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Gardening skill doesn’t live up to cooking talent

Published: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 9:24 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 2:04 p.m. CST
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((Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times/MCT))
Mixed green salad with hard-boiled eggs and radish pods.
Caption
(Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
When fresh, fava beans make a nice salad with mint, burrata and pistachios.

One thing I’ve learned for certain since I put vegetable beds in our front yard 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.

The most recent example: This winter, I planted fava beans, because they’re the one vegetable I’ve been able to grow reliably. 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.

Fast-forward a couple of months and somehow a few of those radishes never did get picked. They had bolted and now were sending up head-high shoots of flowers from somewhere hidden deep in the fava jungle.

When I went in to rip them out, 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.

I started getting ideas. I was bringing a salad to a friend’s potluck that evening ... 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.

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 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. ... 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 puree 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.

FAVA BEAN SALAD WITH MINT, BURRATA AND

PISTACHIOS20 minutes, plus about 1 hour for shucking and peeling the favas.Serves: 6

Ingredients:4 pounds fava beans in podOlive oil1⁄3 cup chopped green onion (green part only)1 teaspoon lemon zest∏ cup white wineSalt1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint2 (4-ounce) balls fresh burrataFreshly ground pepper1⁄4 cup chopped toasted pistachios

Directions:1. Shuck the beans into a work bowl. Cover the beans with boiling water and set aside until cool enough to handle. Cut a nick in the bottom of the skin of each bean with your thumbnail and squeeze the inside beans from the skin. You should have 2∏ to 3 cups fava beans.

2. In a large skillet, heat one-fourth cup olive oil over medium heat and add the green onion and lemon zest. Add the fava beans, the white wine and 1 teaspoon salt, and simmer until the beans are just tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the mint and cool until ready to serve.

3. When ready to serve, mound the favas on a plate. Cut each burrata ball into quarters and arrange them over the top. Season the burrata with a little more salt and freshly ground pepper, and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Scatter the chopped pistachios over the top and serve.

MIXED GREEN SALAD WITH HARD-BOILED EGGS AND RADISH PODSPrep time: 10 minutes

Serves: 6

Ingredients:1 pound mixed salad greens1⁄4 cup olive oil1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice1 tablespoon Champagne or sherry vinegarSalt3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled2 to 3 ounces radish pods, or equal weight thinly sliced radishesAssorted herb or other edible flowers

Directions:

1. Place the salad greens in a large mixing bowl. Mix the olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar in a small bowl, and whisk until smooth. (Alternatively, combine them in a small lidded jar and shake to emulsify.) Pour half of the dressing over the greens and toss with your hands to lightly coat with dressing. Add only as much more as you need. Season to taste with salt.

2. Mound the greens on a platter. Cut the eggs in quarters and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Arrange the eggs over the greens. Add the radish pods or sliced radishes to the same work bowl as the salad was mixed in and toss just to lightly coat. If you need more dressing, add it a dribble at a time.

3. Scatter the radish pods or sliced radishes over the top of the eggs and garnish with the herb flowers. Serve immediately.

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