August 15, 2007
My Garden of Eaten, Part II
I embarked on growing a full vegetable garden this year for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I missed having unbelievably fresh veggies that go directly from stem to plate. Back in May it seemed things would never come to fruition, but here we are in August and my Garden of Eaten is producing a variety of great stuff.
As I have related in this space before, I've had to ward off all sorts of predators, including rabbits, deer, moles, voles and squirrels. I've been stung by bees, wasps, different colored flies, fleas, gnats and insects unknown to most men. I've had numerous rashes, hives, gashes and itches that could not be satiated.
I have spent an inordinate amount of money on coyote urine (how many of us can say that?) and other natural and artificial deer repellents. I have constructed several fences, hung Irish Spring from the trees, bought a miniature windmill, and most prominent, installed a scarecrow, which was sent by a woman named Karen from the company's Canadian headquarters after she read an earlier column.
This scarecrow isn't like the one made of hay that's afraid of the witch; it's a water-fueled motion activated repellent with an infrared eye. When something crosses its path it sends out a powerful stream of water about 40 feet in every direction. I don't know if it's nailed any deer or rabbits but it took out the pool guy, the lawn guy, got me about 13 times and nearly blinded the other Karen, my wife, the one who now ruefully wears a genuine Moshe Dayan eye patch while she contemplates litigation.
The other day my friend Joe brought over a gorgeous hunk of striped bass fresh from the sea. That gave me an opportunity to create a meal entirely composed of edibles that were living the same day. Think about it — how many times have we ever enjoyed such a feast? When we were younger, Papa used to have chickens, so along with fish, shellfish, etc. we would do it all the time. Those days are all but gone for most folks.
I started off with a salad of fresh cucumbers, grape and cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil in a vinaigrette. I cut a batch of collard greens, picked some string beans, found four gorgeous zucchini flowers and presto — a homegrown meal. Since Karen is not allowed in our kitchen I popped open a nice, chilled Sauvignon Blanc to assist me.
Here are the incidentals:
Fish: Put the striped bass filet in a broiling pan. Dust the top with bread crumbs, salt, pepper and paprika. Cover the bottom of the pan with equal parts fresh lemon juice and white wine. Add four or five pats of butter, a tablespoon of dry sherry, a couple drops of dry vermouth and a half cup of water. Broil for about eight minutes for each inch of thickness.
Zucchini flowers: This is a delicacy I picked up from "The Sopranos." The only restaurant around here I can recall serving it is Saracen, by the way. Pick flowers that haven't opened yet. Make sure to cut them behind the stem so the flower is completely closed — otherwise it will fill up with oil. Coat flower with sifted flour (I use Wondra), dip in milk, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and coat again with more flour.
Heat up equal parts olive oil and butter and gently sauté flowers on all sides. Remove when crispy brown on all sides and discard oil/butter mixture save for a coating on the bottom of the pan. When pan is cool return flowers, turn heat on medium, cover with a crushed tomato, fresh parsley, basil and sprinkle Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on it. Let the cheese melt and serve piping hot with a little hot red pepper on top. (I always pretend I'm Tony Soprano when I eat these and usually curse a lot and threaten the other people at the table, often pointing my fork at them.)
Collard greens: Spicy's in Riverhead has the best around, but I've learned by trying to copy their recipe. Finely dice up greens and a white onion. Boil for about 20 minutes. Empty most of the water and add a couple drops Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon mustard, a few hot pepper flakes, and some diced smoked ham or pancetta.
Vinaigrette: Equal parts aged red wine vinegar, good olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of granulated brown sugar and some dried oregano. Whisk it several times and let salad marinate.
String beans: I steam them, stems on, being careful not to overcook, and toss them with butter and salt. They are to die for when picked right before cooking.
I served everything on the same plate so the flavors had a chance to mingle: the fish in a little of its broth (which thickened into a nice sauce) the veggies with the vinaigrette, the zucchini in its tomato sauce, and the buttery string beans.
My only complaint was during the cooking process someone — and I strongly suspect Karen or one of the dogs, since no one else was home — drank most of the Sauvignon Blanc. Oh well. Luckily, like every good Italian household, there was a bottle of Chianti at the ready.