The Hairy Vetch

Remember when you were in third grade?  You’d be hanging out with your friends in the school yard at recess.  And someone would say, “Gluteus maximus,” and you’d all laugh hysterically.

That’s the way I feel when I say “hairy vetch.”  Conversely, its Latin name, Vicia villosa, isn’t quite as good for yucks as the Latin phrase for big butt.

But I’m not bringing this up simply for comedy value, or lack thereof.  Hairy vetch is what we’ve planted in our home garden for the summer.  This legume is a forage crop and restores nitrogen to the soil.

Hairy vetch, along with a few assorted weeds.

Hairy vetch, along with a few assorted weeds.

While our home garden is taking a vacation, our plot in the Morris County Community Garden remains a work in progress.  The previous tenant had planted all manner of flowers there.  While she took most of her plants with her when she left, interesting things are still popping up.   At first, I had a laissez-faire attitude towards the mystery plants.  But now I’ve decided that I didn’t rent this plot to curate someone else’s horticultural choices.  The peony stays; the morning glories and lilies stay.  Most of the rest is history.  So far, so good.  Just wish I could harvest something besides weeds.

Community garden plot.

Community garden plot.

It’s a work in progress.  The tomatoes seem OK; the beets and carrots are coming along just fine.

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Altés Herencia Blanco 2012

Is Eric Solomon coming to his senses?

Back in the day, I sold European Cellars products. They were great wines.  But many of them shared a trait of having, to my taste, excessive alcohol levels.  This white wine from eastern Spain is a welcome change: fresh and well balanced and only 13% alcohol.

Fresh and bracing, Altés Herencia Blanco might become my go-to summer white wine.  It’s from Terra Alta, a relatively new appellation in Tarragona, the southern part of Catalonia.  The back label has all sorts of information about the soil and the DO, but nothing about varietal composition.  I like this.

The bouquet is reminiscent of white wines from the Rhone valley:  minerally, stony, with lime accents.  The palate is medium, leaning to full-bodied, with lime and galangal and bracing acidity.

A bargain at $8.99.  At that price, worth seeking out.  Imported by European Cellars, Charlotte, NC.

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Spanish Holiday: Paella With Sausage, Chicken and Shrimp

When it takes three hours to prepare, it’s  not really a holiday.  But your family and friends will be glad you went to all that effort.

Paella originated in Valencia, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.  If the Wikipedia entry is to be believed, there are three main types of paella.  I’m not sure that Spaniards would consider this recipe authentic, but it turned out really nicely.  It’s adapted from Bon Apetit.  The main difference between their recipe, which was for 10 people, and what is presented here is the quantities:  I reduced the meat quantities significantly and increased the vegetables.  There’s still enough to serve six people here.

Budget approx. 3 hours for prep and cooking time.  This should go well with both red and white wine.  My go-to wines would be Rioja, something from Languedoc, or Côtes du Rhone.

  • 3 TB olive oil or more, divided
  • 1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausage, cut up
  • 1.25 lb boneless chicken breast
  • 2 [VERY] large onions
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • ¾ lb tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise and then crosswise into quarters
  • 2 large red bell peppers
  • 1 lb uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 1 clove garlic
  • “generous pinch” + ¼ tsp saffron threads
  • 1 ¼ cups Arborio rice
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 2 ½ cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 tsp paprika: Pimenton de la Vera
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Heat 1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy skillet.  Add sausages and sauté until cooked through.  Transfer sausage to a bowl and set aside.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and cook in batches.  Cook approximately 6 minutes.  Turn over, cook another 6-8 minutes.  Cut up chicken into smaller pieces and place in bowl with sausage.

Toss shrimp with 1 clove of minced garlic and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and a pinch of saffron.  Set aside.

Add onions and 5 cloves minced garlic to pot, adding more olive oil if necessary.  Sauté until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and bay leaf.  Stir and cook for 2 minutes.  Add zucchini and bell peppers.  Stir; cook for two minutes; turn off heat.

Paella: it's what's for dinner.

Paella: it’s what’s for dinner.

Heat oven to 375 F.  Brush a 18x12x2 ½ in roasting pan with olive oil.  Add rice and ¾ teaspoon salt to vegetable mixture.  Spread rice mixture into baking dish.  Add chicken and sausage.

Place broth, paprika and remaining saffron into the same pot that you used to cook the meat and vegetables.  Bring to a boil, add to baking dish.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes.  Remove from oven, place shrimp on top of the rice mixture.  Cover again with foil and bake another 20 minutes or until shrimp is just done.   Garnish with parsley and serve.

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Our Garden is on Vacation, Call Back in a Year.

For a minute or two I puzzled over the best title for this post.  I thought about Crimson and Clover, after the Tommy James tune.

