The garden inspires. Besides its inherent goodness–the exercise of maintaining it, the healthfulness and flavor of what comes out of it, the incredible multi-level teaching tool it offers for parents–at the end of the day (often quite literally) it’s just the act of working in it and seeing what’s coming in, what’s peaking, and what’s going out that gives me the most ideas for immediate meals and more ambitious longer-term projects. One of the great beauties of growing food is that even things well before or past their prime can be used to great effect to flavor, garnish, or otherwise complete a meal. This dinner represented a good example of me just listening to the garden and letting the fridge and pantry do the rest.
I got a fair amount of work done today, including building a bamboo trellis for the climbing beans. I thinned the carrot bed, and weeded it, which was made extra fun by the facts that the baby carrots are big enough (barely) to qualify as carrots and that all of the weeds in that bed are (were) purslane, so by the time each carrot had some space of open soil around it I had a pile of real food ready for washing. I cut the rest of the scapes from the garlic bed and grabbed some selvetica arugula, fennel fronds, and green coriander seeds from the cilantro that self-seeded in the fall. One of the benefits of expanding the garden is that I can leave a few winter beds to flower while still having enough room to plant everything I want in time for the new season. Besides saving seeds to grow, I’m finding more and more culinary uses for them and have some posts planned that will cover some of what I’m playing with.
Meantime, here’s what I did with the haul. I began by flouring some chicken thighs (with some salt and pimentón in the flour) and giving them a thorough browning on both sides. I removed them to another pan, and added a sauce made of cider vinegar, orange juice, ketchup, soy sauce, fish sauce, sriracha, and chicken stock, into which I stirred a bit of corn starch. I let them simmer happily while I used all the rendered chicken fat in the big pan to make crispy little “latkes” out of leftover amaranth I had made the night before. These did not suck. Many of them didn’t survive even to see a plate; my diminutive sous-chef and I accidentally put away a few while we got everything together.
In the same pan, now with quite a lot less chicken fat in it, I added the scapes, carrots, and peas, followed by some vinegar and stock after everything brightened and the scapes began to color and wrinkle a bit. You can see just how tiny the carrots were. I removed the mixture to a bowl in which I had put purslane and arugula so the heat would wilt them but not cook them much past that point.
The vegetables were done just as the sauce for the chicken had thickened to a lascivious viscosity, so it was time to eat. A spoon of ragout, a thigh (anointed lovingly with extra sauce) and a latke adorned each bowl, and I added some raw purslane and fennel fronds for ornament, bright crunch, and flavor. The thighs had a nice escabeche thing happening, which played beautifully with the vernal splendor of the ragout. The crispy grain cakes were pretty great–who knew starch fried in fat could be good?–and inspired some ideas for future versions. A Marsannay rosé did an excellent job with this, and it took some serious effort to save enough for the kid’s lunch.