HOW DO YOU GRILL vegetables to perfection? And what do I do with my garlic scapes, or the greens on all those radishes, and so many of the other extras of the garden—or perhaps from your weekly CSA share? These are just some of the questions I have at the moment, and I suspect that you may, too.
In this increasingly bountiful produce season, whether from the CSA, farmers’ market, or backyard, I’ve been turning to inspiration to my friend Alexandra Stafford’s website, Alexandra’s Kitchen, and to her Instagram feed, too. In a Q&A on my public-radio show and podcast, Ali’s shared how to store vegetables to make them last longest (hint: cut green off those roots at once, for instance) to recipes for pasta carbonara that uses a ton of them, or grilled-veggie tacos (photo, top of page), plus various sauces, quick pickles and pestos, too.
Plus: Enter to win a copy of Ali’s cookbook “Bread Toast Crumbs” by using the comment form at the very bottom of the page.
garden-fresh vegetable recipes, with ali stafford
Q. I’m so glad you could make time, because I am freaking out over what to do with all this stuff, Ali. [Laughter.]
A. Oh my gosh I know. It’s hard to not feel overwhelmed when you see all those.
Q. And it’s like, O.K., so tomorrow I can see I’m going to have pea pods. But, what I like to do with them, one of the things I like to do with them is put them in my vegetable soup recipe. I cut them in half. But I don’t have the other ingredients you need for vegetable soup, you know what I mean?
Q. So it’s like: what do I do?
A. I know. Unfortunately, the more and more I have a CSA, I kind of realized all the things that arrive together, taste really good together.
Q. Well, that’s a relief.
A. Yes I know, right? [Laughter.]
Q. It’s coming at us faster and faster. I kind of don’t know where to start, and what I want to ask you about, but maybe with a few tips for what to do when it arrives from whomever comes from, because you seem to have a very waste-not, want-not sort of tactical approach. I mean, when I look at your Instagram, when I look at the website, you’re using everything.
A. I try to. I mean, a few things that I always do as soon as [my CSA share] arrives are, I snip away the rubber bands with scissors. I trim away all the greens from the roots. So if there turnips, or radishes, or beets, or kohlrabi, I kind of put all of those greens together. Because if you treat each one individually, if you think “I’m just going to have radishes tonight with the greens, and turnips tonight with their greens,” greens cook down to nothing.
But if you pool all of your greens together, you can make something really substantial. So that’s been something that I’ve learned over the years that has really helped. I’m trying to think what else.
Q. And so if it’s a root vegetable like the ones you just named, you take the greens off. You’re putting them in a plastic, do you rinse them first and then put them in a plastic bag, or are you just putting them in the plastic bag with no rubber bands or wire attached?
A. Right. I don’t rinse.
Q. Yes, I don’t either first.
A. Yes, and that’s just preference. I do think sometimes, if you rinse, you risk them being too damp in the fridge. And then you should probably wrap them in paper towels or cloth to protect them a little bit. But yes, I’ll put all my turnips, and radishes, and beets together or separate, but usually in one bag.
And then I kind of, once I have the rubber bands snipped, the greens snipped, then I’ll try to just roughly look at it and break it down. O.K., I can make a green salad with the tender greens two nights, and maybe shave the radishes and the turnips, and add some scallions into those two salads. One night, maybe a pasta with all those dark, leafy greens.
Kale, broccoli raab—those have been arriving also, and those can either be added with the greens of the beats and the turnips, as well, or used on their own, depending on how much I have.
Things like zucchini and the summer squash, those are great additions to pasta, or on top of a pizza, or grilled. So, I kind of try to make a rough [plan], and sometimes I will write it down, just to help me figure out the week’s plan.
Q. Well, I just had today before I came to talk to you at the radio studio, I evicted the science-fair projects of vegetable matter in my refrigerator.
A. Oh, yes. [Laughter.]
Q. I evicted them and they went to the compost heap. Because that’s what happens if you put a beautiful bunch of beets with their greens on in the fridge that way: the greens wilt and the beets sometimes, if you don’t bag them, they can also sort of shrivel a little bit, you know what I mean?
