All posts by Susie Middleton

A Great Tip+Fresh Spinach=Popeye’s Garlic Spinach Recipe

Cooks love tips—anything that makes life in the kitchen easier, tastier, more fun. I once did a TV tour where all I did was demonstrate cooking tips (of course with no stove or running water) on morning TV shows all over the country. This was somebody else’s great idea, not mine, as I was sent off to do this with almost no media training. Fortunately, I was usually on for about 30 seconds between the local political scandal and the weather, so I’m sure nobody watched.  However, in one place—Fort Worth, Texas—where I am happy to say they place a great value on cooking at home—I was on for 12 whole minutes. This required a little bit of effort to prepare for (and I’m not talking about the serious make-up they applied to me before I went on the air. I looked like Susiezilla). I had to expand my 30-second schpeel into a “top ten tips” kind of thing—and talk a whole lot more slowly!

The host (and the viewers) loved that tip demo, and I remembered this when I was getting ready for my book signing at Bunch of Grapes bookstore last Friday night. I was asked to speak for 30 minutes (normally this would be the time when a fiction or non-fiction author would read from his or her work), and I didn’t want to bore everyone to death. Plus, I am always better in front of a crowd if I have something to do with my hands. So I did a tip demo.

I peeled fresh ginger with a spoon. Made pretty squash ribbons with a hand-held julienne peeler. Zested a lemon with a Microplane zester. Cut the bottom of a potato off to stabilize it first before slicing it thinly. Stacked basil leaves, rolled them like a cigar, and sliced them across into a “chiffonade.” That sort of thing. Once again, I got positive feedback from folks, and one friend asked me if I could post more of these tips on my blog. “Just give us a short blog every once in a while with a quick tip.” Quick I am good at, short I am not. So while this blog could really begin with the next paragraph, I’ve made you all suffer through these words to get to the tip. Someday I will get it right.

Here’s the tip. It’s about using fresh garlic. Instead of always chopping or mincing fresh garlic, try slicing whole cloves very thinly with a paring knife. These slivers, when gently sautéed in olive oil (keep the heat fairly low to prevent overbrowning), turn into delicious golden “chips.” Not only do the chips make for tasty nubbins in your final dish, but they gently infuse the olive oil with subtle garlic flavor. That olive oil, in turn, imparts a nice garlic flavor to whatever (ideally a green leafy vegetable) you next add to the pan.  (Minced garlic releases so much juice that it not only risks burning more quickly but can overpower a dish with intense garlic flavor).

I use this method (and these yummy garlic chips) to make my version of the classic side dish, garlicky sautéed spinach. (I named mine for Popeye.) The only other trick to my side dish is—your guessed it—really fresh spinach. By fresh I mean spinach still on its stems, in a bunch (not in a plastic bag). I realize how convenient bagged spinach is, and I’m all for using it when I’m making a big lasagna or that sort of thing. But to enjoy a simple spinach side dish, treat  yourself to a bunch of fresh flavor (that was a typo, I meant fresh spinach…or maybe I really did mean flavor). I especially like the variety with bodaciously crinkly leaves that give your side dish a little body, even when wilted. And I do mean wilted—that’s my last tip. Don’t overcook spinach. Just toss it in the infused oil until it collapses. Done.

Popeye’s Garlic Spinach For Two

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1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 bunch fresh spinach (10 to 12 ounces), stemmed, washed well, and spun dry

3 medium-large garlic cloves, peeled, ends trimmed, and cut into very thin slices (1 1/2 to 2 scant tablespoons garlic “chips”)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

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Heat the olive oil in a medium (9- to 10-inch) nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil is hot (it will loosen up), add the garlic slices and stir with a silicone spatula to distribute them in the oil. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently to keep the garlic covered in the oil, until the garlic softens and loses its white color, and the smallest pieces become light brown, while the larger pieces are just starting to become a light golden color, 6 to 7 minutes (don’t overcook the garlic or it will become bitter). You should smell a pleasant garlicky aroma, nothing acrid. Add half of the spinach and the salt and stir and fold the spinach with tongs until most of it is wilted and dark green, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the other half of the spinach and stir well again until the spinach is mostly all wilted, another minute or two. Take the pan off the heat, add the butter, and stir again to melt the butter and incorporate it with the spinach. Transfer the spinach with all of the garlic pieces to a serving bowl or bowls.

