Summer’s Here!: Plant Food and People Food

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Let The Revels Begin

This week, we enjoyed a number of firsts from the deck garden; first agretti (which returned from seedlings left by last summer’s crop), first major cutting of fresh basil, and first tomatoes. Gardeners in warmer climates may not realize just how satisfying it is for us cool region folks to have adequate warmth to ripen heat loving summer vegetables. Many years, we watch our hot crops waver as cold nights and overcast days dull their natural enthusiasm.

It’s delightful to join in with the rest of the country when summer finally does arrive. Now, despite maritime morning fogs, everything is ripening apace and we can bring the bounty straight from the garden to the plate. Last night, we swooned over a savory sorbet made with fresh basil and the juice of chopped tomatoes. A little sea salt gave it sparkle, and organic heavy cream gave it body; sheer perfection!

 Everybody Likes Fish And Kelp

I grow mostly big-leaf basil, usually Genovese, which does best for me in my sunny kitchen bay window. I pinch it back for the first month or so, creating big, bushy cut-and-come-again plants that can be harvested through the autumn. The big basil plants live in 3 gallon pots, and get fed every 2 weeks, along with the outdoor tomatoes. I use a combination of liquid kelp, humic acid, and fish fertilizer, which seems to please all concerned. I spray it on tomato plants, and water everybody with it as well. Here’s the recipe:

Happy Plant Elixir

1 tablespoon liquid kelp concentrate
1 tablespoon humic acid concentrate
1 cup liquid fish fertilizer
1 gallon water

Combine first 3 ingredients in a gallon jug, add water to top it off and let stand overnight. Store in a cool, dark place. Give each tomato plant (or hanging flower basket) 1 cup and each basil plant 1/2 cup of mixture every 2 weeks. Plants in 1 gallon containers get 1/4 cup each on same schedule.

Gluten-Free, Dairy Free Garden Pie

I’ve been experimenting lately with this delicious and quickly made variation on our favorite Italian torta, which has no crust, and  doesn’t need eggs for binding. If you leave out the cheese, it’s a lovely vegan entree. You can add almost any kind of vegetables you like, along with whatever herbs or spices capture your fancy. The secret ingredient is tofu, which gives the pie a light, egg-like texture and carries the garden flavors beautifully.

Savory Summer Garden Pie

14-16 ounces firm tofu
1 cup basil leaves, torn
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
10 pitted kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
1 Walla Walla onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 big bunch spinach
2 cups broccoli florets (small)
3 cups chopped tomatoes, drained (reserve liquid)
1/4 cup grated hard cheese such as Asiago, Romano, etc.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor, combine chunked up tofu with 1/2 cup basil leaves, 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast, puree, set aside. In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil, olives, onion and garlic over medium high heat. Sprinkle with remaining salt, a few grinds of pepper and remaining nutritional yeast and cook until barely soft (3-4 minutes). Add spinach and broccoli, cover pan and cook until spinach is wilted and broccoli florets are bright green (3-4 minutes). Remove from heat, stir in drained tomatoes and tofu mixture and spoon into a pie dish. Top with cheese (if using) and bake until set and lightly browned (35-40 minute). Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6-8.

A Dazzling Palate Cleanser or Appetizer

Creamy, spunky, and bright with sea salt, this simple sorbet is amazingly satisfying. Exact amounts are not too important; puree a few tomatoes if you don’t have enough fresh juice, and swap the basil for cilantro if you prefer it. Though the simple summery flavors linger, the result is anything but cloying. We are happily hooked! I tasted a similar basil sorbet in France, scooped into a dish of chilled gazpacho, and this would be fabulous that way too.

Savory Summer Sorbet

1 cup fresh tomato juice (from drained tomatoes)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups heavy organic cream

Combine all ingredients and chill overnight or up to 2 days. Freeze in an ice cream maker, pack into containers and freeze for at least an hour. Makes about 2 pints.

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