Our newsletter from August 9:
Dear CSA members,
It seems like the weather this week is trying to make up for July’s dryness! We’ve had a couple of nice rains, which we’re glad for even though they interrupted some of the work we had planned for the week. This is the time of year and kind of weather when all of those little weeds that I didn’t get around to managing a month ago are suddenly as tall as I am and going to seed. I’ll be working hard to get on top of those this week before they scatter their seeds and sow next year’s crop of weeds. We manage weeds in a few different ways. Early in the season we do some strategic tilling to knock down young weeds on the perimeters and in the paths of the larger gardens (in the smaller gardens we rarely or never use mechanical tillers). We also cultivate around crops with hoes and pull weeds by hand if they get too big for hoeing. We drop the weeds in place as mulch and let them decompose to feed the plants and we spread additional mulch in the form of old hay or straw to keep the soil moist and cool around the plants. In beds where we are finished harvesting, we sometimes use tarps to smother the remains of the plants and any weeds that have sprouted between them. After all of the plants are dead, we remove the tarps and either leave the plant residue in place as a mulch or remove and compost it, depending on what we plan to do next with that bed. Before winter settles in, we hope to have most of the garden beds cleaned up, composted, and mulched or cover cropped. Doing this soil care work this year means an easier start to next year; but it also means that we have to begin now and work steadily at it for as long as we can.
I did find some red tomatoes for you this morning! This variety is called New Girl and it is one of my favorites because it is just so darn reliable. With all of the rain we had this week, many of our ripening tomatoes are cracking pretty badly. But not the New Girls. They may not have the intense flavor of an heirloom, but they hold up under conditions that render other tomatoes useless. We do have lots of heirloom varieties planted and, if conditions hold and late blight holds off, I expect they will be ripening in a couple of weeks.
A few of you have asked about cooking eggplants, so I thought I’d share some eggplant recipes with you today. Eggplants are an interesting fruit, in part because they have been domesticated into so many different shapes, colors, sizes, and even flavors. There are tiny round eggplants, long skinny eggplants, fat teardrop shaped eggplants, purple eggplants, pink eggplants, green eggplants, sweet eggplants, and bitter eggplants. According to “The Seed Garden,” edited by Lee Buttala and Shanyn Siegel, the ancestors of eggplants are found throughout Africa and Asia. They believe that eggplant may have been domesticated twice (at least), once in India and once in China and write that in both of these regions there is evidence of people eating eggplants for at least 2,000 years. My history with eggplant is not quite that long! Eggplant was not a plant that my family grew when I was a kid, nor was it something that we ever ate. I’m not even sure any of us knew there was such a thing as an eggplant back then! I don’t remember when I had my first taste of eggplant, but I sure do like it today.
Ratatouille is my favorite summer meal. I love the flavors and textures and also how versatile it is in using up lots of late-summer veggies, including eggplant. Here’s a version of ratatouille from the Moosewood cookbooks:
Ingredients: 3 Tb olive oil; 2-4 med cloves garlic, minced; 2 cups chopped onion; bay leaf; 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed; 1 1/2 tsp salt; 1 1/2 tsp basil; 1 tsp marjoram or oregano; 1/2 tsp rosemary; 1/2 tsp thyme; 2 medium zucchini, cubed; 2 medium bell peppers, cut into 1-inch chunks; 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes (with juice); black pepper; fresh minced parsley (optional); sliced olives (optional); fresh parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
Heat olive oil in a deep pan. Add garlic, onion and bay leaf and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add eggplant, salt and herbs and stir. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes until eggplant is soft. Add zucchini, bell peppers, black pepper, and tomatoes. Cover and simmer for about 10 more minutes, or until zucchini and bell peppers are tender. Top with grated parmesan cheese and/or other goodies to serve.
So that’s a guideline, but I never make ratatouille exactly the same way twice. You can easily vary the vegetable quantities and swap out the herbs to your tastes and to what you have on hand. Sometimes I use fresh tomatoes instead of canned and sometimes if I need to use up frozen tomatoes from last year, I use those. I never peel my eggplant (because I’m lazy) and I often will throw in a jalapeno pepper or some red pepper flakes for a little extra zing.
Baba Ganoush is another dish I make using eggplant that I often vary depending on my mood and what I have on hand. Here’s the general idea:
Ingredients: Eggplant, Tahini, Garlic, Lemon Juice, Olive oil. Optional: Salt, Parsley or Cilantro, Chili Powder, Cumin, Olives, Chickpeas
Some people like a smoky flavor in their baba ganoush and so char the eggplant skins over the flame on their gas oven, under the broiler, or on the grill before roasting them. If you like smoke, do this first. If you don’t want the smoky flavor, skip it. Then, cut the eggplants in half and place cut side down on an oiled baking sheet. Roast in the oven at about 375-400 degrees F until the eggplant is soft. Cool, scrape the pulp out of the skin and place it in a blender, food processor, or bowl. Add tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt to taste and blend or mash until smooth. I’d start with a couple tablespoons tahini, one garlic clove, the juice of half a lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil per eggplant and go from there. It’s not traditional, but I sometimes like to add some chickpeas too, for protein and a denser consistency. Add any of the optional stuff you like. Go nuts.
Enjoy! Amy & John