Serves 2

A Whole Plate of Quick-Braised Asparagus, Just for Me

I am home today roasting a bazillion plum tomatoes for a nibble I’m going to pass at my book signing tonight. There are sheet trays of tomatoes in various stages covering almost every surface in the kitchen (which is now thankfully a little less cluttered, as many of the 465 seedlings have gone to the farm garden). Bottles of olive oil, cutting boards covered with garlic slivers and thyme sprigs, and bowls of tomato seeds for the compost cover every other bit of remaining surface area.

It would have been easiest to fix myself a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. But no, I had to get out the sauté pan, because I’ve been ogling the gorgeous asparagus I bought at Morning Glory Farm yesterday. Every year I look forward to these purple behemoths; they have amazing flavor and defy the spindly Chilean spears that haunt the fluorescent aisles of the grocery store. These asparagus—you can tell they grew in the dirt, broke ground one cold March morning, and burst onto the scene with the bravado of a groundhog.

Actually, I was really glad I got the sauté pan out, as this whole recipe—one of my very favorite preparations for asparagus—takes, start to finish, less than 15 minutes to make. And the depth of flavor the vegetable gets from the browning, the quick simmer in chicken broth, and the finish of a little Dijon, butter, and herbs, is just astounding. (Okay, I realize that sounds a little boasty, this being my recipe. But if you make it and disagree, please let me know.) And for once, I got to eat the whole dish myself. Lucky me.

Quick-Braised Asparagus with Dijon-Herb Pan Sauce

This recipe was adapted from my cookbook, Fast, Fresh & Green.

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1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons dry white wine or 2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 bunch medium-thick asparagus, each spear trimmed to six inches in length (to yield about 10 ounces)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh thyme or 1 to 2 teaspoons roughly chopped fresh chervil

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

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Combine the chicken broth and white wine or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup.

In a 10-in straight-sided sauté pan with a lid, heat the olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and is bubbling, add the asparagus and salt and toss the asparagus well to coat. Arrange in one layer and cook, without stirring, until the undersides are nicely browned, 4 to 5 minutes.

Using tongs, turn each spear over and cook, without stirring, just until the other side is beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. (If the asparagus are very thick, go one minute more.) Carefully (it will sputter) pour the liquid into the pan and immediately cover it. Simmer until the liquid reduces almost completely (1 or 2 teaspoons will be left), about 2 minutes. Uncover, take the pan off the heat, and add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of butter, most of the thyme or chervil, and the Dijon. Stir gently with a silicone spatula to mix the mustard with the melting butter and to incorporate any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the asparagus to a serving platter or plates and pour the pan sauce over it, scraping all of the sauce out of the pan. Garnish with the remaining herbs.

Serves 3 (as a side dish) or 1 for lunch!

A Hen Party Around the Water Cooler

I have water on the brain. Not literally, I hope. It’s just that the subject of clean water is all around me, all around us. In fact, I found it kind of eerie that it was coming at me from so many different directions last week, almost as if the water gods were trying to get my attention. On the national news, it was the horrendous oil spill polluting the Gulf; in Massachusetts, a giant water pipe burst, leaving thousands of folks in the Boston area to boil water all weekend.

Here on the Vineyard, ironically, this was the weekend a whole series of special events—the “Water is Life” celebration—was scheduled, revolving around the launch of National Geographic’s new book, Written in Water: Messages of Hope for Earth’s Most Precious Resources.  Water is a big deal on an island, of course, not just because of the miles of beaches and acres of coastal ponds, but because we sit on top of our own aquifer. We’re one big watershed. That’s good news when things happen on the mainland like the water-main break; we escape being affected. But on the flip side, everything we put on our lawns, in our plumbing, and over our fields eventually filters into our water.

But the water issue I was pondering most this week wasn’t a national or even a local one. No, in my little myopic world, what I was thinking about most was watering my vegetable garden. With the potatoes planted, the peas (and weeds!) sprouting, and some of the greens transplanted, this was the first week the garden demanded a daily watering. Other than the somewhat heated household “discussion” about who was going to get up (very) early every morning and go over to the farm to do this, most of the thinking centered around sorting through a complex system of hoses, splitters, valves, and connections that lead to a hydrant (sort of an old-fashioned looking pump with a red handle) at the center of the farm where our water supply originates.

By the third morning, we’d figured out the routine—a routine we’ll probably follow every morning for the next several months. After watering (and I am already amazed at how much water we’ll need to dispense for an area like ours), I retraced my steps to the hydrant to close down the pump. As I walked, I found myself thinking about how lucky we are to have a vegetable plot on a farm. Not only do we have amazing soil, but there’s an established system of water distribution in place. And as I turned the corner past the sheep pasture and the goat pen, I also began to think about how important water is to a farm—not just for raising crops, but for feeding the animals. Just one goat or sheep can drink a gallon of water a day. That’s why everywhere you go on a small farm, you see the ubiquitous black rubber water tubs (like the one in this photo) that constantly need topping up. As many of those tubs as I’ve spied since moving to the Vineyard, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about what it takes to fill them.

