for 10-15 minutes. Feed one banana into the Yonanas, follow with the strawberries and end with the other banana. Stir in mint, lime juice and salt to taste, serve and enjoy! Serves 2-4.

Peach Blueberry Sorbet

2 ripe, peeled, frozen bananas
1 cup frozen peach slices
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt

Thaw fruit for 10-15 minutes. Feed one banana into the Yonanas, follow with alternating half-cups of berries and peaches, then end with the other banana. Stir in vanilla and salt to taste, serve and enjoy! Serves 4.

Avocado Basil Sorbet

This one makes a great palate cleanser or starter course on a warm evening…

2 ripe, peeled and frozen avocados
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup plain Greek yogurt

Let avocados thaw for 10 minutes, then put through machine. Stir in remaining ingredients and serve. Serves 4.

Banana Almond Sorbet

2 ripe peeled frozen bananas
2 tablespoons (or more) almond butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons chocolate chunks
2 tablespoons toasted coconut flakes
2 tablespoons chopped toasted almonds
pinch of sea salt

Thaw fruit for 10-15 minutes. Feed bananas into the Yonanas, stir in remaining ingredients and serve. Serves 4.

Pineapple Ginger Sorbet

2 ripe, peeled, frozen bananas
1 cup frozen pineapple slices
1 cup frozen strawberries
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger root
pinch of sea salt

Thaw fruit for 10-15 minutes. Feed one banana into the Yonanas, follow with alternating half-cups of pineapple and berries, then end with the other banana. Stir in ginger and salt to taste and serve. Serves 4.

I’m sold! What do you think?

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A Palette of Plants Deer Don’t Prefer

A Palette of Plants Deer Don’t Prefer

Deer Resistant, Never Deer Proof

My new garden is filling in fast and I am so thrilled to watch the progress. My transplanted shrubs are thriving on the blend of sandy loam and fish-and-tree-waste-based compost (a local specialty). Of several dozen kinds I planted, only one has been deer-browsed so far. I am a bit puzzled by that, since the shrub in question, Sorbaria sorbifolia Sem, also called the ash leaf sorbaria, is not usually a deer-preferred plant. Indeed, it is sometimes called deer proof, though in my yard, that is a fantasy. Deer resistant is as good as it gets, and Sem has here-to-fore fit that category solidly.

If my sorbaria were the common form, it might have outgrown the deer by now. My sweet little Sem is a much better mannered form of this often aggressive shrub, which can exceed 10 feet in height and the size of your garden in width. No, Sem is a handsome, red-tinged form with much-dissected foliage, and it makes a ruffled mound about 4 x 4 feet or so in time. Still, the family vigor means I’m not in despair about the deers depredations, but I did take time to stick a tomato cage around the poor twigs, wrap the cage with chicken wire, poke some sharp, twiggy sticks around the edges and top it off with a second, nesting cage to keep those hungry snouts at a distance. That should give Sem time to recover its groove and put on fresh foliage.

Get-Over-It Gardening With Deer

I can, in fact, suggest a range of plants that deer will never touch, that won’t need water, and will never outgrow their spot. In a word: Plastic. In real life, it’s a little harder. Over the years, I’ve seen lists of plants deer love and plants deer hate, and have been fascinated to notice some of the same plants on each list. It seems that deer in one area eat things that deer elsewhere don’t. They can also change their habits: For many years, deer in my yard ignored azaleas, but one year, they ate them eagerly. I now have deer that browse the new growth on ivy, which I’ve never seen before. On one notable occasion, a deer ate the better part of a large and extremely toxic angel trumpet, yet I found no dead Bambi in the driveway.

