Kachemak Cuisine: Savor the bounty and freshness of summer gardens

Each visit I make to our little Alaskan garden surprises me as I am not much of a gardener. As a perfect example of this lack of gardener knowledge, one lovely evening I went out to see how things were coming along. I thought I was looking at the broccoli and was disappointed, as the plants appeared to have bolted and it was another bad year for broccoli, like last year. I continued my garden inspection and noticed that the broccoli in the next row was looking fabulous, as it was growing tight, healthy looking dark green heads. I then realized the plants I thought had bolted were broccolini that was ready to harvest. I felt pretty vegetable plant illiterate at that point. I cut some of those stalks and made them for dinner and they had to be the sweetest and best broccolini I’ve ever tasted. I waited too long to harvest anymore, as only a few days later they had gone to flower already. That was a surprise. The rate the chick weed grows is also pretty impressive.

I can say I make a half-hearted attempt at gardening as I am the one to purchase the starts. The Other Fisherman takes care of the planting, watering, fertilizing and nurturing. I will prepare and eat what grows in the garden like an iron chef, but my lack of a green thumb really does label me an amateur. It’s nothing short of a miracle to me how those tough little plants growing out there change daily, and not to mention all the battles they wage while going from seedlings to hearty producing plants. They bravely ward off invasions of slug armies, bug bombers, creepy crawler assaults, chilly weather one day and scorching heat the next, and emerge victorious with minimal assistance from headquarters. No wonder I treasure them so once they’ve made it to my kitchen. I feel that any preparation and meal made with them has to be special, as they are so much better tasting and fresher than anything I buy at the grocery store. Anything home-grown has my admiration and approval, as I want to serve only the very best to those I am cooking for and the quality of your ingredients are essential.

One of my favorite things to prepare year this time of year are salads — big, colorful salads with lots of ingredients and home-made dressing served in a beautiful bowl.

Green Goddess Dressing is a California classic that was invented in the 1920s by the chef at the Palace Hotel (beautiful hotel, still there) in San Francisco, to commemorate the actor George Arliss and his play, “The Green Goddess.” I use the herbs I grow in the deck planter when I make it during the summer. Don’t let the long list of fresh herbs keep you from making it though. I included them in this recipe as I love herbs and had them all available. The original recipe includes just three: Italian parsley, tarragon and chives.

It also makes a great dip for crudités (all those vegetables you can eat fresh this time of year, such as sugar snap peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers) and a wonderful dressing for sturdier lettuces like romaine hearts, but it’s too thick for delicate spring mixes. The anchovies add depth to the flavor.

Green Goddess Dressing

Makes about 2 cups

1 cup Italian flat leaf parsley leaves

1 cup packed watercress or spinach leaves, stemmed (optional)

3 tablespoons minced chives

¼ cup diced green onion (optional)

4-6 leaves fresh basil (optional)

1 tablespoon fresh marjoram (optional)

1 teaspoon fresh thyme (optional)

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves

1 garlic clove, roughly chopped

2 anchovy fillets, preferably salt-packed

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

3/4 cup mayonnaise

¼ buttermilk

Kosher salt

freshly ground pepper

In a blender, combine the parsley, watercress or spinach, chives, green onion, basil, marjoram, thyme, tarragon, garlic, anchovies, lemon juice and vinegar. Blend until smooth, about two minutes. Add the mayonnaise and buttermilk, and blend again until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

With so many fresh greens in the garden ready for harvest, I try to serve salad every day. I love variety and make a different dressing each time.

This vinaigrette dressing includes toasted sesame oil. It’s a flavor enhancer with a distinctive nutty aroma and taste. Toasted sesame oil is used primarily for finishing dishes, as a final flavor. A little goes a long way.

Make certain you have toasted sesame oil and not refined non-toasted sesame oil, as there is a huge difference in taste. Refined sesame oil is used for high heat stir frying and has no flavor of sesame.

This vinaigrette is wonderful on a salad of delicate greens, such a spring mix, mesclun mix or green leaf. Add some shredded or grated carrot and green onion to your salad for color and flavor. Toss in a handful of sunflower seeds for crunch. It’s a versatile dressing and also delicious tossed with any one of these blanched vegetables; broccoli, asparagus, green beans or snap peas, garnish with white and black sesame seeds and some thinly sliced green onion. Serve your salad or veggies with fresh-caught grilled salmon for a fast and healthy summer meal.

Sesame Rice Wine Vinaigrette

Makes 1 ¾ cups

¾ cup neutral oil such as vegetable or grape seed

½ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup toasted sesame oil

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons sugar

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger

Combine the oil, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and soy sauce in a bowl. Add the sugar, garlic and ginger and mix well. Let stand for 30 minutes or longer for the flavors to develop.

Enjoy the bounty of your summer garden. When it’s this fresh and easily available, it’s hard not to.

P.S. I dug a few new potatoes and savored every bite.

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