When I got to the hydrant, though, I had to laugh. The ducks and hens (and guinea fowl) have it all figured out, I thought. They never miss the opportunity to stop and take a drink or a bath (or both—they’re not picky).  In this case, they’ve claimed the drip-catching tub under the hydrant as their own. The spot definitely reminded me of the water cooler in an office—everyone gathers there for a cackle and a drink.  Watching them also suddenly made me think about the poor birds on the Gulf Coast who won’t be as lucky as these ones in the coming months.

I must admit, I don’t think I’ve ever given water as much thought as I did this week. And when we start harvesting those glorious peas (and everything else) later this suumer, I’ll now be thinking about all the things that make them possible—not just the soil, the sun, and the hard work, but the water, too.

P.S. And speaking of peas, I hope some of you live in an area of the country (or world) where peas really are a spring vegetable. On the Island we don’t harvest them until July, so I have a while to wait.  (In the mean time, I don’t mind cooking with frozen peas, believe it or not.) Either way, if you want to enjoy them simply and deliciously, check out this recipe for Peas with Lemon, Mint & Scallions from my book, Fast, Fresh & Green. It’s just been posted as part of a book excerpt on Finecooking.com, the website of Fine Cooking magazine, which I write for regularly.

And if you live on the Vineyard, don’t forget you are invited to Bunch of Grapes bookstore on this Friday, May 7, at 7:30 for a book signing and demo by yours truly.

Fast, Fresh & Green is Here–and I Couldn’t Be More Thrilled


Theoretically, I am a jaded editor and writer. I’ve been in the publishing business a long time. (I got my first job at Seventeen magazine when I was 21 years old.) So you’d think that writing a book would be no big deal to me, right? Wrong.

The day I held the first copy of Fast, Fresh & Green in my hands, I nearly cried I was so thrilled. It was beautiful and charming and there was that silly voice of mine all over the place, coaxing people into the kitchen to have fun. Somehow, my publisher, Chronicle Books, managed to let Susie be Susie, all the while infusing the book with their uniquely fresh design sensibility, making it feel so relevant, so very 2010, so luminous. A more grateful first-time author you couldn’t find.

That was back in January, when I got two copies of the book in the mail, straight from the printer. Because of the weird ways of publishing, I don’t actually have any more copies yet. My author copies will be shipped when the book “officially” leaves the warehouse to head for bookstores this Wednesday, April 28.

But (and like I said, this is weird stuff), the book started shipping from Amazon early last week, and Friday afternoon, the book reached #1 in the Vegetable category (and even hovered under 500 in the total books ranking for a few hours!). Now everyone knows that the Amazon rankings don’t really mean anything, but does that stop me from being proud? And does it mean I’m not excited about the new 5-star reviews that are up there from folks saying they’ve already found a place for Fast, Fresh & Green on their cookbook shelf of “favorites?” Of course not—I’m human. And heck, you only have a first book once, so why not totally give in to the thrill.

The book is also out early in Anthropologie stores all over the country and in Canada. This really tickles me, as I bought many of the props for the photos in the book from Anthropologie, just because I love their sensibility. It also tickles me because friends and family members have been spotting the book in their local Anthropologie and emailing photos of the displays to me. Which leads me to this: You don’t just write—or publish—a book in a vacuum. Your friends, your family, your professional colleagues—they offer so much support and encouragement as you go along that the book really becomes theirs, too.  They’re just as proud as you are, so they should share in the excitement. That’s why I feel like it’s important to spread the good news around when it comes along, whether I do that by Facebook, on Twitter, on sixburnersue.com, or with a simple email.

To be honest, this good news doesn’t just “come along.” Promoting a book is actually more work, and involves more people, than the actual writing of a book, and I have an incredible team at Chronicle Books, my friends at Fine Cooking magazine and finecooking.com, the good people at Edible Communities, and an enthusiastic group of independent booksellers on my home turf of Martha’s Vineyard to thank profusely. (Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven is kindly staging an author event for me on Friday, May 7, to officially “launch” Fast, Fresh & Green on the Island. Wherever you live, be sure to patronize your local independent bookstore!).

