One thing I’ve learned for certain since I put vegetable beds in our front yard is that, as a gardener, I’m a pretty good cook.
My agricultural shortcomings are not something I’m proud of. I start every growing season with the best of intentions, laying out well-ordered plots that seem almost guaranteed to turn into things of beauty. But then life intervenes, weeks pass and somehow the whole operation has gotten away from me.
What starts with fantasies of my photo in Sunset magazine winds up with a reality that warrants my picture in the post office — with the warning “Wanted: For plant murder.”
The most recent example: This winter, I planted fava beans because they’re the one vegetable I’ve been able to grow reliably (even I can’t kill a fava). But because the favas take a long time to mature, I thought I’d oversow some radishes — they pop up so quickly that they’d be long harvested by the time the favas came on.
Smart idea, right? Well, fast-forward a couple of months and somehow a few of those radishes never did get picked (hey, I was busy). They had bolted and now were sending up head-high shoots of flowers from somewhere hidden deep in the fava jungle.
Time to go in and rip them all out. But when I went to do that, I noticed that some of the branches were full of these tiny needle-shaped pods: radish seed pods. I picked one and tasted it. It was crisp and practically popped in my mouth. Think of a radish’s sweet taste but with only a trace of the heat. It was kind of like a cross between a radish and a sugar snap pea.
I started getting ideas. I was bringing a salad to a friend’s potluck that evening — a simple thing, mixed lettuces and quartered hard-boiled eggs — so I tossed in a handful of pods along with some of the radish flowers and blooms from other plants that had bolted.
The salad was delicious — and far prettier than my garden could ever hope to be.
I did get some of those fava beans too, and after much shucking and peeling, simmered them briefly with garlic and mint and then served them with burrata as another salad. That too was good. The beans were tender and full of that sweet, flash-of-green spring flavor for which we love favas so much.
But then my gardening ability reared its ugly head once again.
When I tried to make something similar a couple of weeks later, the favas I picked had quite clearly been ignored for too long. They were so full of starch my lovely light simmer had turned into a thick, stodgy porridge.
It tasted good, but the texture was pasty and floury. And I had only a half-hour before guests arrived. Desperate, I beat in a generous quarter cup of really good olive oil (reasoning that there’s nothing that really good olive oil can’t fix). Between the unctuousness of the fat and the slight bitterness of the oil, this rough puree was a knockout.
Someday, maybe, I’ll get to the point where my vegetable gardening is good enough that I won’t need to pull these kinds of dishes out of my hat. But until then, I guess, I’ll just stay in my kitchen as much as possible. That’s where I seem to do the least damage.
Fava Bean Salad with Mint, Burrata and Pistachios
4 pounds fava beans in pod
1/3 cup chopped green onion (green part only)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 (4-ounce) balls fresh burrata
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped toasted pistachios
1. Shuck the beans into a work bowl. Cover the beans with boiling water and set aside until cool enough to handle. Cut a nick in the bottom of the skin of each bean with your thumbnail and squeeze the inside beans from the skin. You should have 2½ to 3 cups fava beans.
2. In a large skillet, heat one-fourth cup olive oil over medium heat and add the green onion and lemon zest. Add the fava beans, the white wine and 1 teaspoon salt, and simmer until the beans are just tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the mint and cool until ready to serve.
3. When ready to serve, mound the favas on a plate. Cut each burrata ball into quarters and arrange them over the top. Season the burrata with a little more salt and freshly ground pepper, and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Scatter the chopped pistachios over the top and serve.
Calories 321, Protein 14 grams, Carbohydrates 19 grams, Fiber 5 grams, Fat 20 grams, Saturated fat 7 grams, Cholesterol 30 mg, Sugar 2 grams, Sodium 394 mg
Mixed Green Salad with Hard-boiled Eggs and Radish Pods
1 pound mixed salad greens
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Champagne or sherry vinegar
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
2 to 3 ounces radish pods, or equal weight thinly sliced radishes
Assorted herb or other edible flowers
1. Place the salad greens in a large mixing bowl. Mix the olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar in a small bowl, and whisk until smooth. (Alternatively, combine them in a small lidded jar and shake to emulsify.) Pour half of the dressing over the greens and toss with your hands to lightly coat with dressing. Add only as much more as you need. Season to taste with salt.
2. Mound the greens on a platter. Cut the eggs in quarters and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Arrange the eggs over the greens. Add the radish pods or sliced radishes to the same work bowl as the salad was mixed in and toss just to lightly coat. If you need more dressing, add it a dribble at a time.
3. Scatter the radish pods or sliced radishes over the top of the eggs and garnish with the herb flowers. Serve immediately.
Calories 109, Protein 4 grams, Carbohydrates 5 grams, Fiber 2 grams, Fat 9 grams, Saturated fat 2 grams, Cholesterol 93 mg, Sugar 2 grams, Sodium 63 mg
©2014 Los Angeles Times
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