Monday, July 09, 2007

The Right Stuff

One of my greatest joys in having my own vegetable garden was learning about companion planting, pairing vegetables and herbs that would support each other in warding off pests and furnishing complementary nutrients.

Cucumbers, for example, grew well with toweringly lacy dill, making for an entire "pickle row" each year. Tomatoes, not surprisingly, grew best with basil. And squash, I discovered, enjoyed the company of nasturtiums.

Though I hadn't known much about nasturtiums before studying companion planting, I soon came to appreciate them even more than the overwhelming zucchini harvest. The nasturtium leaves, with their peppery tang, made an exciting addition to salads, and the flowers contained the same kick along with vivid color and a plush silken texture.

I fell madly in love with those blossoms, enjoying them first in salads and then finding them to be a match made in heaven with dill in a pert herbal vinegar. I gathered the seeds each fall, collecting as many as possible so that I could enjoy their sunny brilliance again the following year. (According to Edible Flowers, in the Victorian language of flowers, nasturtiums signify "patriotism" -- hardly a far-fetched idea when you see their bright orange and yellow blooms burst open like fireworks in the dark green shade of zucchini leaves!)

Without a house and a garden, I didn't expect to enjoy nasturtiums this year. It's hardly a common vegetable to be found at the supermarket, and I hadn't seen any at last year's farmers' market, so I had resigned myself to the loss.

Enter, however, the Herb Woman, a new small farmer who has brought a number of unusual items to the market, from herbs like tarragon and bouquets of lavender to squash blossoms. I spotted nasturtium petals in her salad mix last week and asked if she'd be able to bring me a bag of just nasturtium blossoms and leaves this week. She most graciously obliged me:


There they were, in all their brilliant, peppery, fresh-picked goodness, tucked in a little bag just for me. Oh, happy day!

Given the rarity of this find, I knew I had to come up with a special use for them. But what?

The blazing heat wave that swept in yesterday left me rather wrung-out by the time I got home from work this afternoon, so I knew I didn't want to cook. A lingering raid of the refrigerator (lingering to appreciate the cold air, of course) revealed not only this pack of greens and flowers but also the remains of some homemade cheese (left over from ravioli made yesterday).

And thus another wonderful idea was born.

I mixed the cheese with a little olive oil, a dash of black pepper, and a sprinkling of chopped fresh dill. Then I took the nasturtium blossoms, removed the stamens, and stuffed them with my homemade herb cheese.


You might think, that looks too good to eat! But no, food never looks too good to eat in my kitchen.

Dear Readers, I ate them all. The cheese stretched to all the blossoms and a few of the leaves, and I savored every last one, appreciating their cool taste and fresh kick as I tried to beat the heat. And with the last kohlrabi from Dear Reader Tina (yes, it lasted that long!), it made a light and incredibly refreshing meal.

On a hot summer evening, that really is the right stuff.

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