In honor of official publication week, I thought I’d post a few of the incredible photos in the book and one of my favorite recipes. The photos (above) were taken over a four-day period in my home by fabulous photographer Ben Fink. Food stylist Michelli Knauer prepared and styled the food for the camera with the help of Safaya Tork. I planned and propped each shot, bought the ingredients, and worked with Ben and Michelli during the shoot to get the best results possible. And of course all of the food for the camera was shot exactly as the recipe was written (no fakery), and none of those recipes would be as good as they are without the efforts of my terrific cross-tester, Jessica Bard.

Publishing a book is a lot of work (and not the ticket to riches as many folks believe), but it is a thrill, plain and simple. Especially the first one—though I hope to find out what it feels like to be a second-time author, too!

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Sweet Potato “Mini-Fries” with Limey Dipping Sauce

These oven fries are addictive, even though they don’t get as crisp as deep-fried sweet potatoes. I cut them into little sticks and sometimes serve them straight off the sheet pan (with more salt) to guests gathering in the kitchen. They always disappear quickly. The easy little limey dipping sauce is also great with grilled fish, crabcakes, and steamed asparagus.

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1 pound unpeeled sweet potatoes (about 2 small)

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt, more for seasoning

Spiced Salt (recipe follows)

Limey Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)

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Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Line a large (18- x 13- x 1-inch) heavy-duty rimmed sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper. Cut the sweet potatoes crosswise on a slight diagonal into 3/8-inch-thick slices. (If the sweet potato is very narrow at one end, you can cut slices at a very sharp angle at that end.) Cut each slice (along the longest side) into sticks between ¼- and 3/8-inch wide. (They will only be a couple inches long.) Put all the sticks in a mixing bowl and combine thoroughly with the olive oil and the 1 teaspoon salt. Spread the sweet potatoes out in one layer on the baking sheet, making sure to scrape all the oil and salt from the bowl onto them.

Roast for 20 minutes. Using a spatula, flip the sticks over and continue cooking, flipping once or twice more, until the fries are nicely browned (some in spots, some all over), about another 10 minutes. Sprinkle some of the Spiced Salt or more kosher salt (be generous and do not skip this step!) on the fries, toss well, and serve with the dipping sauce.

Serves 3 to 4

Limey Dipping Sauce

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1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

½ teaspoon finely minced garlic

a pinch of kosher salt

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In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, the lime zest, the lime juice, the garlic and a pinch of salt. Whisk well to combine. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes to let the flavors blend.

Spiced Salt

This keeps in a tightly sealed container for several weeks.

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1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon paprika

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In a small bowl, stir together all of the spices.

A Golden Galette is My All-Time Favorite Potato Recipe

It’s not very forward-thinking to pronounce something your all-time-favorite-such-and-such recipe. What happens if a more delicious recipe comes along down the road and you change your mind? It’s a little like the boy who cries wolf. You can go around saying, “No, really, this one is my favorite,” but after a while, no one will believe you.

It’s very possible that I once bestowed this “favorite recipe” honor on another potato recipe of mine, one for a crispy roast smashed potato I developed for Fine Cooking magazine years ago, and that resides over at finecooking.com with many wonderful user reviews. And I have to say, the recipe for braised fingerlings I posted here a few months ago is pretty darn delicious. But yesterday, when I planted potatoes for the first time in my life, it was this recipe for a potato and cheese “galette” that I was dreaming of making later in the summer when we harvest our first Red Gold potatoes (photo below). So I’m going to risk my rep and call this galette my favorite potato recipe. (It  has something to do with the crispy factor.)  Just don’t blame me when I get all excited about a new potato salad or roasted garlic mashed potatoes or crispy slow-sautéed potatoes in some future blog. I can’t help myself.

One of the things I love best about the galette is the easy method. A galette is a layered potato dish, very similar to what the French call Potatoes Anna, except that instead of having to flip it in a pan on the stovetop (something I’m notoriously bad at), you get to bake it in a tart pan or cheesecake pan (anything with a removable rim).  All you do is arrange thinly sliced potatoes in slightly overlapping circles, sprinkle on a bit of cheese, and repeat. Bake until tender inside, crispy outside. Cut into wedges to serve.  You get the idea.

Better still, the galette is incredibly versatile. I like to use it as a sort of a bed for sliced roast chicken or grilled steak. A small wedge also nestles nicely next to a salad or can be served with a bowl of soup. It’s even good at room temperature as a snack. After a galette cools, I cut the whole thing into wedges, even if I’m not serving it all right away, as the wedges can be kept in the fridge for a day or two and easily reheated, one at a time if you like.