Voracious and charming, greedy and beautiful, deer can be the bane or the grace of the garden. Although young deer will eat pretty much anything, mature deer are more discriminating. Sort of. And if there are no deer-proof plant, there definitely are deer resistant ones. Often these are plants with hairy, smelly, waxy, dense, or highly textured foliage. In addition, I’ve never seen deer eat ferns or grasses, or eucalyptus or madronas, or entire Doug firs…

Baffling Bambi

After all these years, I don’t try to outwit deer, just to leave them mildly baffled. I feel that I have learned quite a lot about these lovely  if totally annoying creatures, having been blessed with many of them in each of my gardens. At present, my yard hosts a growing family in the front yard and a clutch of young bucks in the lower back yard. Sometimes my neighbor even calls and asks me to get my deer out of his garden. Still, if I tell you deer don’t usually eat this or that, I mean MY deer, THIS year. For what it is worth, I offer you my my current list of plants my personal flock of deer rarely eat (all of):

Bulbs

Allium              Ornamental onions
Begonia            Begonia (tuberous)
Crocosmia       Crocosmia
Dahlia               Dahlia
Endymion        Spanish bluebells
Freesia              Freesia
Fritillaria          Crown imperials (specifically)
Galanthus         Snowdrops
Gladiolus          Gladiola
Hyacinthus       Hyacinths
Narcissus          Daffodils
Scilla                  Squills
Polianthes        Tuberose

Shrubs & Subshrubs

Abelia                 Abelia
Berberis             Barberry
Brugmansia      Angels trumpet
Buddleia            Butterfly bush
Buxus                 Boxwood
Ceanothus         California lilac
Cistus                 Rockrose (usually)
Cotoneaster       Cotoneaster
Daphne              Daphne
Datura                Angels trumpet
Erica                   Heather
Escallonia          Escallonia
Gaultheria         Salal
Hypericum        St. John’s wort
Ilex                      Holly
Juniperus          Juniper
Kerria                 Kerria
Lavandula         Lavender
Mahonia            Oregon grape
Nandina             Heavenly bamboo
Picea                    Spruce
Pieris                   Lily-of-the-valley shrub
Pinus                   Pine
Potentilla            Cinquefoil (usually)
Prunus                 Laurel
Rhododendron   Rhododendron, Azalea
Rhus                     Sumac
Ribes                    Flowering currant
Rosmarinus        Rosemary
Salvia                   Sage
Sarcoccoca          Sweetbox
Senecio                Sunshine (specifically)
Skimmia              Skimmia
Spirea                   Spirea
Syringa                 Lilac
Viburnum            Viburnum

Perennials

Acanthus        Bear breeches
Aconitum       Monkshood
Achillea           Yarrow
Agastache       Hummingbird plant
Alyssum          Basket-of-gold
Artemisia       Artemisia
Aster               Aster
Aubretia         Rockcress
Bergenia        Leatherleaf
Chrysanthemum  Chrysanthemum
Crambe           Sea kale
Digitalis          Foxglove
Echinacea       Cone flower
Erigeron          Fleabane
Eryngium        Sea holly
Euphorbia       Spurge
Ferula              Fennel
Gaillardia        Blanket flower
Geranium        Geranium
Helleborus      Hellebore
Iris                    Iris
Kniphofia        Poker plant
Lavatera          Mallow
Lupinus           Lupines
Meconopsis     Welsh poppy
Monarda          Bee balm
Nepeta              Catmint
Oenothera        Evening primrose
Papaver             Poppies
Penstemon       Beardtongue
Perovskia          Russian sage
Phlomis             Phlomis
Phormium        New Zealand flax
Pulmonaria      Lungwort
Rheum              Rhubarb
Rudbeckia        Black-eyed Susan
Santolina          Lavender cotton
Scabiosa           Pincushion flower
Stachys             Lambs ear
Thymus            Thyme
Verbascum       Mullein
Verbena             Verbena

Annuals

Alyssum           Sweet alyssum
Calendula         Pot marigold
Clarkia              Farewell to spring
Cleome              Spider flower
Eschscholzia    California poppy
Heliotropus     Heliotrope
Lobelia             Lobelia
Myosotis          Forget-me-nots
Nasturtium      Nasturtium
Nicotiana          Flowering tobacco
Papaver             Poppies
Pelargonium    Geranium
Petunia             Petunia
Ricinus             Castor bean
Tagetes             Marigold
Verbena            Verbena
Zinnia                Zinnia

Good luck!

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