Summer Gardening: Reaping the Fruits of your Labor

Admittedly, the last few summers in Portland have been hit or miss, weather-wise, for getting the most yield from your home gardens. But with the spate of hot days, we have been having, everything is falling nicely into line for maximum yields from all of your late summer vegetable and herb plants.

That being the case, we figured we’d share two recipes: one a new take on an old classic and the other one an unexpected mélange that will hopefully appear on your summer tables for years to come.

Before we dive into each dish, I’d like to present a little background on the veggies and herbs I used for each dish. Every year we grow cucumbers and we have tried myriad attempts at sturdy and attractive trellising. This year I do believe we found a winner.  It was my wife’s idea (she is definitely head gardener on our property.) She thought it would be an interesting idea to take a few of her old bicycle wheels and attach them to 2×4’s to create a not only sturdy but very original trellis system. And as you can see, it worked great.

We also grow several types of basil, but to be honest I like the flavor and soft leaf texture of the simple sweet basil. This will actually be used in both dishes, but more on that to come.

So for one of the dishes, I decided to combine our cucumbers and fresh basil with fresh peaches (’cause ya gotta eat as many peaches as you can while you can!). There are many great peach growers to be found at the local farmer’s markets all over town. For this recipe, I used Kiyokawa Family Orchard peaches. Although at first, this may seem an unlikely flavor profile, it’s a surprisingly simple but absolutely delicious and refreshing side dish. The secret is in the red wine vinegar and lemon juice, which really sharpen up all the flavors.

Peach, Cucumber and Basil Salad

1 cucumber
3 ripe peaches
1 bunch fresh basil
2 T red wine vinegar
Juice from half a lemon
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Salt and cracked black pepper

Peel strips off of the cucumber skin (if desired) and then cut longways. Gently scoop out seeds and cut into 1/4 inch half-moon shapes. Cut peaches into bite-sized pieces. Place both into a bowl and add the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice. Mix gently and spread evenly on a plate. Evenly distribute the fresh basil over the top and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. This dish can be kept in the fridge for up to half an hour before serving. Much like revenge, this is a dish best served cold.

Our second dish is a slightly different take on a summer classic, the Caprese salad. Most people are familiar with this, but for the uninitiated, a Caprese salad at its core is fresh tomato, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. We decided to take the 3 main ingredients and put a slight spin on each.

I am a die-hard cherry tomato fan, and we try different varieties every year. I like my cherry tomatoes round and red, so this year we chose two varieties that fit those qualifications but were actually quite different. First, we planted a slightly larger variety called Siletz:

We decided to pair those with a very small but “bursting with flavor” variety called Candyland Red Currants. (I have to say these are some of the most delicious cherry tomatoes we have ever grown.) Both plants came locally from Lil’ Starts Nursery.

So that was the first variation, cherry tomatoes instead of full-sized heirlooms. Next, instead of a regular firm cow’s milk mozzarella, I chose a burrata style water buffalo milk mozzarella from Calabro Dairy. This is one of my absolute favorite cheeses and locally in Portland can most often be found at Cheese Bar but I’m sure for folks outside the area, your local cheese shop will carry something comparable.

If you’ve never had burrata style mozzarella, I highly recommend trying it. The outer shell is solid mozzarella, but inside contains stracciatella (literally “small shreds”) and cream.

Finally, instead of fresh basil, I chose to make a basil & hazelnut pesto. My wife recently brought home fresh hazelnuts (Dorris variety), a new product being grown by Baird Family Orchard and they are hands down, no lyin’, the best hazelnuts (and easiest peeling) I have ever had.

Basil & Hazelnut Pesto

2 small cloves peeled garlic
1/3 C roasted and peeled hazelnuts
1 heaping tablespoon parmesan cheese
2-3 large bunches fresh basil
Roughly 2/3 C extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the garlic and hazelnuts in a large food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add in the parmesan cheese and basil and pulse several times. Slowly drizzle in the oil until just covering the basil. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Remember that the parmesan cheese is pretty salty so taste the pesto before salting it. The final result should have a somewhat coarse texture.

To finish the dish, place a ball of the mozzarella cheese in the center of the plate, surround with cherry tomatoes and drizzle liberally with pesto. A small squeeze of lemon over the whole dish never hurts.

Crack open a few cans of Underwood Bubbles and you are set to feast!

As always, from everyone here at the Union family, we hope you are staying cool and safe this summer.

Keep those #pinkiesdown!

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Photography, Recipes & Text by David L. Reamer. (@dlreamer)

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