Potato Galette with Fresh Rosemary & Two Cheeses

Be sure to use good Parmigiano and gruyere cheese in this recipe. With so few ingredients, the quality (and flavor) of the cheese makes a different. You can substitute fresh thyme for the rosemary if you like. Stick with yellow-fleshed potatoes for this recipe; red skinned-potatoes and Idahos do not work as well in this kind of dish. You don’t need to peel the potatoes.

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3 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 4 medium)

1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

¾ cup grated Gruyere cheese

1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano

kosher salt

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Heat the oven to 375°  and arrange one rack in the middle of the oven.  Rub a 9- inch tart pan or a 9 ½-inch cheesecake pan with ½ teaspoon of the olive oil. (Make sure the pan has a removable bottom.)

Put the potatoes on your cutting board and trim a small slice off the bottom of each to stabilize it. Trim off and discard the very ends of the potatoes. Then cut the potatoes crosswise into very thin slices. Use a sharp, thin-bladed (but strong) knife—a Santoku knife works great for cutting thin potato slices. Slice as thinly as you can, but don’t worry in the least if the slices are inconsistent; the galette will still cook evenly as long as you don’t include any really thick slices. If you have a mandolin, you can certainly use it, but you don’t need to.

Put the potato slices, the chopped rosemary, and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a mixing bowl and toss thoroughly to coat.

Cover the bottom of the pan with a layer of potato slices, starting by making a ring of slightly overlapping slices all the way around the outside edge, and then working inward, laying down more rings of slightly overlapping slices until the bottom is covered. Sprinkle the potatoes with a tiny bit of kosher salt (about 1/8 teaspoon) and then sprinkle about 1/3 of the gruyere and 1/3 of the Parmigiano over all. Arrange another layer of potatoes over that, season again with salt, sprinkle with 1/3 of each cheese again, and finish with a top layer of potatoes and cheese.

Bake the galette until the top is golden brown and a fork easily pierces the layers of potato, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let the galette cool for 10 to 15 minutes in the pan. Run a thin knife around the edge to unstick any cheese and remove the cheesecake ring or the tart ring, leaving the galette on the bottom of the pan. Use a thin spatula to gently release the galette from the pan bottom, and transfer the galette to a cutting board. Cut into 6 or 8 pie-shaped pieces. Serve warm.

Serves 6 to 8


Stalking Wild Watercress for Salads & Sautés

Sneaking around is so much fun. Like heisting those leeks a few weeks ago, we had the best time on Friday clandestinely gathering wild watercress from a fresh-water stream deep in the woods. Scissors in hand, we scurried down a path of pine needles, all the while looking over our shoulders, hoping no one would see us through the mist and fog and tangled brush. Soon we could hear the gentle burbling of the stream, and then the green mirage appeared–a carpet of a million leprechaun-green petals, so shiny and inviting you’d almost want to walk across it. But unless you’re wearing waders, it’s best to snip wild watercress by draping yourself over a fallen tree branch. Which is exactly what we did. Snacking as we snipped, we filled up a big bowlful of the freshest, zippiest taste of spring you could ever hope for.

Gathering wild watercress is a time-honored Spring tradition on the Vineyard. But don’t ask an old-timer where his favorite patch is, like I did when I was just a new “wash-ashore.” He looked at me, only half-smiling, and said, “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”  Like stands of wild blueberry bushes and sandy beach-plum covered dunes, the location of a good watercress patch is a highly guarded secret. And I think I finally understand why. Unlike the summer berry  hunt, where you’ll definitely lose out if you don’t get there first, it’s not that there isn’t enough watercress to go around. As long as you snip sprigs (and don’t pull up roots), this wild green will flourish.

No, I think the appeal of watercress picking is the ritual–the walk through the peaceful woods that are just starting to green-up, the crouching by the edge of a cool stream. It’s so calming and rejuvenating after a long winter that you’d hate to disturb the experience by sharing it with hoards of people all at once. Funny thing is, on our way back to the car, we saw a lone watercress sprig dropped by the side of the road. Someone had been to “our” spot before us, but had kindly given us our space.

I can’t say that foraging for your own greens doesn’t somehow make them tastier and more exciting. So I won’t blame you if you are now saying, “Why should I bother with watercress if I’m just foraging for it at the grocery store? Because I think watercress is a highly underappreciated green, pushed out of the limelight by the likes of arugula and mizuna, when in fact it has all of their zip and less of their bite. And it is truly simple to prepare. I love it raw in salads–alone or with other greens–and wilted in a sauté pan, always with plenty of garlic. (Below are two favorite “recipe-lets” for you to try.) I also love to toss watercress in with steamed mussels, I love it with a juicy hamburger, and I love it in a very simple Asian soup of chicken broth, scallions, ginger, and garlic. And, oh yeah, it’s really good for you too. This relative of the nasturtium has traditionally been used as an herbal remedy for hot flashes, headaches, canker sores, and even gout. And it’s a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, phosphorous, iron and calcium. Touché, arugula!

