Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Favorite Nero di Toscana Kale Recipe

This post is for Tyra in response to our exchange of comments about Nero di Toscana kale. Basically I love it and she grows it only because it's pretty! So I promised a post about my favorite way to cook this yummy (in my opinion) kale.

This kale has many (too many) aliases, including Cavolo Nero (what I typically call it), Dino or Dinosaure kale, Tuscan Kale, Palm Tree Cabbage or Kale, Black Cabbage, Lacinato Kale, and mixtures thereof. Confused yet? They are all basically the same vegetable, I say basically because some strains have leaves that are more broad with less of a downward curl to the edges and a less pebbly texture than what I've been growing the past few years.

The photo below was taken on January 3 in my vegetable garden. That plant has since gone into full bloom, fed scores of bees and beneficial insects and hit the compost bin today. The next crop of Cavolo Nero is about an inch tall and just sporting their first true leaves.

Now, about cooking this vegetable. This is one of the few vegetables that I find to be tastiest when well cooked. Normally I am a fan of lightly cooked, crispy, crunchy sweet vegetables. That just doesn't work with this kale. So, here's a favorite recipe, with a variation, for Nero di Toscana kale.

Kale on Garlic Toast

Prepare a pound or more of well washed kale by removing the center ribs and tearing the kale into 2-inch long pieces (more or less).

Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil and add salt to taste. Add the kale to the pot, return to a boil, then turn down to a strong simmer and cook for 25 to 30 minutes (yes, that long!).

While the kale is cooking, toast 4 to 8 slices of country bread (depending on the size of the loaf) into fairly thick slices. Toast the slices of bread and then rub the bread with a peeled clove of garlic.

When the kale is done, drain it well (reserve the cooking water for the recipe variation) and pile the leaves on the pieces of toast. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste and then drizzle with a generous amount of your favorite extra virgin olive oil.

Makes a very tasty appetizer or first course!

Variation: Put the garlic rubbed toast into a warmed wide shallow soup bowl. Pile on the kale. Ladle in anywhere from a few tablespoons to a half cup or more of the kale cooking water. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper and drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil.

And yet one more take on variation number one. Skip the part about bringing 2 quarts of water to a boil. If you have a pressure cooker, put about a half cup of water in there (or the minimum your cooker needs to come up to pressure). Put the kale into the cooker in a steamer basket. Bring the cooker up to full pressure and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Release the pressure using the appropriate quick release method for your cooker. Proceed with the recipe.

I also like to add chopped Nero di Toscana kale to long simmering soups. It's great with garbanzo beans (chickpeas) also.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Baby Carrots of Various Colors

The carrot thinnings yesterday actually produced some carrots big enough to cook!

The colors aren't really coming through all that well in these photos. The short fat orange carrots are "Scarlet Nantes". The seeds for those were sowed a month earlier than the others. There's also "Atomic Red", which looks orange in the photos. You can tell the Atomics from the Nantes because they are thinner and longer. The red carrots are actually "Cosmic Purples". They seem to be the most quick to size up. There's one skinny little "Lunar White" on top. The whites are the slowest to size up the roots. The other pale carrots are "Amarillo Yellow" (isn't that name redundant?). And that's one stalk of green garlic that I was going to chop up and cook with the carrots, which I didn't get around to so I'm cooking them up tonight.

As I was pulling up the Nantes carrots I found that the ants are farming a bunch of aphids right at the crowns of the carrots. That's a spot that the beneficials aren't going to find so I'm going to have to do something about that mess.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ladies at Work in the Garden

Convergent Lady Beetles, that is. And as you can tell from the graphic photo below, there's a few gentlemen at work as well.

And the next photo shows that they've got their work cut out. The favas are getting to be infested with aphids, this photo is of a minor patch of the pests. In the meantime, they've been getting a bit of help from some beneficial wasps. You can see the bloated brown aphids, a sign that there is a wasp larvae growing inside.