A. They do.
Q. And inevitably something goes wrong if you don’t have a list almost, saying what’s in there, or like you said, a little bit of a meal plan. Are there a few things that when they come from the CSA, or wherever you get them, that you know you have to use them right away? Are there things that you just know don’t last at all?
A. There are. I feel, as the years of gone on, that I’ve gotten better at again, just with, by snipping those greens from the roots, they’ll last longer. So I think initially, when I first was subscribing to a CSA, a lot of the issues arose with the shriveling and the-
Q. From not taking that step, yes.
A. Right, exactly. But it depends. Sometimes I find the kale surprisingly, because I think kale from the supermarket is much hardier. The kale I find is one that sort of loses its stiffness faster. But really, I find that for a week, I basically can now use everything as long as I take care of it initially.
There are things like kohlrabi, that’s hardy. The garlic scapes are really hardy. The beets again, if they are properly trimmed, will last. So, there are things that I’ll be, “O.K., I can use those later.” And I tend to use … what I try to use is the greens first, although the greens, again, mostly just because they can kind of feel like a burden. Even though they are delicious, it’s just all these greens, I just kind of have to just get rid of them. [Laughter.] I hate to say that way.
Q. Well, speaking of that, you had, and I think it was in an Instagram story—one of those things that you do that I haven’t quite mastered yet—you do this thing, and you kind of alluded to it a minute ago, with all different kinds of different greens in a pasta primavera, right?
A. It’s a carbonara recipe.
Q. Oh, I’m sorry. O.K., so carbonara, right, right. I was thinking vegetables, so what came out of my mouth was primavera. [Laughter.]
A. Right. And traditionally, carbonara has bacon. And I think just one day I thought, I didn’t have the bacon, but I’ll still do the recipe with the eggs, and the fresh lemon. And it came out just as well.
And it’s so great, again because when cut, the greens cook down to nothing. So you pile these greens up—the way I make it is, I sauté an onion. And then I add this heap of greens; it’s just mounded in the pan. But after 5 minutes, it just cooks down, and it looks about one-quarter of the size, maybe. And then I add that to pasta. And it’s super easy, you just whisk two eggs with about half a lemon, and you can always add more, and then a quarter cup of the pasta cooking liquid, and that’s your sauce.
And you add it to the greens and the pasta briefly, long enough to cook the eggs, and then you add fresh Parmesan. And you really could use that formula for anything, even, I feel like it would be great with zucchini and summer squash—you could just slice it thinly or shave it thinly on a mandoline. You barely need to cook it in the pan; just the heat of the pasta would cook that, and that would be delicious with that carbonara sauce as well.
Q. So, it’s almost like a one-pot thing, too. I know you boil the pasta in a separate pot, but you’re making the “sauce,” because it’s not like a separate sauce—you’re kind of doing it all, assembling it, and cooking it, other than boiling the water.
Q. That’s interesting. That’s a great one. And because you say, it might have from one bunch of radishes the greens, and from one bunch something else, and some broccoli raab. It might have four different things in it, right? It’s O.K. [Watch the process on Ali’s Instagram Story video at this link; you will need to log to Instagram in to do so, otherwise find the recipe here.]
A. Right. The turnip greens, the beet greens, the radish screens, anything can go in there. [Laughter.]
Q. All right. I believe you, because I always love what you cook so I know it must be true. [Laughter.] So, I mentioned in the introduction about garlic scapes, because I grow only hardneck garlic. For people who don’t know, the softneck type doesn’t make a scape, the sort of flowering stem, and it almost would be woody-ish—a stiff, flowering stem.
The hardneck types of garlics do. And that’s what I grow. And they love my Northern climate anyway, so that’s fine.
Q. Right around now, I need to snap them off, these curlicue kind of things that would eventually make a flower. And then I always look at them—and I grow a lot of garlic, for the whole year—and I’m one person, and I’m thinking, “What am I going to do with 75 garlic scapes, in 1 minute, you know?” [Laughter.]