After years of faithfully giving us tomatoes, basil, kale and other nice vegetables, our garden is going on vacation.  Despite adding compost, manure and fresh topsoil each spring, it needs a break.  This year, we didn’t get much in the way of anything.  I can’t blame the weather: it was hot but not as brutal as last year.  But 15 years of planting the same things in our modest plot has caught up with us.

While we’ve discussed the idea of giving it a rest in the last few years, Iwed never done it.  In spring, the siren call of beets and basil was too strong to resist.  But this year, the garden made its needs clear to us.

So I planted red clover, a legume that will restore nitrogen to the soil, back at the end of September.  In the spring, I’ll follow with buckwheat, and we’ll see what happens a year from now.

clover beginning to sprout, late september

Beginning to sprout, late September

It will be strange to not be going into the garden at 5 PM in August for chard, beets, rosemary or whatever catches my fancy on a summer evening.  But in the long run, it will be worth it.

clover in early november

Early November, following Hurricane Sandy.

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Ravishing Braised Radishes

During the Great Depression, my grandfather fed his family with his gun and his garden.  From that magic plot in upstate New York, he grew more vegetables than any home gardener has a right to grow in a measly 250 square feet.

When we visited in the summer, all kinds of good things at dinner had come out of the garden.  But the one vegetable that I couldn’t get into was the humble radish.  Magenta and the size of a large marble, I just didn’t care for their spicy bite.  My grandfather would dip radishes fresh out of the garden into a saucer with salt and eat them, one after the other.

author holding a radish

Your author with the humble radish.

Well it’s fall, and what do you think we got with last week’s share from our CSA?  Two hefty bunches of radishes.  Casting about, I found a recipe for braised radishes.

2 bunches radishes

1 tb butter            1 tb extra virgin olive oil

1 tb extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp salt         1/2 tsp sugar

1 small onion – or substitute 2 shallots

1 clove garlic – optional.

Water approx. 1 cup

Sauté onions until soft, perhaps 6 minutes, in olive oil and butter.

halved radishes

Clean radishes, removing the tops and the ends.  Halve or quarter them if they’re large.  Add them to the pan and sauté for a few minutes, covering them in fat.

Add salt and sugar, stirring.  Add water.  There should be a decent amount of water in the pan, but the radishes shouldn’t be covered.  Bring to a boil, cover the pot and turn down the heat.  Simmer for 20 minutes or until water is reduced to a glaze.

They’ll be tender and piquant and will make  a nice side dish for a fall meal.

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Serendipitous Butternut Squash

At the end of dinner the other night, my wife said, “This is a keeper. You should write this down.”  So I did, and I think it’s worth sharing.

Squash sautéed with pears and ground turkey.  Don’t laugh till you’ve tried it.  Once again, into the breach with a brief to cook dinner, but with no clear plan and no green vegetables in the house except lettuce.   But I did have a squash and fresh garlic, thanks to my fabulous CSA.

It was an evening of improvisation that turned out very nicely.  The squash was sautéed and then braised, and the pears make the meal, adding a nice touch of sweetness.  I served it with a green salad and rice.

A note of caution:  The quantities of herbs and spices are approximate, as are the quantities of broth and red wine.  I was just trying to get dinner on the table and didn’t take notes, or photos, as I went along.  While I used vegetable broth because that’s what was open, chicken broth would surely work fine.  If I had toasted walnut oil, I’d mix it 50-50 with olive oil to give the meal more of an autumn vibe.


  •  1 medium sized butternut squash.  Approx 1.5 lb
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 barlett pears
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • thyme – approx. 1/2 teaspoon
  • cardamom – a pinch
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 – 4 tbs olive oil
  • 1 lb ground chicken or turkey
  • 3 tbs toasted walnuts
  • vegetable or chicken broth – enough to cook squash.  Ca. ¾ cup.

Toast the walnuts for 2 minutes and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot.  Add the onion and sauté over medium heat while you peel the squash and discard the seeds.  Cut the squash in half, then into half-inch cubes.

When the onion is soft, add the squash and salt, turning several times to ensure it’s coated with oil.  Saute squash for 10 minutes.

Add the red wine and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer.  When the red wine is reduced, add garlic, thyme, cardamom and ground meat.  Brown the meat.  When it’s cooked, add the broth.  Cover and reduce heat; cook for 20 minutes.

Cut the pears into half-inch or smaller pieces and add to the pot, cooking for about five minutes.  Add the toasted walnuts before serving.

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Fad Diet Insanity

Everyone wants to eat healthy, right?  What happens when one goes on a quest for the ne plus ultra of hip, cutting edge diets?  You get a little crazy.  Erica writes about the quest for the perfect diet on her website.  I can’t say it any better myself.  Go click the link.

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