And the next photo shows a cluster of lady beetle eggs. I hope there's lots more eggs that have been laid on these plants. Lady beetle larvae have voracious appetites for aphids.

There's all phases of the lady beetles in the garden right now. Here's a shot of a larva. The young larvae pierce and suck the contents of their prey. Older larvae and adult beetles simply munch their food.

And the next photo is of a pupa that is metamorphosing into an adult beetle.

Double trouble for aphids shown below. There's an adult lady beetle and a Syrphid fly larvae. Adult Syrphid flies feed on nectar and pollen, the larvae feed on soft bodied insects such as aphids. They will grab an aphid in their mouth and suck it dry. I try to keep pollen and nectar producing flowers such as sweet alyssum growing in the garden to attract the adult Syrphid flies and adult parasitizing wasps as well.

I think that the next photo is of a young damsel bug, but I'm not sure. Damsel bugs are generalist predators, they eat a variety of other insects and caterpillars, including aphids.

Another good bug that I've seen in the garden is the Soldier Beetle (Leather-winged Beetle). The adults feed on aphids as well as pollen and nectar.

And yet one more beneficial insect that I've seen is the Spider Mite Destroyer Lady Beetle. This is a tiny (1/16th-inch) beetle with a shiny black body. Both adult and larvae feed mostly on mites.

There was a question in the Sunday SF Chronicle this past weekend for the Golden Gate Gardener about black aphids on favas. The recommended treatment was to spray with summer oil, preferably a vegetable oil based one. I may keep this in mind if the lady beetles and their allies don't make a dent in the aphid population pretty soon.

I think I must be doing something right to have so many good bugs present in the garden. One of my favorite websites for information about beneficial insects is UC's Natural Enemies Gallery . There's lots of good information there regardless of where you garden.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Too Hot!

We are experiencing a heat wave. Or, if my husband was writing this post he would say we are enjoying a heatwave. But the peas and I really don't like it this hot. 93F in the shade of the oak tree next to the vegetable garden at the moment and getting hotter. At least we don't have too much humidity, it's about 20% right now.

I need to figure out some way to shade the peas through the worst part of the day. You can see what yesterday's heat did to them and today is hotter. On the other hand, the beans and newly planted zucchini are loving this weather.

I bet you're all thinking what a weather wimp I am. Yes, I am, totally. But that's why I live here, in spite of the ridiculous real estate prices (still). We're supposed to have nice weather here. I'm really tempted to head for the beach...

Echium gentianoides and a Surprise Visitor

I purchased my Echium gentianoides "Tajinaste" from Annies Annuals. This plant is native to the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands. According to Annies it is extremely rare and endangered. It wants average to poor soil that is well drained which makes it a prime candidate for my garden. Even better though, it is relatively unpalatable to deer. They did do a bit of munching when I first put the plant out, but a few treatments with Liquid Fence and some age to toughen up the leaves seemed to take the plant off the menu.

While I was photographing the plant the visitor shown in the fuzzy photos above and below buzzed in. I have heard about these critters before but never seen one. It is the size of a baby hummingbird and flies very much like one, but it has antennae. It is also just as difficult to photograph as a hummer. I realized it was some sort of hummingbird moth.

A bit of research on the Butterflies and Moths of North America website leads me to believe that this is Hyles lineata White-lined sphinx moth. Sphinx moths are also called Butterfly moths or Hawk moths. Adult moths of this particular variety will fly nearly any time of day or night, I happened to catch this one fairly early in the morning. This moth is not at all rare, inhabiting a wide range of habitats and foraging on an equally wide range of plants as both adults and larvae. Considering how common they are, I'm surprised that I've never seen one until now.