A. I know. Well, what’s so nice about garlic scapes is that they are so hardy. And I remember when I first was receiving them, I had no idea what to do so they sat in my fridge for weeks. And then weeks turned into months, and they were still fine. So, they really last a really long time. Not that I recommend you keep them for months, but once you start using them, it just becomes more familiar.
And you can really use at the same way you use minced garlic. You just chop it finely, and use it as an aromatic: sauté it with olive oil, onions. And you can put it on pizza, you can put it on pasta, you can make sauces with it, like an aioli. Or really, any herbal sauce would be delicious with it, like a green harissa, I’m trying to think, salsa verde—all of these green sauces that call for lots of herbs, they often call for garlic. And you can just use garlic scapes the same exact way.
Q. Right. And I mean, you can make a pesto out of them, just with your other pesto recipe, right? Instead of tons of basil, you can make a garlic-scape pesto.
Q. And you could freeze that. That, I have done some years. I’ve grilled them, I just put them on the grill, and I want to talk about grilling in just a minute. But I’ve actually thrown them on the grill, and they are tasty. I’ve cut them into small pieces and sautéed them with other vegetables. Well, like you talked about making that carbonara, why not have them be one of the things in that? Instead of all onions, it could be onions and little pieces of garlic scape, right?
A. Right. They are also really delicious with scrambled eggs. I love them that way.
Q. Oh. What about pickling? Have you ever pickled them?
A. I have pickled them, actually, yes. It was a long time ago; I have not done in recent years. They are a great one to pickle. I love pickling. I think that’s something that you, that once you have a prolific backyard garden or CSA, it’s just a great tool to know how to do.
Especially, I find, at the end of the week when you’re ready for the next week’s share. And if you haven’t quite made it through, you can pickle the radishes, pickle the turnips, pickle the garlic scapes. Whatever you have. And you sort of feel like, “O.K., at least I’ve preserved them. And now I’m ready for the next share.” You don’t feel too overwhelmed.”
Q. And you’re talking about … I mean, I think the other day, I think it was on alexandracooks dot com that I saw it, and they reminded me of Sarah Owens, the cookbook author-
Q. … where she calls them “quickles,” pickles that are quick. It’s like she has a brine that’s simple, she’s not hot-packing all of these, necessarily. You could also pack the pickles. But she’s making them and she’s using them as she goes, right? She’s not putting up for the winter right now, necessarily.
A. Exactly. No, I never actually do the proper canning step. I use a simple brine from David Lebovitz and it’s just vinegar, water, sugar and salt. It comes together in no time. And they’re so refreshing, they’re so nice to have on hand. Just for a snack, and they’re something that’s great to have tacos. Any vegetable of any kind is great pickled on any taco. [How to pickle anything, from Alexandra Cooks.]
Q. So speaking of tacos. And we can give David’s recipe by the way, for people if they want to try this getting into the groove of having that brine almost at the ready for bits and bobs that could be pickled and turn into a condiment or in addition to a meal. So tacos, that was what got me with the dry-grilling, I think, the dry-grilled vegetables, is you had this taco night–it’s a beautiful picture, by the way. There they were, and I wanted to reach out and grab one from the plate in the picture. [Laughter.] And they had these dry-grilled vegetables, so what does that mean?
A. I worked a restaurant a million years ago, and the chef, this is his method that he used. And I thought it also was a little bit of quirkiness on his part—he had lots of strange methods for doing all sorts of things.
A. But he would cut the vegetables thick, and dry-grill them. And off the grill, once they were ready, he would toss them with olive oil and vinegar, and usually some chopped rosemary, and they were served in like a to-go case for people who just wanted a vegetable side dish. Or we would chop them up and keep them warm and tuck them into tacos. [Ali’s taco recipe.]
And it was a really nice method, especially for zucchini and eggplant They often with grilling can get mushy, and this method really prevents them from getting mushy. But I also recently learned, in this book, I think we talked about this together, “Six Seasons,” by Joshua McFadden, it came out last year. I was reading in his book and he does the same thing, and his reason is he finds the burnt olive oil taste to be too acrid. So that was another …
Q. That’s interesting. I didn’t even think of that. You’re not cooking the oil on that hot grill.
A. Right, exactly.
Q. So when we say dry-grilling, you’re talking about not a marinade first; we’re not putting these in either just oil, or salt and oil, whatever. We’re not doing anything to them, let alone marinating them in some complicated thing.
