Tag Archives: Garden

Mara de Bois: Thoughts on a Special Strawberry

I could spend days strolling through the weekly market in the French town of Vaison-la-Romaine.  The vendors at this open air marché sell food and wares from sardines to soap, from Morbier to mattresses.  Of all the treasures on display in this maze of stalls, the Mara de Bois – the strawberry that is like a large ruby – is the most precious.

This flavorful gem is smaller and rounder than other varieties, and my husband and I were lured by its sweet perfume.  The merchant offered us a taste, and the aromatic sugar cube melted on my tongue.  Of the two pints we purchased, one made it back to the house.  It took all of my will power to save the other for dessert.  (The tiny berries are so delicate that you must consume them within hours of purchase; at least, that is what I told myself as I popped the juicy candies into my mouth.)

There was no need to stop at the confiserie after our trip to the market.  The Mara de Bois is a natural confection.  And, that evening’s dessert was the simplest I have ever prepared – two petite bowls of Mara de Bois.  No honey, no whipped cream, and certainly, no sugar.

An Herb-Filled Day

From breakfast to dinner, make the most of your herb garden this Saturday or Sunday…

Breakfast: Add herbs to your scrambled eggs.  In a bowl, crack two eggs per person and whisk.  Stir in a generous splash of milk or cream and add as many roughly chopped herbs as you would enjoy.  Consider different varieties of basil, Christmas basil (with purple flowers) and sweet basil, for example, chives and hot and spicy oregano.  In a nonstick pan, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and scramble the egg mixture.

Eggs and Herbs

Lunch: Slice some colorful heirloom tomatoes and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar glaze.  Season with fresh ground pepper and sea salt.  Then sprinkle with a chiffonade of basil and oregano.  Savor with some crusty bread.

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Dinner: Stuff a whole fish, such as sea bream, branzino or steelhead salmon, with a generous bunch of fresh herbs.  Lemon thyme, lemon verbena and rosemary are all good choices.  Grill the fish in a pocket of aluminum foil after drizzling with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon or lime.

Steelhead salmon

Save Those Squash Blossoms!

If you are fortunate enough to have squash blossoms in your own back yard, don’t let them go to waste! They are only available to enjoy for a few short weeks.  When I walk through the neighborhood and spot these beautiful flowers in a garden, I hope that the owner will use them at their peak and make fritters for dinner.  If you are not growing your own, see if a local farm or market will supply you with these summer delicacies.

The mild squash taste of the flowers makes for excellent fritters; however, if you are in the mood for a non-fried option, try the vibrant flowers in a salad.  A very simple one to showcase both taste and color is to slice a juicy, ripe tomato into wedges and add strips of squash blossoms.  Combine with fresh basil for some green, and top with a light dressing of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.  Of course, season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  This salad should prove to be one of your favorites this summer.

Squash Blossoms

Make the Most of Your Favorite Summer Herb with a Basil Pesto

During my Italian Lunch cooking class today, we made ricotta gnocchi with three sauces – marinara, pesto and butter sage.  While the marinara and butter sage sauces were quite delicious, the pesto made me appreciate the abundance of basil this time of year.  So, I share my recipe for basil pesto.

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Ingredients:

½ cup pignoli (pine nuts)

10 stalks of fresh basil

3 cloves of garlic

½ cup parmesan cheese

6 tablespoons of softened butter (yes, this recipe is a rich one!)

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Fresh ground pepper

Remove the basil leaves from the stalks and place them in a food processor.  Add the pine nuts, garlic, cheese and butter and blend until it forms a paste.  Add the olive oil little by little as well as the salt and pepper to taste while blending the other ingredients.  Be sure to use a spatula to push down any ingredients stuck to the sides of the food processor in between your processing.  Toss the pesto with gnocchi or your favorite pasta – a little goes a long way!

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A Summer Side – Chocolate Mint Couscous

One of the greatest scents of summer is the fragrance of fresh herbs.  I use many of the herbs in my small garden nearly every day – basil in a Caprese salad, sorrel in scrambled eggs and thyme and sage in roasted potatoes.  The chocolate mint, with its clean aroma, presents more of a challenge.  However, last night’s dinner of lamb tenderloin demanded the mint.

Herbs

Rather than use the mint in a sauce for the lamb, I decided to incorporate it in a couscous.  First, I roughly chopped three sprigs of mint leaves and shelled and roughly chopped a handful of salted pistachios.

Pistachios

Then, I brought 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil and added 1 cup of whole wheat pearl couscous.  I stirred the couscous periodically and added one tablespoon of butter, a dash of turmeric and salt and pepper to taste.  When the couscous was just about cooked (after 8 minutes), I stirred in the pistachios and mint.  The saltiness of the pistachios was an excellent complement to the subtle chocolate flavor of the mint.  The color was also vibrant and summery.

Consider serving this couscous alongside a lamb dish, as I did with the lamb tenderloin marinated in olive oil, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper.  Make a little extra for the next day, as I found it to be a tasty addition to an antipasto lunch of prosciutto and cheeses.

Couscous

Dinner at Styer’s Garden Café

On Friday night, my husband, two friends and I enjoyed a leisurely dinner at Styer’s Garden Café in Glen Mills, PA.  The setting is peaceful – a greenhouse of tables covered in linen tablecloths – and the food is excellent.  The seasonal menu offered a variety of meat and seafood options, permitting everyone in our group to choose something different.

My favorite appetizer was the grilled watermelon salad with heirloom cherry tomatoes and crumbles of blue cheese.  It was the perfect salad to celebrate the end of summer.  The top two main courses were the whole grilled branzino over fennel and barley and the halibut with summer squash and eggplant.  The branzino skin was crispy, while the meat was cooked to perfection.  The halibut, which many other restaurants tend to overcook and dry out, was moist and tasty.

Before our dessert of coffee ice cream, we shared the generous cheese board of five local cheeses, honey, quince paste and crostinis.  It is difficult for local restaurants to beat Styer’s in terms of the quality and taste of the food, the setting, and, of course, the fact that you can bring your favorite sparkling, red or white to this BYOB.

Grilled watermelon salad

Grilled watermelon salad