Last year I saved seeds from this plant (before the birds ate them all). I don't know if they are easy to germinate or not since I've not tried to grow any yet. I've not noticed any volunteers in the garden. I've grown 2 related plants, Echium fastuosum (Pride of Madeira) and Echium wildpretii "Tower of Jewels", both of which did volunteer a bit. Maybe the birds were extremely efficient at gobbling up the seeds that fell. Now that I know that the deer aren't going to munch it down to the nubs just when it's about to bloom I think I'll try starting a few more plants. That blue is really knock-your-socks-off beautiful.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Succulent Indulgence

A wonderful store that features an amazing array of succulents and garden ornaments is closing their local retail store and everything is 50% off. So, after eyeing the ad in the paper numerous times over the last few weeks, I finally decided to indulge my love of succulents and stopped by the store a couple of days ago . Unfortunately, they were pretty wiped out but I did find a number of plants to add to my succulent collection. Perhaps it was fortunate for my wallet that I waited so long, I still managed to come home with 14 plants.

Not all of the pots had labels but I think I can eventually figure most of them out. The Aeonium variety is "Thunderstorm". There's a couple of spiky aloes, one is A. marlothii and the other is A. tomentosa. I think both of these aloes get to be pretty big, but they are probably deer proof so they will go outside the fence where there is plenty of room to grow. Two of the crassulas had labels C. rupestris and C. schmidtii. And then there's Echeveria harmsii and E. setosa. The sedums had no names and there's another plant of a genus unknown to me. Eh, maybe I'll get around to identifying them and maybe not, I'll enjoy them anyway.

The store has been open for 29 years in that location. It's sad to see it go, but the good news is that they are opening a retail space at their nursery in Castroville. The really sad aspect of this story is that this in yet one more business that has closed up shop in that center... so many empty shops there now.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, April

Perhaps this should be a Wordless Wednesday post since I have no idea what variety of Iris this is. This was planted by a previous owner. I've been tempted to take it out because it looks incredibly scraggly for most of the year.

It is pretty when it blooms.

Does anyone know what variety it is?

For a lot more beautiful blossoms, be sure to visit May Dreams Gardens where Carol is hosting Garden Blogger's Bloom Day.

Friday, April 10, 2009

April Flowers in the Garden

Here's a couple of volunteers putting on a nice show.
Santa Barbara Daisy and Nemesia

I was barely able to capture this pollen laden bumble bee
while it was flitting through Ceanothus.

A better shot of the Ceanothus.
It's in full bloom and absolutely abuzz with insects of all sorts.

Aeonium undulatum putting forth a flower spike.

Fragrant white Freesia

Ranunculus which has been living undisturbed
in this pot for 4 years.

Nicotiana "Hot Chocolate"

Variegated Angel's Trumpet

Huchera maxima

Cantua buxifolia

Echium gentianoides “Tajinaste”



This plant came as a bonus growing in a pot of something else (can't remember what and it's probably dead now anyway). It's been happily growing and blooming in the garden for a couple of years.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April Flowers, The Wild Bunch

There's a pretty good display of wildflowers this year. The following photos were all taken on my property. They are all natives except where noted. I'm still learning my wildflowers, so if you see any identification mistakes on my part I would love to know! The reference that I use most for my identification is Calflora, a great reference for what is growing in California, native or not.

Buttercup (Ranunculus californicus)

Vetch of some sort (I believe it's not a native)

Clover, don't know what variety.
Don't know if it's native or not.

Owl's Clover (Castilleja exserta)
Behind this flower is a young native bunch grass, variety unknown.

Lupine (Lupinus bicolor?)
This lupine is only a few inches tall.

Wood Mint or Hedge Nettle (Stachys bullata)

Fiesta Flower (Pholistoma auritum)

Hard to see in this photo, but there's a lot of Fiesta Flower
and Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata).
Both like growing beneath the oaks around here.

Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum)

Blue Dicks at the edge of the Vegetable Garden.
I'm encouraging the wildflowers and bunch grasses
that are growing on the perimeter of the vegetable garden.

Earthstar fungi
Not flowers but pretty in their own way.

The Shooting Stars are nearly done and the Yellow Viola's are starting to go. There's a good show of Blue Eyed Grass but I didn't take any photos of those. We've had a bit of rain in the last few days which should help to prolong the wildflower show.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Vegetable Garden Update, April

It's the time of year in the vegetable garden when there is a whole lot going on but not much to harvest. So, what am I harvesting?