A. Nope. Just cutting them, and cutting them kind of on the thick side, the zucchini and eggplant I would say—at least a quarter inch, if not a little bit thicker. And as you take them off the grill, and this is another thing we did at the restaurant, we piled them into a bowl. And the heat of all the vegetables will help cook the thicker vegetables.
And the thickness is nice, again, so they don’t turn to mush. So when you cut them up for a taco, they still have some texture.
Q. Right. We’ve all seen that limp, slippery slice of zucchini … it’s fine, but it’s not great for that.
A. Right. Exactly.
Q. O.K., so dry-grilling. [Learn how, and to make tacos with them, too, at this link.]
So many other possibilities. A couple of things, like I said earlier about the peas are coming in and what I want to do with some of them is use them in my soup, but I can’t use them in my soup now. I tuck stuff away in the freezer, like I may just bag up a bunch of them, I may even cut them in half the way I’m going to use them, take off any stringiness if there is anything, and put them in the freezer. And then when it’s time to make my soup, I may put them in as the last step in one of my soups, for instance. So I sometimes tuck away things either for that, or even for making stock later.
A. That’s so smart.
Q. Do you put any of your bits away, or anything particularly strategically away, or you’re using it up more in real time?
A. I have to confess, I am not the best with the freezer. But that is something I want to get better at. Especially with the herbs, because what I do find is that I cannot get through this beautiful whole bunch of basil that I get every week. And sometimes the cilantro, too. I learned from you, just the slurry, just pureeing it with olive oil and then tucking those away in the freezer. That is something that I do … I’m trying to think. I tend to freeze more later in the season.
Q. Me, too. But what happens now is the peas, because again, I’m going to want them for an early batch of certain recipes. It was just a side question.
I think what makes even your simplest meals that I see you post, or for that matter from your cookbook, “Bread Toast Crumbs” … what makes them special is that you take the time to then have a dressing or a sauce or a spread. There’s this extra something. And we talked about this a lot, maybe last year we taped a segment together that was about using herbs. And I’ll refer everybody to that, too, because it had a lot of good stuff for this time of year, I think, as I recall.
But you make these sauces and spreads, and you talked about the aioli before. Tell us about that.
A. Well, I have you to thank for that, for encouraging me to go to the Copake General Store.
Q. Oh right, you went into my neighbor’s wonderful vintage building, this old general store that she’s turned into this new life. So you went there for a sandwich.
A. And I got the 44 Special [above], which was on toasted bread, garlic mayonnaise, pickled beets, roasted sweet potatoes, this lemony salad—greens topped with lemony dressing—and goat cheese from a local farm. And it was basically the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. [Get the 44 Special recipe.]
And I came home and I thought, I had forgotten how something like a flavored mayonnaise can do so much for a sandwich.
And that’s what got me going on making aioli from scratch, which is basically the same… The process of making aioli and mayonnaise are very similar. You take an egg, or a yolk and egg, basically a combination. Some people use all yolks, some people use whole eggs, with a little bit of acid, either vinegar or lemon, a ton of garlic, and that’s when you can use the garlic scapes.
And you puree that, and then you slowly, slowly, slowly add olive oil until it’s emulsified and thick. And you can flavor it however you want. All the herbs from the garden, they are great additions. I love a tarragon mayonnaise. [Get Ali’s aioli recipe.]
Q. Oh. And what would that be good on, a tarragon mayonnaise? What does that go with?
A. It’s my favorite for lobster rolls. I know you’re vegetarian.
Q. I’m not the only one listening, dear. [Laughter.]
A. Honestly, that would be delicious on a vegetable sandwich as well. I’m trying to think.
Q. So garlic, you made a garlic aioli, you could add the tarragon as another possible flavor.
A. Chives, yes. Any of those flavors are good. And that recipe also got basically … when the beets arrive in the CSA, all I want to do is pickle them because of this sandwich. I just want to have pickled beets on hand all the time, so I can make something similar to the 44 Special. [Laughter.]