Simple Watercress Salad with Lime-Honey Dressing & Toasted Almonds: Combine 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice, 1 teaspoon honey, a hefty pinch of salt, and a few grinds of fresh pepper in a small bowl. Whisk the dressing together until creamy. Toast whole almonds in a 375°  oven until deeply browned; cool and chop coarsely. Coarsely grate a few tablespoons of Parmigianno Regianno cheese.

For each portion of salad, wash and dry 2 good handfuls of watercress, trimming away any thick lower stems first. If you have mint around, pick out a few small leaves or finely slice a few bigger ones. Put the watercress (and the mint if you’re using) in a bowl, season it with a big pinch of sea salt, and toss it with just enough of the dressing to coat. Add a generous amount of the chopped almonds and the grated Parmigianno and toss again. Arrange each portion on a salad plate and garnish with more almonds and cheese if desired.

Wilted Watercress with Garlic Chips: In a small nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium-low heat. Add 1 large garlic clove, very thinly sliced crosswise, and saute until the garlic is just golden. Add 2 cups (packed) of trimmed watercress and a good pinch of kosher salt. Sauté until the watercress has just wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Serves 2.

This post has also been published at Oneforthetable

A Kale Grows in the Kitchen: A Tale of Seedling Mania

There is that giddy-scary scene in Fantasia when the broomsticks multiply and start filling the room with too much water. That’s kind of the way we feel here in our tiny apartment, which is home to two adults, one lovebird, an occasional 7-year old, and 465 seedlings. Yes, I said 465. Our kitchen looks like one of those bad fern bars from the 70’s.  I am worried that one day we are going to wake up smothered in seedlings, like those famous brothers, the Collyers, who were buried alive by stacks of The New York Times they hoarded in their Harlem apartment years ago.

It didn’t start out this way. We built shelves, set up growing lights, and planted just enough trays of plugs and six-packs to go under the lights. But we turned out to be thinning-averse. In other words, we planted too many seeds in each cell, and when they all germinated, didn’t get down to the business of getting rid of the extra seedlings right away.

When we did, we couldn’t bear to throw the thinnings away. Oh, sure, we tossed some lettuce and greens shoots into our salads, but those tomato (like the Black Cherry, above), pepper, and eggplant seedlings seemed like gold to us. So before they got too crowded, we started unpacking every six-pack and moving each seedling into its own 3- or 4-inch pot. And yeah, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that 18 to 20 seedlings that have been crammed into a tiny six-pack will now take up substantially more room when each is luxuriating in a small pot of its own. Where to put them (and all their friends)? Not only would they need linear space, but light, too.

Fortunately, we had built extra shelving—and we have six sunny windows in our South-facing apartment. Because clearly not everyone was going to get to hang out under a growing light (we only have four). After several hours of rearranging the furniture in our living room and kitchen the other day, we found a spot for everyone. But it’s still a bit like managing a 3-ring circus, as we continue to transplant and to shift trays around from under the artificial lights over to the sunny window spots and occasionally to the less-sunny-floor-space-spots so that everyone gets his or her turn in the best light. The apartment’s got micro-climates, too—the floor is much cooler, and the greens (like the Rainbow Lacinato kale, right) like being there.

The really good news is that we actually turned earth over in the garden yesterday. In fact, we carved out three of our 75-square-foot beds Thursday night and will work on the other 14 this weekend. The cold frame is set up, and soon the flats of greens and lettuces will go in them to harden off. That’s good, because we need the space in the kitchen to start some more Sweet Genovese, Thai, and Lime Basil.

I Like Mine Extra-Crispy—Roasted Broccoli, That Is

Wouldn’t you know it, I went skipping off to the grocery store yesterday, smugly thinking I’d pick up some fiddlehead ferns and/or baby artichokes and blog about cooking one or both of them this week.  The grocery store had other plans. In other words, it had neither. I swear I saw fiddleheads somewhere recently, even though I know the wild ones aren’t up yet around here. But I must have been imagining things (not surprising). I’m sure I didn’t imagine the baby artichokes; they’re at the other grocery store—the one I didn’t plan to go to yesterday.  Oh well, soon enough for both.

