Monday, June 4, 2012

Test Kitchen Tuesday: From Ground to Table

This year, I decided to hold no expectations from our little garden. Last year's garden did not go well at all. So while I tried to learn from that experience, and carry over the knowledge obtained to this year's garden, I maintained that I was going to put the plants in the dirt, water them, weed them, keep them free of pests, and whatever happens will happen. This year, we kept it small, both out of necessity and practicality. We no longer live on the three acres that we had use of last year. Our yard is very small, and many people would not think of growing vegetables! I think this has been to our advantage, because it is not as overwhelming and I am able to care for the garden much better. We also are using a raised garden bed and other containers, giving us more control over the soil. And finally, we did not plant seeds this year, but bought young plants already started to transplant into our garden. Again, this served to keep me from getting overwhelmed, and allows me to get more familiar with the plants I am growing before trying to get them to grow from seeds. The end result to these changes from last year-sweet (small but mighty) victory. It might not look like much, but compared to our yield from last year it is bountiful. Okay, that might be stretching it a bit- so far we have three varieties of lettuce that we are enjoying, and this week- broccoli!

We have had an extremely warm spring this year. Actually, it seems in a lot of ways that we skipped spring and went straight into a very hot summer. A lot of produce has been ready weeks earlier than is typical for our area. So I wasn't surprised when I saw beautiful broccoli florets peaking up over the leaves. I was, however, surprised at how quickly they went from beautiful broccoli florets to beautiful flowering broccoli!

At first I was disappointed. No broccoli again this year. And that is the item that the kids really wanted to grow themselves. But wait! Why not!? Are flowers of the broccoli really inedible? We eat the buds, after all! So the kids and I did a little research and found that the broccoli flower is in fact edible, and furthermore- get this- it tastes like.... BROCCOLI! So we dove into this as a learning experience for not only the kids, but also the adults. As we filled our bowl with the stalks of tiny yellow flowers, I excitedly emphasized how cool it is that we planted this broccoli, and it grew into flowers, and now we were going to eat them! The kids seemed very excited.

Now the most tame way I can think of to try an unknown food, is a soup. Perhaps because it is an unknown within a substance that has come to be so comforting- who doesn't take comfort in a nice bowl of warm soup on a chilly day or when one is sick. So that is what we will do with it. We'll make it into a soup. This idea was inspired by this recipe at There were a lot of ingredients that I did not want to include in my meal, however, so we came up with a recipe that has a bit more of a whole foods approach.

About 4 tablespoons olive oil
pat of butter
1/4 small onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
about 6 large leaves fresh basil
a few sprigs fresh rosemary
fresh thyme
fresh oregano
about 3-5 cups flowered broccoli, stems and leaves included, chopped coarsely
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
4 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese

Finely chop the herbs and broccoli leaves together. Heat the oil and butter in the bottom of a stock pot, over medium heat. Once the butter melts and the oil shimmers, add the onions, garlic, herbs, and broccoli leaves. Stirring constantly, cook until the onions begin to turn clear. Be careful that your oil doesn't get too hot. Add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add the broccoli and simmer for a moment. Slowly stiir in the greek yogurt and milk, reserving 1/4 cup of milk. Put the cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk the milk into the cornstarch using a fork. Slowly stir the cornstarch mixture into the soup and bring back to a simmer until soup is thickened. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. A little at a time, sprinkle the shredded cheese into the soup and stir until melted. If the soup is too hot when you add the cheese, it will turn out grainy and lumpy. Stirring in very small amounts at a time when it is off heat will allow the cheese to melt smoothly and evenly.

Ladel into bowls and garnish with more shredded cheese and a couple of the broccoli blossoms!

You can add other veggies like carrots and potatoes, and if you want you can add bacon too. But the thing I like about this soup is that its simplicity really let the flavors of the herbs and the broccoli flowers sing. I could really taste each individual ingredient, and I don't think that would have been the case if I added more flavors or a stronger cheese. But this is very basic and you can mix it up with whatever you want or like!

We served this with a salad of the greens from our garden as well, and sausages. I was worried that the kids would not eat dinner, but they continued to clean their plates and ask for seconds, thirds, fourths... until we had none left. Salad, flowers, and all. I think that is wonderful testimony to the notion that kids will eat vegetables that they've helped grow and prepare.