Q. It is such a good sandwich. I have at least one a week, so it’s part of my diet now. [Laughter.]
A. It’s so good.
Q. It’s really, really good. Speaking of the Copake General Store in my crazy town, in New York State in the Hudson Valley, you recently had a recipe where you made homemade harissa? How do you pronounce it?
A. Yes. I think it’s harissa.
Q. So, a spread from peppers. And [the owner of Copake General, Seung Suh] takes a plain hummus sandwich, with some salad or some sprouts or whatever, but she puts harissa on the other piece of bread. And it’s just that: you get this creamy, and then this sharp-hot, then this rich and deep and smoky… You get all these flavors going on.
A. That sounds so good.
Q. And you had a great recipe recently, you made some homemade harissa. So I want to turn people onto that. You did that from raw peppers, right, not dried?
A. Yes. From bell peppers. You roast them first, and that recipe is from “Jerusalem: A Cookbook,” and it’s really easy. You toast some spices, cumin, coriander, caraway if you have it. You roast the peppers, saute onion, garlic, and you can really tailor it to what sort of heat you like, but some sort of hot chili. Either a jalapeno, a habanero if you can find it, or some sort of red hot pepper.
Then once the peppers are roasted and peeled, and once the onions and garlic are sauteed, once the spices are toasted, you just puree it all together with a little bit of lemon, salt—it’s really easy, once you get the hang of it. Initially you think, “O.K., I’ve got to do these three separate steps.” But once you make it once, it comes together quickly, and it’s so nice to have on hand. [Get Ali’s harissa recipe.]
Q. Huh. I just want to ask: You have your CSA, and it’s not like me, where I can call you for help. [Laughter.] Where are you looking, and have you seen anything interesting for me to do with my peas, or that anyone else is doing, on any of the current items? Anything out there that you want to turn us onto?
A. I’m trying to think. I find a ton this time of year that I really dig my nose into all my cookbooks. “Chez Panisse Vegetables,” Debra Madison’s “The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.” I have a couple of “Greenmarket” cookbooks. I find those to be really handy for things like kohlrabi.
Just quickly, my favorite thing: Kohlrabi used to be something I feared. Peel it, slice it really thinly, season it with salt, lots of vinegar, a little olive oil. Let it sit for a little bit, shave in some Parmesan, any herbs you have, and it’s so good and so refreshing.
more garden-fresh ideas:
- Alexandra Cooks and also A Way to Garden on Instagram (follow us!)
- Ali’s and my conversation about using herbs confidently in cooking (and storage ideas, too)
- Our chat about cookbooks we love (Ali has a collection that’s well over 500)
- All my past conversations with Ali
- How to grow, and stash, garlic
- how to know when your garlic is ready for harvest
enter to win ali stafford’s ‘bread toast crumbs’
I’LL BUY A COPY of Alexandra Stafford’s award-winning book “Bread Toast Crumbs: Meals for No-Knead Loaves and Recipes to Savor Every Slice” for one lucky reader.
The book got me thinking about not just bread for, say, a sandwich, but about bread as an ingredient in the simple recipes I can concoct with my garden produce: a thick, roasted tomato and bread soup, or orecchietti pasta with brown butter, Brussels sprouts leaves and homemade bread crumbs, or a salad that becomes a meal when it’s a version of panzanella–reviving even stale bread in the best, delicious Tuscan fashion.
All you have to do to enter is answer this question in the comments box at the very bottom of the page:
What’s coming on strong in your vegetable garden at the moment (or showing up in your CSA share or at the farmers’ market)? (At my place, scapes and edible-podded peas are suddenly “in season,” but I am weeks away from any tomatoes.)
No answer, or feeling shy? Just say something like”count me in,” and I will, but an answer is even better. I’ll select a random winner after entries close at midnight Tuesday. Good luck to all; U.S. and Canada only.
(Photos except garlic scapes and Copake General Store from Alexandra’s Kitchen, used with permission.)
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MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its ninth year in March 2018. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the June 25, 2018 show using the player near the top of this transcript. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).