Not this stuff...

Vit Mache (aka cornsalad) going to seed.

And not this stuff...

Crimson Flowering Favas, which are growing and blooming like crazy, but not setting one damn bean. Beautiful plant, but what's the point if it doesn't produce? I've been threatening it daily...

Not this stuff either...

The brassica bed. Spigariello Broccoli, Portuguese Cabbage, and Cavolo Nero in full bloom. I'm keeping it around because I don't need this bed until May and the bees and beneficial insects LOVE these flowers. I've got to yank them and prepare this bed for tomatoes in about 2 weeks.

Ah, here's something...

There's green garlic in back that I've been pulling. The other night I made whole wheat spaghetti with a generous amount of sauteed green garlic and pancetta, pine nuts and shredded Senposai. The carrots in the foreground won't be ready for a while. There are just a few carrots left from the fall planting. I used some of them in Carrot Top Soup the other night from Deborah Madison's book Local Flavors. Yes, carrot tops, the feathery green carrot leaves as well as the roots go into the soup. Very unusual and very tasty. My husband, who usually notices anything unusual that I put in front of him, slurped it up without questioning and said it was really good.

That's the Senposai above, after I harvested a number of leaves which accounts for it's ragged appearance. It's something that I've never grown before so I only tried a few plants to begin with. I really like it in the pasta that I made. It grows to harvestable size quickly (40 days according to the catalog) and is supposed to resist bolting. A spring planting shouldn't bolt until fall but mine is already bolting. That's probably because I stressed it by keeping it in cell packs too long and then planted it too close together (should be 12" to 18"apart), or perhaps I started it too early. It's the only F-1 hybrid that I'm growing at the moment, being a cross between Komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach) and regular cabbage. Fedco is offering a stabilized open pollinated selection, but I thought I would try the F-1 version first so that I could get to know the vegetable before trying a potentially variable open pollinated version. I'm going to start a few more plants to see if they will make it through the summer.

This Golden Chard plant is massive right now, it's on the verge of bolting. I'm not harvesting from this plant anymore, but there are two other smaller plants that I am still picking from.

And here's something that's just getting big enough to pick...

Pine Tree Lettuce Mix. I'll start picking this on a cut-and-come-again basis any day now.

And, pictured above is a new Arugula that I'm trying. It looks like I can start picking baby arugula now! I got the seeds for Tuscan Arugula from the Seed Ambassadors Project through the Seed Savers Exchange. The project is also offering many of its seeds to the general public on its website http://www.seedambassadors.org/

This has a long way to go...

Royal Burgundy and Landreth Stringless bush snap beans. I started these in paper pots and planted them out as soon as the cotyledons started poking up out of the soil.

Further along but still a way to go...

Snap and Snow Peas, still under protective bird netting. The birds don't seem to as interested in the vegetable garden as they were a few weeks ago, but I'm not taking any chances yet.

And below...

Aleppo pepper from last year making a comeback. Behind, at the base of the black metal tower, are the painted serpent cucumbers emerging. Harvest time is still a long way away.

And yet another comeback being made below...

A Santa Lucia pepper that died to the ground but is resprouting from the base of the plant. I just can't bear to throw out a plant that has signs of life.

So, what else is going on in the vegetable garden? There are three flats of tomato plants sitting on my living room floor at the moment (thank goodness for tile floors). We've had cold wet weather the last couple of days, otherwise they would be outside. There is also one flat of pepper plants. There used to be more, but because of neglect and stupidity on my part about two thirds of my pepper seedlings bit the dust. Oh well, there's more pots under the grow lights again. I can also than goodness for a long growing season.

Other things being started in paper and 4-inch pots are :
  • Celeriac
  • Fennel
  • Beets
  • Cavolo Nero Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Cocozelle zucchini
  • Golden Chard
  • Early Champagne Rhubarb
  • Basil
  • Tomatillos
  • Wonderberry
  • Eggplant