It’s not enough to plant your favourite veggies these days, the latest trend is to theme your garden for a summer full of trendy eating. Traditional gardens with tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce have taken a back seat to more avant-garde gardens with gourmet salad mixes, spa foods and edible flowers.
An avant-garde garden represents what we think of as the future of food. When I think of avant-garde cuisine I think of colourful food on the plate. Little red and yellow tomatoes and purple broccoli served on a platter with a fresh herb dip. Lettuces such as raddicchio and baby greens. Leeks and lemon grass for seafood dishes and plates decorated with edible rose petals.
Unlike spices, which usually work best used in combination, herbs often taste freshest and most intriguing used on their own. A sprinkling of fresh basil over tomato salad, a few spoonfuls of sorrel puree added to egg or cheese dishes, a sprig of rosemary under a lamb roast, poultry rubbed with thyme, are all beautifully convincing examples of “less is more” in cooking.
Avant-garde gardens represent a great period of food exploration today. Seed companies are always developing new varieties of vegetables, creative chefs are constantly introducing us to new foods and our personal penchant for traveling have all combined to spark a revolution from the garden to the table.
A beginner can start with an avant-garde salad garden. Few edible gardens can be as useful and it allows you to pull off a memorable coup when you entertain with baby greens, edible flowers and exotic lettuces.
Salad gardening is very easy to do because you can purchase a premixed package of salad green seeds. These seed mixes are traditional in parts of Europe and are called mesclun.
Mesclun Provencal is popular in the Provence region of France and consists of various mixes of lettuces, rocket, finely curled endive and chervil. Don’t forget to grow a bit of lavender for a true Provencal touch. Mesclun Saladini is an Italian mix of greens, generally made up of four varieties of lettuce and five kinds of chicories. Each different mix offers a completely different flavour combination for your salads.
If you can’t find a mix you like, plan on planting about five different types of lettuces; baby red lettuce, romaine, rocket, frilly frisee, radicchio and endive work great together. Add some herbs such as fennel, chervil or basil and don’t forget the salad garnishes such as red chard, rose petals or violets – even thinly sliced baby kohlrabi looks great.
An Heirloom garden is another popular themed garden as more and more people are searching for the vegetables and flavours of the past. Heirloom vegetables are unusual old vegetables passed down within families and are a treasure chest of historical mementoes and treats.
Heirloom vegetables are selected and maintained to match old-fashion cooking and storage methods. String beans with tough to remove strings but with a great beany flavour; peas that are starchy but perfect for making soups and large heavy beets that not only last forever in the cold cellar, but are incomparable roasted in the embers of a fire.
Many gardeners mix a few heirloom vegetables into their traditional garden of modern day tomatoes and cucumbers to have the fun of growing unusual and tasty vegetables and to keep alive the less common varieties.
Whether you garden for foods of the future or the past, this new trend in home gardening represents the unbroken arc from the garden to the table. It’s for all those people who love to get their hands in the dirt and work up to their elbows in the kitchen.
General Herb Tips:
- 1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried
- To substitute fresh herbs for dried – use three times as much fresh herbs as is stated in the recipe. Fresh herbs are most flavorful when added in the final cooking stages as their delicate nature is not destroyed.
- Do not wash herbs until ready to use! Rinse gently and pat very gently to dry.
Fresh Garden Sandwich
This is a delicious harvest sandwich.
1 sweet red or yellow pepper, cut into quarters
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
sprig of oregano
1 large tomato, sliced
2 thick slices Italian bread
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in frying pan. Add sweet pepper cook over medium heat until wilted, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and onion and cook for another 5 minutes. Add basil leaves and a sprig of oregano. Cook just long enough to blend the flavours and wilt the herbs.
Lay two slices of bread on a cookie/baking sheet. Divide the vegetable mixture over each slice of bread, discarding oregano and top with slices of fresh tomato and cheese. Broil until cheese is warm and soft, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Makes two open face sandwiches.