Some of my favorite garden vegetables aren’t only fast-growing, they exude dramatic flavor when harvested fresh from the garden. When prepared simply with quality ingredients, nothing can compete with their just-picked, homegrown goodness. They’re crisp, rich and embody the elements of the season. Using these classic recipes, you can take these 10 vegetables and turn them into the finest comfort food for your table in no time at all.
1. Arugula Pizza
I tasted my first arugula pizza in Italy and fell in love. The peppery arugula (called rocket there) contrasts beautifully with the crispy crust and soft melting cheese. To make, roll out your favorite pizza dough, brush with a high-quality olive oil, add the toppings, and bake per the dough instructions. Toppings to consider (besides lots of arugula) include freshly grated mozzarella, Parmesan, Fontina or sliced goat cheese; thinly sliced red onion, red or yellow peppers, or plum tomatoes; prosciutto; pork or chicken sausage; and basil leaves, roasted garlic cloves or crushed red pepper flakes. Mix and match to create your own perfect pizza.
2. Pickled Beets
It may be old-fashioned, but pickled beets (and eggs) sliced over a mixture of fresh, beautiful greens is one of my favorite go-to lunches. Add your favorite dressing (mine is blue cheese), and it’s salad heaven. To pickle beets, put six to 12 hardboiled eggs and about eight cooked, quartered and peeled beets in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. In a saucepan, mix 1½ cups apple cider vinegar, 1½ cups water, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds and ½ sliced red onion, and boil for 3 minutes. Cool the mixture, pour over the beets, cover and refrigerate. Marinate at least one day before using, and consume within 2 weeks.
3. Kale Chips
Kale chips are nothing more than kale baked with olive oil, salt and Parmesan. They’re always a hit! Cut any tough ribs out of each kale leaf, place on baking sheets, mist with olive oil, and toss to lightly coat. Sprinkle with kosher salt and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F. Remove from the oven, add grated Parmesan cheese, and bake 5 minutes more. Cool and serve.
4. Sliced Kohlrabi
I never manage to plant enough kohlrabi to get past eating it raw. It’s so delicious! Harvest kohlrabi young, before the bulbs get woody. Then peel, slice, lightly salt (or not) and eat. It makes a great snack when working out in the garden.
5. Leaf Lettuce with Classic Vinaigrette
The beautiful colors and interesting shapes of leaf lettuce are often best when simply dressed with classic vinaigrette because it doesn’t overwhelm the delicate lettuce flavor. Vinaigrette is just oil and vinegar bound with mustard, but using the best quality extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar elevate the salad to something special. Combine 1 tablespoon vinegar (balsamic, red wine, sherry or white wine), once minced garlic clove (or 1 tablespoon minced fresh shallot or herbs), 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix thoroughly and use to dress the greens.
6. Sesame Sugar Snap Peas
Sugar snaps are another vegetable that’s hard to beat straight from the garden, but an excellent variation is to toss them with sesame seeds. First wash the pea pods and remove the stem end and string. Toss with sesame oil (it doesn’t take much), black sesame seeds and kosher salt.
7. Radishes and Bread
Both the Germans and French serve radishes with bread, and although the results are quite different, both are delicious. The Germans pair their radishes with pumpernickel spread with cream cheese and chives, while the French serve theirs with French baguette spread with unsalted butter (then salt as desired). Not surprisingly, the German preparation goes better with beer, while the French method teams well with cocktails or wine.
8. Wilted Spinach and Bacon
Wilted spinach salad is another old-fashioned favorite—plus, what better way to dress up your vegetables than with bacon! Wash, de-stem and dry about 3 pounds of spinach, and place in a serving bowl. Cook 6 slices of bacon in a pan until crisp, remove, and crumble. Retain 2 tablespoons of bacon fat in the pan, add a chopped onion and cook until translucent. Add 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard and 1/2 cup cider vinegar. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, pour over the spinach, add freshly ground pepper, and garnish with the crumbled bacon. Serve plain or with other vegetables
9. Swiss Chard Gratin
Chard was once an underutilized vegetable in our garden—until I cooked it. I’m still not a fan of raw chard, but we do love it cooked, and this classic gratin recipe converted us. Add chopped chard stems (around 14) to boiling water, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the sliced leaves, cook for 1 more minute, and drain well. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a pan, add a chopped onion, and cook until soft. Mix in 1/4 cup flour and 2 cups milk. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and add 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese. Season to taste. Remove from heat, and add the chard. Transfer to a 1½ quart buttered casserole dish and sprinkle 1/4 cup bread crumbs on top. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 35 minutes or until bubbling and browned on top.
10. Sautéed Turnips
The turnip varieties we’ve been growing are so sweet they seldom make it to the kitchen (are you sensing a theme here?), but when they do, they’re great simply sautéed. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a pan, add small peeled turnips and sauté over medium-high heat. Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon sugar, and lightly brown. Turn heat to low, cover and simmer until browned and glazed. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
About the Author: Lesa Wilke is co-owner of Bramblestone Farm in northeastern Ohio. Get more of her recipes on her blog Better Hens and Gardens.