Reaping the bounty of my winter garden

Reaping the bounty of my winter garden
A nice looking head of broccoli growing in the Lick the Plate winter garden. Photo by David Boylan

 

I’ve lived in Encinitas for 15 years now and am still fascinated by my ability to plant a vegetable garden in November and reap its bounty into March and April. This year with our ample rain, my broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are completely going off to the point where I’ve had to get very creative with recipes to avoid veggie burnout.I don’t have a farm by any stretch of the imagination; I call it the side 40, as in 40 feet by 10 feet. That’s my self-humoring reference to what real farmers refer to as the back 40. It’s just enough space to put in a nice variety in the winter and summer. At one point a few years ago I gave artichokes a try and had a bumper crop.

After that I was shooting my mouth off to whoever would listen about my newfound status as an artichoke farmer. That all ended abruptly the next year when my artichoke plants started disappearing, one after the other. My first, somewhat paranoid reaction was that someone was stealing my beloved artichokes as there were no tracks, they were simply gone. It got to the point where I was about to put up “wanted, artichoke thief on the loose” signs on area telephone poles.

That’s when a friend who knows these things informed me that it was not artichoke thieves, but gophers that had been sucking my plants down with no trace of foul play. Keep in mind, I’ve grown just about everything over the years, and never had any trouble with gophers. It turns out they have a taste for the artichoke root, which they refer to as tubers.

While I commend them for their good taste, it was a maddening experience and left me feeling like a complete idiot for not realizing what was going on sooner. I was told the only solution was digging a 2- to 3-feet hole before planting and lining the area with chicken wire, and then that was not a guarantee that the choke-loving gophers would not chew through that. I officially resigned as an artichoke farmer and have since stuck with the less glamorous but still delicious winter crops.

With that I thought I’d share some of my favorite ways to prepare cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. The crazy thing is, I did not touch any of these veggies growing up. Maybe it was the preparation, or my unrefined palate, but unless they were forced upon me, I had nothing to do with them.

One of my favorite ways to cook cauliflower is to make “mock mashed potatoes” out of it. Start with a medium size head; 1 tablespoon cream cheese, softened; 1/4 cup grated Parmesan; 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic; 1/8 teaspoon straight chicken base or bullion (may substitute 1/2 teaspoon salt);?1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper; 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh or dry chives, for garnish; and 3 tablespoons unsalted butter.

Set a stockpot of water to boil over high heat then clean and cut cauliflower into small pieces. Cook in boiling water for about six minutes, or until well done. Drain well; do not let cool and pat cooked cauliflower very dry between several layers of paper towels. In a bowl with an immersion blender, or in a food processor, puree the hot cauliflower with the cream cheese, Parmesan, garlic, chicken base, and pepper until almost smooth. Garnish with chives, and serve hot with pats of butter. This makes about four servings and it’s a delicious, healthy alternative to mashed potatoes.

Even though I am a bit tired of seeing Brussels sprouts on every other menu, they are a joy to watch grow and even more fun to pick and cook. I love giving a whole stalk as a gift, as they are so cool looking. I’ve figured out a way to cook them that wins converts of even the most finicky eaters. Start with 1 pound Brussels sprouts, half a stick of butter, 1 pound of apple wood bacon, cut into small chunks. Trim Brussels sprouts and halve lengthwise. In a 10-inch heavy skillet (preferably well-seasoned cast iron) melt 1 tablespoon butter with oil over moderate heat to low and arrange sprouts in skillet, cut sides down, in one layer. After about 5 minutes add the bacon and sauté, stirring frequently until bacon is crisp and the sprouts are tender but not mushy. If you want to get fancy, add some pine nuts towards the end.

If you have questions on either of these recipes or would like to know more ways to prepare these veggies, feel free to contact me at david@artichoke-creative.com.

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