The latest from our little garden is sort of a mixed bag (or colander). While we were on vacation the weeds moved in, scrambling over everything and rudely shoving the vegetables to the side. After pulling them out as best I could I did discover something miraculous: tiny little sugar baby watermelons, about the size of a croquet ball, clinging to the vine. We had totally given up on ever getting any watermelons out of Belle and Conor’s plantlings, but there they were, the little melons that could. I’m hoping they keep on growing so we get a late summer treat.
The string beans have been the biggest success of the summer, they just keep on coming. Jalapenos also continue to sprout, sturdy and green and delicious chopped finely into avocado or cucumber salads.
The tomatoes have been unpredictable thus far. We had some gorgeous green striped ones early on, and a few cherry, then there was a lull. Now we are getting some yellow and orange heirloom, and a couple of red beefsteak, although these are not as great. Some plants sprouted no tomatoes at all–not sure why that is. And some have gotten moldy on the vine because it’s been so damp. But we’re hoping for a few more in the next couple of weeks.
Zucchini and eggplant were a complete wash. I got nothing but blossoms.
Beets were pretty hit or miss. I think I planted them too close together (something guru Rita warned me about) because they were so small and scrawny.
The kale has been terrific. I’ve actually been using it to make pesto, substituting it for basil. The trick is to use it raw but roughly chop it up and then let it sit with some lemon juice to soften it before throwing in a food processor with toasted almonds, garlic, olive oil, parmesan, and salt and pepper.
The other surprise crop has been concord grapes, planted by our neighbors who are the original owners of the garden. The skins are bitter but the insides are sweet and juicy. I’m thinking of roasting them in the oven with some early autumn squash.
What’s best about all of this bounty is that it makes a simple weeknight dinner even easier . Case in point: a grilled chicken salad over heirloom tomatoes with arugula, pecorino, and toasted sunflower seeds. I managed to pull this off in about a half hour after getting home from work. Light and zingy, I think it shows late summer at it’s best.
Summer Chicken Salad
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (you can pound them thinner yourself and then cut into several smaller pieces or buy them already butchered and packaged as tenders); olive oil; 1/2 tsp each of ground chili power, cumin, cayenne pepper; 1 lime; 2-3 heirloom tomatoes; a bag of arugula; champagne vinegar (sherry or red wine is fine as well) 1/2 cup sunflower seeds; pecorino cheese; salt and pepper.
As soon as you get home put the chicken in a bowl (if you are using whole breasts pound them a little thinner between two sheets of parchment or wax paper and then cut into long, wide strips) along with two big glugs of olive oil, the spices, juice from half the lime, and some salt and pepper. Let sit on the counter while you pour yourself a glass of wine and tackle the salad.
Put the sunflower seeds in a small skillet and toast over a medium low flame. Make sure to toss the seeds a few times to toast them evenly and remove from the heat as soon as they look light brown so the don’t burn. They should start to smell nutty when they’re ready. Wash the arugula, dry, and toss with a splash of vinegar, some olive oil, and salt and pepper. Set aside.
Chop the tomatoes and also toss with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and set aside (I like to keep the arugula and tomatoes separate, it keeps the greens crisper.)
Heat a grill pan on high heat. When it’s hot enough that a drop of water sizzles on the surface, remove the chicken from the bowl and add to the pan in a single layer (you will probably have to cook it in two batches). The chicken should cook pretty quickly, about 4 minutes per side. Lower the heat to medium high if you feel it’s cooking to quickly. You want it to have grill marks and a nice golden color on both sides. Place the first batch on a plate, covered loosely with foil, while you cook the second batch.
To assemble the salad but some arugula on a plate, top with the warm chicken, then a spoonful of tomatoes, a sprinkle of sunflower seeds, and some grated pecorino. You can cut up the other half of lime and serve the wedges on the side.