California Cook: Gardening skill doesn’t live up to cooking talent
One thing I’ve learned for certain since I put vegetable beds in our frontyard is that, as a gardener, I’m a pretty good cook.
My agricultural shortcomings are not something I’m proud of. I start every growing season with the best of intentions, laying out well-ordered plots that seem almost guaranteed to turn into things of beauty. But then life intervenes, weeks pass and somehow the whole operation has gotten away from me.
What starts with fantasies of my photo in Sunset magazine winds up with a reality that warrants my picture in the post office — with the warning “Wanted: For plant murder.”
The most recent example: This winter I planted fava beans because they’re the one vegetable I’ve been able to grow reliably (even I can’t kill a fava). But because the favas take a long time to mature, I thought I’d over-sow some radishes — they pop up so quickly that they’d be long harvested by the time the favas came on.
Smart idea, right? Well, fast-forward a couple of months and somehow a few of those radishes never did get picked (hey, I was busy). They had bolted and now were sending up head-high shoots of flowers from somewhere hidden deep in the fava jungle.
Time to go in and rip them all out. But when I went to do that, I noticed that some of the branches were full of these tiny needle-shaped pods: radish seed pods. I picked one and tasted it. It was crisp and practically popped in my mouth. Think of a radish’s sweet taste but with only a trace of the heat. It was kind of like a cross between a radish and a sugar snap pea.
I started getting ideas. I was bringing a salad to a friend’s potluck that evening — a simple thing, mixed lettuces and quartered hard-boiled eggs — so I tossed in a handful of pods along with some of the radish flowers and blooms from other plants that had bolted.
The salad was delicious — and far prettier than my garden could ever hope to be.
I did get some of those fava beans too, and after much shucking and peeling, simmered them briefly with garlic and mint and then served them with burrata as another salad. That too was good. The beans were tender and full of that sweet, flash-of-green spring flavor for which we love favas so much.
But then my gardening ability reared its ugly head once again.
When I tried to make something similar a couple of weeks later, the favas I picked had quite clearly been ignored for too long. They were so full of starch my lovely light simmer had turned into a thick, stodgy porridge.
It tasted good, but the texture was pasty and floury. And I had only a half-hour before guests arrived. Desperate, I beat in a generous quarter cup of really good olive oil (reasoning that there’s nothing that really good olive oil can’t fix). Between the unctuousness of the fat and the slight bitterness of the oil, this rough purée was a knockout.
Someday, maybe, I’ll get to the point where my vegetable gardening is good enough that I won’t need to pull these kinds of dishes out of my hat. But until then, I guess, I’ll just stay in my kitchen as much as possible. That’s where I seem to do the least damage.
Eat your way across L.A.
Get our weekly Tasting Notes newsletter for reviews, news and more.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.