Gardening season is winding down. Our raised bed is barely getting 3 hours of sun a day, the last few tomatoes are ripening, and while I’m still hoping for the brussels sprouts to actually produce their sprouts, I’m not holding my breath. It’s a little bit sad, but we’re already taking notes and daydreaming about everything we’re going to do next year.
This first year of gardening has been a roller coaster, if you can believe me that gardening qualifies as something in which I have a large enough emotional investment to describe it as a roller coaster. It’s had extremely fulfilling moments – snacking on super-sweet sun-ripened grapes on my way out the door in the morning; moments of defeat – pulling the umpteenth San Marzano off the vine with more blossom rot; and moments of triumph – a flush of new growth on my lovely lemon tree, despite it having been close to death from a mealybug infestation a month before. Our most successful crop was probably the cucumbers, which took over the raised bed, climbed up and over the 8 foot fence, and produced at least a dozen mammoth cucumbers. Our least successful? The broccoli, as it was the only crop that produced nothing at all, despite some hopeful moments early on.
Success or failure, I think it’s safe to say that both Trevor and I derived a lot of satisfaction from the whole experience. So much satisfaction, in fact, that we’re upgrading. My dad has (so nicely!) agreed to share the cultivation of his “back 40″ with us. There’s already a sizable vegetable plot, a dozen or so fruit trees, a raspberry patch, well-established grape vines, and blueberries, with plenty of sunshine and room for expansion. Since my family spends the majority of the growing season in Maine, having us around to take care of the garden means they might get more than one measly peach and a glut of over-sized kale each year, and for us, well… owning land is not something that we are close to accomplishing, so having a spacious plot to play around with is the equivalent of winning the garden lottery. Needless to say, we’re excited.
We’ve spent the last 7 or 8 Sundays at the Andover garden, getting a handle on things and caring for a fall crop of beans, peas, beets, and carrots. Spending a few hours outside working in the dirt – sometimes dripping sweat as you shovel and rake, sometimes peacefully pulling weeds from between the carrots – is deeply satisfying. It’s also a great way to be with Trevor, working quietly side by side, each with our own task but the same ultimate goal. I’ve wondered once or twice if gardening is just a fad for me – will I still be this enthused next year? – but it seems so natural to work with the earth that it’s hard to imagine moving on.
Plans for next year are a constant source of conversation – should we add a melon bed? What structures need to be replaced? Do we want to add more fruit trees? – but for the time being we’re mostly concerning ourselves with clean up and harvest. In particular, we’ve had a bumper crop of eggplants (which is in no part due to our efforts, as my dad put them in long before we showed up), and I’ve been struggling to eat my share. I’ve had my eye on a recipe for Lamb and Eggplant Stew with Farro, Parsley, and Harissa in Sunday Suppers at Lucqes for a while now, but every time it comes down to it, I’m just too busy to put together the multi-day recipe. Instead, I used the flavors of that dish and a little inspiration from Tender to put together this quicker, vegetarian version. Eggplant gets roasted with a chile-garlic oil, then added to nutty wheat berries, parsley pesto, and a bit of whipped goat cheese. It’s balanced in both flavor and texture, and makes an interesting and healthy vegetarian main course. Feel free to play around with the components – would feta be a better counterpart, or perhaps a traditional basil pesto? Should the wheat berries be dressed in a chile-paste to amplify the heat? – to see what works for you. And let me know if you try any variations! Or if you can think of a better name than I could…
Roast Eggplant, Parsley Pesto, Goat Cheese, and Wheat Berries
- 2 large globe eggplants
- 1/3 c. + 1/4 c. olive oil
- 7 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1/2 tsp harissa or chile powder (may need more or less depending on the heat level of your chile powder_
- sea salt
- 2 c. uncooked wheat berries, cooked according to these directions
- 3 c. fresh parsley leaves
- 1/4 c. pine nuts or walnuts
- 4 oz. soft goat cheese
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- Wash and dry the eggplants, then slice into 1 inch thick rounds. Salt both sides and set on a baking pan for 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a food processor, blend 6 cloves of the garlic, 1/3 c. oil, and harissa until a smooth paste is formed. Use a paper towel to wipe salt and liquid from the eggplant slices, then cut the slices into 1 inch cubes. Brush the eggplant with the chile-garlic oil, coating all pieces, then sprinkle with salt. Roast for 40 minutes, stirring eggplant pieces about half way through.
- Cook your wheat berries while the eggplant is roasting according to directions in link.
- Make the pesto: In a food processor, blend 1/4 c. olive oil, remaining 1 clove garlic, and nuts to form a paste. Add parsley and blend until fully combined. Taste and season with salt if desired.
- Place the goat cheese in a bowl and use a whisk or fork to break it up. Add the heavy cream, and whisk together until a smooth, thick cream is formed.
- Place a scoop of wheat berries in each bowl. Top with a few spoonfuls of pesto, a scoop of roast eggplant, and a dollop of whipped goat cheese. Serve hot.