Get creative with vegetables.
Rustic arugula, tender young beets, and baby bok choy make tasty
accompaniments to any meal.
One secret to cooking great cuisine is using great ingredients. With a fertile
garden plot, an adventurous spirit, and carefully selected seed varieties, you
can produce vegetable dishes that rival those found in pricey restaurants.
In some cases, the trick to growing gourmet vegetables is as simple as
harvesting them at a small and tender size. Summer squash, for example, can be
plucked with the flower still clinging to the baby fruit, stuffed with ricotta
or a crab mixture, rolled in egg and then breadcrumbs, and ever-so-gently fried.
Beets, harvested at a tender 1-inch diameter, go beautifully with baby salad
greens and goat cheese.
But in other instances, the variety you choose to grow is all-important. And
this is where you, the adventurous gardener, can shine. Dare to be great. Try a
few gourmet vegetable varieties in your garden—your kitchen skills will evolve
even as your garden grows more interesting.
Try These Cool Season Varieties:
Gourmet fruits and vegetables
that will thrive in your spring garden or containers include
Japanese turnips, sprouting broccoli, mini-heads of lettuce, and
sweet alpine strawberries
Japanese Salad Turnips.
These little beauties, also known as Hakurei turnips, are so sweet you can
slice them thin and eat them raw. They are easy to grow, and reach ideal
size—ping-pong ball or smaller—in about a month and a half. The roots are
excellent boiled briefly or roasted, and the greens, gently braised. The
Scarlet Ohno Revival Turnip is a red-skinned version, as beautiful as it is
Baby Brassicas. Just when you’ve accomplished the feat of growing big
heads of broccoli, what comes along? Sweet baby broccoli! Sprouting
broccoli, also known as Chinese broccoli or gai lan, offers succulent stems
and mini florets, and produces well into the summer. Hybrids of gai lan and
traditional broccoli are now available, and offer the same advantages of
sprouting broccoli, plus slightly enlarged florets. Try other baby brassicas
such as baby bok choy or Red Russian kale cut at a tender young size.
Mâche, and other greens. Mâche, corn salad, lamb’s lettuce - by any
name this sweet tender green is a perfect way to start the harvest season.
Where winters are mild you can grow the attractive rosettes of mâche through
the winter months. In the north, sow seed in late summer and protect the
plants over winter with a covering of straw. Uncover in spring for a
delicious first-of-the-season salad. Other interesting and easy to grow
salad ingredients include garden cress, escarole, and baby tatsoi.
Mini Heads of Lettuce. Petite, single-serving heads of lettuce are
the height of elegance in salads. For taste, they are matched only by a
fresh cutting of baby leaf lettuce, and they have the advantage of a longer
storage time. Grow both baby leaves and mini-heads for a season of
exceptional salads. Three popular mini-lettuces are ‘Little Gem’, ‘Tom
Thumb’ and ‘Breen’, a compact red romaine.
Alpine Strawberries. Strawberries from seed? Yes, it is true—wild
strawberries grow easily from seed. They develop into graceful mounds of
foliage that can be incorporated into the ornamental landscape, and often
produce their first intensely flavored berries in year one. Start the seeds
indoors in early spring, and plant seedlings out in a sunny garden spot or
in a container at about the time you plant your tomatoes. The berries are
small but scrumptious, especially topped with whipped cream.
Summer and Fall Treats:
Mini bell peppers are perfect
for stuffing. And elegant French filet beans will dress up any
dinner plate. For an easy summer treat, toss sweet summer onions,
baby squash, and other summer vegetables in olive oil and roast them
in a 400° oven.
Sweet Mini Peppers. Stuff
them with cheddar and spices, ricotta and herbs, hummus and onion - the
possibilities are endless. Roasted, stuffed mini-peppers make perfect summer
appetizers. The plants bear prolifically, making up in numbers what they
lack in fruit size, and seed can be found for red, yellow and orange baby
Gourmet Onions. Take a break from onion sets and try some sweet
onions that can only be grown from seed. Cipollinis, Red Torpedos, White and
Red Pearl onions are delectable summer treats. Even shallots can be grown
from seed. Onions need an early start, about two months before planting out.
While it’s true that many of the sweet, seed-grown onions don’t store as
well as the yellow onions you grow from sets, the taste is worth the extra
trouble. Bunching onions, or scallions, can be sown directly in the garden
from spring onward and harvested as they size up. In most parts of the
country they will overwinter.
Haricot Verts. Chefs go wild for long skinny French filet beans. They
are oh so elegant on the plate, and as easy to grow as any other green bean.
For bush filet beans, try ‘Maxibel’, ‘Rolande’, or ‘Velour’, a purple type.
‘Emerite’ is an open-pollinated pole filet bean. In the kitchen they need
little embellishment. Boil them for just two minutes and top with butter and
fresh garden herbs.
Celery Root. Don’t judge this fall root by its looks. Once the gnarly
skin is sliced away, its princely qualities are revealed. The classic French
treatment, céleri rémoulade, is a raw salad with the grated root dressed in
a mustardy, lemony mayonnaise. Chefs feature celery root in fall soups as
well. Combined with potatoes and onions and cooked in vegetable stock - with
a little cream added at the end, of course - and blended until smooth, the
result is delectably rich. Celery root takes all season to grow, so start
seeds early. Plant seedlings in rich moist soil after the danger of frost
Rustic Arugula. Diplotaxis tenuifolia is a wilder version of the more
available Eruca sativa, our common arugula. Its fine, dark green leaves are
intense in flavor and hold up well in the heat of summer. The yellow flowers
are also edible. Sow seeds directly in the garden in spring. In mild
climates you can continue to harvest leaves through the winter. Use rustic
arugula in salads or as a seasoning for potatoes or pasta, and is excellent
as a pizza topping.