Instead I bought broccoli. I know, broccoli. But it was, truthfully, the best looking thing at the store. And I think maybe I had a tiny cruciferous craving, as suddenly I had to have several of the perky purple-green crowns to roast for our dinner. (And a couple to put in a vase near the daffodils–weird but true.) I realized, too, that I needed something I could throw together pretty quickly, with a minimum of hands-on time, as I was probably going to be unloading the rest of my groceries all night! (I’m working on three recipes for Fine Cooking magazine today.)

If you’re a roasted broccoli convert already, you know what I’m talking about in terms of bang for your buck. With very little effort, you get a vegetable so tasty and crispy-toasty that even the pickiest veggie-disdainers will eat it straight off the sheet pan. That’s why I usually make a dipping sauce for the florets—to encourage kids and adults alike to eat roasted broccoli just like any other finger food. Last night I made a quick soy-lime-honey-ginger sauce, but you’ll find plenty more quick sauce and herb butter recipes for roasted veg in Fast, Fresh & Green, too. (Sorry to be a tease about the book–it really will be released from the warehouse in only three weeks!)

Whether or not you’re a seasoned broccoli-roaster, you can follow some tips for the best results. First, I use a very hot oven (475°) and spread the florets out in one loose layer on a large sheet pan. The combination of high heat and good air circulation guarantees that the broccoli will roast, not steam. If you have a convection function on your oven, turn it on for roasting broccoli. When I cut up broccoli for roasting, I try to cut through whole florets to create flat sides. The flat sides have more surface area and will brown more against the pan. Lastly, I give the broccoli pieces a pretty generous coating of olive oil—again to draw the heat into the florets.

Roasted Broccoli with Soy-Lime-Honey-Ginger Dipping Sauce

You can easily double this recipe if you like, and the one-pound of florets will fit on a large (18×13) sheet pan. Any more than that should go on two sheet pans. I like to use parchment paper to line my sheet pans when roasting vegetables, but it’s not necessary here, as the broccoli will not stick to the pan.

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½ pound broccoli florets (from about 2 small crowns), each about 2 inches long, with one flat side

1 ½ to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons chopped scallions

1 (generous) tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

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Heat the oven to 475°. In a large mixing bowl, toss the broccoli florets with enough olive oil to generously coat them. Add the kosher salt, toss, and spread the florets in one layer, cut sides down, on a heavy, rimmed sheet pan. (A small-to-medium sized pan is fine for this amount of florets.) Roast until the florets are browned and crispy at their outer edges, and the cut sides are lightly browned on the bottom, about 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer the broccoli to serving dishes or a platter if you like.

Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce, lime juice, honey, scallions and ginger and mix well. Transfer to one or more dipping bowls and serve with the broccoli.

Serves 2 to 3

A Prettier Way to Cut Asparagus & A Tasty Easter Side Dish

Sometimes it’s all about the cut. Take asparagus. Everyone loves the long, lanky, sexy look of a whole asparagus spear. (Sorry—sounds like I’m describing a brand of Gap jeans). Why would you want to wreck that by cutting it up? Oh, yeah, there’s that awkward moment when you’re trying to cut those long spears with a fork on your holiday dinner plate. And the even more awkward moment when you push the woody bottom half of the spears over to the side of your plate because they’re undercooked. Now consider this—with a few extra seconds of work upfront, you can have a beautiful, evenly cooked, easy-to-eat asparagus side dish that can take on a variety of flavors, too.

So I’m going to ignore my mother (who claims I tend to get a bit fussy about my vegetable cuts), and suggest that you try slicing your asparagus on the diagonal (sharply…at a sharp angle…on the bias…however you want to say it) for a change. Use a small knife and cut a few spears at a time. Position the knife at something like a 30-degree angle to your cutting board and slice the spears across at about 2-inch intervals. (See photo.) You’ll usually get about 5 or 6 pieces out of a (trimmed) spear.

It doesn’t matter whether your asparagus are thin, medium, or thick, because, by slicing, you’ll be averaging out their thickness. I especially like to cut our big, thick, purple, local asparagus (below) this way, but we’re still a month away from harvesting those beauties. (When the time comes, I’ll give you another great method for cooking thick asparagus.) Right now, many of you will be stuck with what I think are overly-thin asparagus sold at the grocery store. No matter, they will still be delicious.

Once sliced, these evenly-sized asparagus pieces are perfect for stir-fries and sautés. The recipe I’m including here is a bit Italian-country-rustic but very flavorful. (It would be a nice side for roasted salmon.) If you wanted something different (and vegetarian), you could sauté a few cremini mushrooms and/or sliced shallots in place of the prosciutto. Or you could keep things simple by seasoning the asparagus with just a bit of sautéed garlic and a finish of lemon.

