After such a challenging summer, this mild autumn has been very kind to late crops. Despite being the wettest autumn on record, there have been enough clear days to encourage terrific growth on everything I planted in September and even into October. Kale, shard, collards, mustard greens, and even celery are filling in faster than usual, while lettuces are making great, fluffy rosettes of lime and emerald and rose. Garlic and leeks are also sizing up quickly and we are harvesting lovely little marble sized Cippolino Italian onions as well (see a delicious recipe below). As I clean up my little beds, I remove all fading foliage and detritis from earlier crops, then carpet the soil with mature, well-rotted compost.
More Milk, Please
As I tuck in the autumns starts, I water each in with a diluted solution of liquid kelp (1 tablespoon of Maxi-Crop per gallon of water) and spray the foliage with diluted skim milk (1 cup skim milk powder per 10 cups water). When in rapid growth, as they are now, plants take up the extra calcium quickly. Both these treatments help boost root growth and encourage sturdy stems and dense foliage that tastes beautifully tender. This diluted milk spray is very helpful on squash relatives, all of which are prone to mildews and molds. When sprayed on foliage, the milk’s readily absorbable calcium seems to give an extra degree of protection against foliage diseases. I try to spray early on a dry day, since rain will wash the milk away, but at least some of it will make it to the plant’s root system, where it will also be welcome.
Italian Treats With Fall Vegetables
In Italy, autumn vegetables are treated as lovingly as the first asparagus of spring. There are many classic ways to cook the lovely little onions called cippolini, including tossing them with fresh peas and clotted cream and serving them with angel hair pasta. I love to make these sweet and sour Italian onions for Thanksgiving or any friendly feast, because they are just as delicious with vegetarian entrees as with fish or chicken. Don’t overcook the little onions; they should be tender-crisp, not mushy.
Italian Sweet and Sour Cipollini (tiny onions)
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup tiny onions, peeled
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup dry white wine or water
2 teaspoons cane sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons parsley, stemmed
In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil and butter over medium high heat. Add onions, sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly gilded (8-10 minutes). Add wine or water, bring to a simmer, stir in sugar and balsamic vinegar, cover pan, reduce heat and cook until barely tender (8-10 minutes). Serve warm with roasted vegetables or grilled fish or chicken.
Those Grafted Tomatoes Are Still Going Strong
My grafted tomatoes are still ripening happily in my sun porch, keeping company with a few pots of basil and some jasmine, which is just budding up for its winter performance after a summer outside in the sun. If you did manage to ripen some tomatoes, here is a rewarding way to use them, along with some leeks. The white and palest green parts of leeks are the most tender, but save all your scraps for broth (see below). Leeks and tomatoes are natural companions, and they taste especially good in this rich sauce, with crumbles of soft goat cheese melt into the hot pasta.
Pasta Sauce With Leeks and Goat Cheese
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 cups fresh leeks, sliced (white and pale green parts only)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, stemmed
1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme or any thyme, stemmed
6 cups ripe Roma tomatoes, diced (canned works fine)
2-3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled
In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil with fennel seed over medium high heat to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add leeks and garlic, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook until tender (8-10 minutes). Add carrot, rosemary, and thyme, cover pan, reduce heat to medium and cook until soft (5-7 minutes). Add tomatoes, mash gently, bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and serve over hot pasta, garnished with goat cheese. Makes about 1 quart of sauce.
Home grown vegetables are so flavorful, it’s a shame not to enjoy the flavor of every little scrap. True, the chickens also appreciate kitchen tidbits, but everything from potato peelings to onion tips and tails will enrich your basic stock. In fact, onion skins and roots add a warm, appetizing amber brown color to stock, which can look a bit like dishwater. If you like, gently squeeze out the cooked garlic after straining and add it to the broth; you’ll lose clarity but gain depth of flavor. The recipe below is just an outline; add whatever you have on hand, tasting after an hour or so to adjust the flavor if need be. Freeze extra broth (leave headroom if you use canning jars) and use it within a few months for best flavor.
Basic Vegetable Broth
2 cups potato peels
2 cups tips and tails of carrots, onions, celery, etc.
4 cups leek greens (roots and tops)
1 whole head garlic, broken into cloves (unpeeled)
1 sprig rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 cups water (or to cover)
Bring to a simmer over medium heat, partially cover pan, reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 2-3 hours, adjusting flavor if need be (carrots for sweetness, potatoes for body, onions for savor, herbs as desired). Cool and strain. Makes about 1 quart.