With Garden Castoffs and Leftovers

I have almost forgotten the last time I thought of a dish first, and then went to buy the necessary ingredients.

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The radish seeds we planted in January grew tall, lush leaves but no radishes. ‘There was some problem with the seeds,” said our friend at the nursery when I asked him if the reason was my putting too many in a small space. “Take them out and throw them to the neighbor’s sheep,” he said, offering to give me new, guaranteed radish seeds. But the greens were wonderful, tender, crunchy and somewhat spicy, so I braised them with garlic, adding slices of the delicious, smoked local sausage I got from Petros, the butcher at the port. I complemented the dish with some of the half-cooked wheat berries or farro (see the Note HERE) that I keep in the freezer. We loved this dish of greens and grains, flavored with pepper flakes and turmeric, and drizzled with lemon juice.

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I probably will never be able to make it again, though, as I doubt that I will be able to grow this kind of mock-radish greens anytime soon.

This is an example of how I choose what to cook every day, looking first at the garden, then opening the cupboards, my fridge and the freezer to decide what I could use to supplement the fresh produce and create an interesting and wholesome meal. I have almost forgotten the last time I thought of a dish first, and then went to buy the necessary ingredients. I vaguely recall composing menus from scratch and writing shopping lists, many years ago, when I was in Athens and often gave formal dinner parties for fellow journalists, friends, and artists. My tiny city kitchen had almost no storage space, my fridge was small, and the freezer could hardly hold more than ice cubes.

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The other day I discovered in my sizeable freezer a bag with chopped olives, leeks and fennel, leftover stuffing from eliopita (olive pie) that I had totally forgotten. It was fragrant and delicious, so I decided to make a different kind of meze: I rolled the stuffing in leftover bread dough from the spicy yellow crackers. The result was tiny bites bursting with flavor, and some larger, empanada-like pies, that were equally wonderful.

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I so much enjoy my early morning walks around the garden with Neva, as I look for the best vegetables and herbs, and also the ones that we have to uproot to make room for the zucchini, the peppers and the tomatoes that are now sprouting in small covered boxes. Last week I had to take out the rest of the flowering broccoli rabe, something I should have done earlier.

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It took some work to separate the very tough stems, but I ended up with enough succulent greens to make a really wholesome, creamy risotto. I used the rice grits from the Ansom Mills’ bag I brought from Washington. My dear friend, chef Michael Costa of Zaytinya told me I had to try them, and he was absolutely right!

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Not that our local medium grain rice is bad, but these grits were truly exceptional. I have also brought organic rice from Istanbul, the kind my friends use to make their famous pilafs, and I will try it next.

I feel that my cooking is not far from the frugal ways of years passed. Probably my grandmother when she spent summers in this same island with my mother and her six older and younger siblings in the 1930ies, went through a very similar process as she planned each day’s meal…

 

 

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