You can also easily scale this kind of recipe up or down; just be sure to change the size of your skillet so that your asparagus fit comfortably in it.  Cooking times may also vary on different stovetops, so keep an eye on your asparagus when sautéing them. They’ll first turn bright green and then begin to brown in spots. You’ll want them to be glistening and toasty looking all over, but still a little bit firm to the bite. It’s best to eat these right away, as they continue to cook off the heat and they cool down quickly. However, if you have leftovers, they make an excellent base for a frittata.

Sautéed Asparagus with Prosciutto Crisps & Parmigiano

Cutting thinly sliced prosciutto into strips can be tricky, as they tend to stick together. You can either cut each slice separately, or stack the slices and pull the strips apart after cutting. Either way, arrange the strips across your cutting board (rather than piling them), which will make them easier to transfer to the skillet in one layer.

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1 ½ pounds (2 small bunches) medium asparagus spears, ends trimmed or snapped away (to yield about 1 pound)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, sliced into strips about ¼-inch wide and 2-inches long

kosher salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

½ teaspoon white balsamic vinegar

2 to 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Regianno

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Slice the asparagus on a very sharp angle (on the bias) into pieces that are about 2 inches long and about ¼-inch wide at their widest point. Include the ends, which will be shorter pieces.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the prosciutto pieces and cook until crisp (they will turn a darker red color, too), about 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and transfer the prosciutto crisps to a plate. Add the remaining teaspoon olive oil and the asparagus to the pan. Season the asparagus with about a scant ½ teaspoon of salt. Return the pan to the heat, and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring, until all the asparagus pieces are glistening and browned in spots, about 5 to 7 minutes. They will still be firm, but not crunchy. Remove the pan from the heat and add the remaining tablespoon of butter and the balsamic vinegar (it will sizzle). Stir right away and keep stirring until the butter has melted. Stir in half of the prosciutto crisps and half of the Parmigiano, and transfer all to a serving dish. Garnish with the remaining prosciutto crisps and Parmigiano.

Serves 4

Hold the Green Beans, Olive the Berkshire Pig Loves Pizza

One of the very coolest things about the vegetable garden we will tend this summer is that it lies squarely between a hog pen and a goat yard. All summer long we’ll be in the good company of Olive the Berkshire pig, who is (cross your fingers), hopefully pregnant, so we’ll be joined by some little black piglets, too. Soon, Thunder the boar will also be back at Native Earth. He’s been on loan to another local farm for the last three months.

The goats, who are the very cute mini-goats known as pygmies, will probably move around a bit, as they have a job to do—clearing brush. But they’ll be close enough for us to say hi to every day. And these gals are expecting, too, thanks to a new billy goat who’s joined them.

Besides the goats and pigs, there are sheep and hens and guinea fowl and ducks and geese and I- don’t- know-what-else at the farm. I am beside myself with excitement. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I get kind of goofy about pigs and goats, and pretty much every other kind of farm animal. I’m just crazy about them. Fortunately, Roy and his daughter Libby (with Olive, above) share this passion of mine. We dropped by the farm today, ostensibly to add some kitchen scraps to the compost pile. But secretly we’d brought along a few slices of last night’s pizza (plain cheese) to offer to Olive, even though we understand she’s getting plenty to eat right now. Hopefully we won’t get in trouble. We just thought it’d be nice to make friends early on. It seemed to work. Olive smiled. So did Libby.

On our way home from Native Earth, we stopped in at Whiting Farm to see the newborn lambs. The Whitings’ sheep are a handsome breed known as Cheviots, and even the babies have distinctively upright ears. Allen Whiting let Libby help him bottle-feed a lamb who’s not getting quite enough milk from Mom. Libby asked if he had named the lambs, and he explained that he usually doesn’t, as most of these lambs will become meat. Libby understood that, just as she did when we mentioned the piglets would be raised for meat. “Bacon?” she asked. Yes, really, really good bacon.

Between our vegetable garden and being around the farm, Libby’s going to learn a lot about where her food comes from this summer. (Jamie Oliver would be proud!) We’ve picked out some vegetables—like baby carrots and mini-pumpkins—just for her, and she’s hoping we’ll get a hen or two for her to help take care of. (She loves fresh eggs, too.) I can’t help but feel grateful for this: The chance for her to learn and be challenged—while we all spend time together outdoors—is just one more bonus to our vegetable garden project.