Recipe: Full-Flavored Tarragon Vinegar
The newest title in Chronicle Books' elegantly formatted Garden Style series (along with Easy Orchids, also by Mimi Luebbermann), Salad Gardens offers both novice and experienced gardeners simple, easy-to-follow directions for cultivating a wide variety of tender lettuces, aromatic herbs, and edible flowers in gardens of every size from indoor containers to window boxes and backyard gardens.
A beautifully illustrated guide, Salad Gardens provides both the inspiration and instruction needed to produce gardens of greens in virtually any climate-and create delicious and colorful salads from their bounty. With sections on potted gardens, a child's salad garden, an Easter basket of greens, a wheelbarrow salad garden, a garden of Asian greens, and other innovative ideas, Salad Gardens offers something for everyone. Those who lack the time and space, suggests Luebbermann, can consider a sunny windowsill full of watercress and Italian parsley or a lovely hanging basket of lettuces with edible flowers. A garden of French mesclun lettuce or a Parterre garden might suit the gardener with more room to spare. And for those with exotic tastes, a garden of rocket lettuce, amaranth, and mache will delight both the eye and the palate.
"Making a salad garden can be as easy as seeding a salad bowl-sized container on your back porch or on an outdoor landing," writes Mimi Luebbermann. And, she says, salad gardens can be kept full almost all year round in most areas, while bringing interesting color and shape to whatever home they're given. "Their jewel-like colors," notes Luebbermann, "decorate the garden as beautifully as the salad plate."
Also included in this lavishly illustrated volume are recipes for making such savory salads as Asian Greens with Sesame Vinaigrette, Winter Parsley Salad with Herb-Crusted Goat Cheese, Grilled Garden Green Salad, and Ruby-Leaf Lettuce with Blood Oranges, Fennel, and Parmesan. Complete with an indispensable mail order sourcelist for salad seeds and plants, Salad Gardens will inspire both gardeners and cooks alike.
A Northern California resident, Mimi Luebbermann works with such organizations as the East Bay Gardening and Greening Coalition and with the California Certified Organic Farmers to foster and support community gardens and to encourage research in sustainable agriculture. Her previous books include Little Herb Gardens, Beautiful Bulbs, Terrific Tomatoes, and Climbing Vines, all published by Chronicle Books.
Napa Valley-based photographer Faith Echtermeyer established her reputation in food and wine photography before turning her lens to gardening. Her previous books include Great Sandwiches (for which she won a James Beard award), and six other titles in the Garden Style series: Little Herb Gardens, Beautiful Bulbs, Fragrant Flowers, Terrific Tomatoes, Climbing Vines, and Easy Roses.
The Italians get all the credit for first cultivating the chicory relative which in the United States generally comes in sedate burgundy-red with white veins. The colors of the green chicory with white veins common in Europe is not widely available here. Some diners daintily pick radicchio out of their salads, their mouths puckering, but with time comes an appreciation for its bittery bite that accentuates a salad. (An equally large number of diners deftly maneuver the radicchio out of the community bowl, to load their own plate.)
Before you turn aside the suggestion of growing this green, unsure whether you want to donate space to a questionable resident, realize that it happily survives winter weather down to 10 degrees F, making it a great winter salad in all but the coldest winter areas. Pop it into vegetable beds other wise left woefully empty after summer's glory, and have a good crop throughout the winter. Like cabbage, its sturdy leaves are delicious baked, grilled, stuffed, or sautéed.
In spring, after the last chance of frost, you can safely sow your radicchio seeds.
Make sure to prepare the soil properly.
For row planting, draw your finger in a line through the prepared moist soil to create a trough 1/4 inch deep. Sow the seeds in the trough, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Cover the trough with soil, pat down firmly. Space the rows 4 inches apart for a tightly planted area, wider if you prefer.
For bed planting, mound the moist soil in the prepared planting area to form a square bed that is 2 feet by 2 feet and about 6 inches higher than the normal soil level. Sow seeds evenly over the bed, about 1 inch apart, and cover them with 1/4 inch of soil. Pat the soil down firmly.
Water the planting area thoroughly but gently, so the seeds are not disturbed. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Fertilize every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer diluted half strength. As the plants grow, thin as needed, using the thinnings for salads. For an extended harvest, sow fresh rows or beds every three weeks throughout your planting season.
Radicchio can also be grown from transplants set out during July for a fall harvest.
Stocking your pantry with herb-infused vinegars is incredibly simple. If you use a vinegar with a five percent acidity, there is no need to remove the tarragon unless you wish to-the acidity protects the vinegar from mold. Use small decorative bottles to store your vinegar in, but make enough to last the long winter months, until your herb garden is producing its bounty again. Flavored vinegars make wonderful gifts.
Toast the mustard seeds in a small sauté pan just until they begin to pop. They'll continue to cook after you take them off the heat, and if they become too dark, they'll taste bitter. Set the seeds aside to cool.
Place all the seasonings in a quart jar. Peel the lemon thinly, then make sure to remove any pith, the white part beneath the peel. Pour over the vinegar. Make sure to push down the tarragon so the vinegar covers it totally. Seal with a lid. Place the jar on a window sill for two weeks. Test the vinegar after one week by tasting a small amount with a piece of French bread. Continue to let the vinegar steep, sampling it regularly until it is flavored to your satisfaction. Decant the vinegar into a 750-ml bottle. Tightly stopper the bottle, label and date it, and store it in a cool, dark place.
Note: Use this recipe as a guide to making other flavored vinegars. Try fruit flavors such as raspberry or blackberry, herbs such as lemon thyme or purple basil (a gorgeous deep purply red color), and blends or herbs and fruits such as rosemary and lemon, or fig and rosemary. Tarragon, basil, rosemary, chive-blossom, rose-petal, and nasturtium-blossom vinegars can be quickly made and stored. The herbal essence is most intense for the first months, then fades to a subtle flavoring.
Simple Secrets for Glorious Gardens-Indoors and Out
By Mimi Luebbermann
Photography by Faith Echtermeyer
March 21, 1996
Price: $12.95, paper
ISBN #: 0-8118-1062-3
Reprinted with permission
This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.
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This page modified January 2007
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