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Friday, May 27, 2011

This Week in the Garden

Nasturtiums!

I was a bad girl this week. A very bad, bad girl. I repotted a few Nasturtiums when I wasn't suppose to. Oh, I do hope they make it. Funny thing about Nasturtiums, they are probably one of the least finicky flowering edible herbs to grow, as long as you leave them be. Peppery as they are, they just don't take kindly to being uprooted. An absolute No. No.
However, I do it all the time and each and every time I do, I stay awake nights hoping they make it. I kid you not:) As luck would have it, my sleepless nights usually occur in the month of May. (I start my seeds indoors mid April) The month of May is the best month to sow Nasturtium seeds directly in the ground or in their permanent, albeit, seasonal home. (since they are annuals here in PA, they must be sown each year.) No biggy though because they are as carefree as the hummingbirds and butterflies they attract. (they also attract aphids but that can be a good thing, sometimes)
This year, I'm growing a few Nasturtium seeds that I saved from last year. Problem is, my labeling system needs to be reorganized. I'm not sure of their color or variety. I'm really hoping they're from this trailing variety. Not that I remember its name, but it sure would look pretty in that new makeshift planter I snatched at a yard sale this weekend. (in between raindrops and tornado warnings that is)
Although, this variegated yellow is pretty too. I can just imagine its tumbling leaves cascading the shed's windows like living floral curtains.
Remember the other day when I posted about my snipping and cutting escapades? Well, you too can get your very own "free" seedling, legal like:) (I never destroy anyone's property when I whip out my trusty scissor, although, I'm not sure about the legality:) Save seeds! Not only are Nasturtiums nurturing free bloomers that display a profusion of brilliant splashes of color all summer long, once you see what the seeds look like, you too can easily dry them and save them for next year. How cool is that!!! Just check out this video @ Mr. Brown Thumb, and you'll see how easy they are to spot.
Okay, so you are either thinking, what the heck is she talking about? OR, "unlike Mr. Brown Thumb, my thumb is really brown. That's just it though, Nasturtiums are so easy to grow. They are one of the best flowers used for introducing children to gardening. My grandson, Noah planted his first Nasturtium seeds a few years back. After I told him how little care they needed, he chose to sow them in a rotted out tree stump. Yes, they grew! Nasturtium seeds are large, (easy handling for little hands) they germinate quickly, and with the exception of "damp feet," the new seedlings aren't at all fussy. As a matter of fact, they are quite adaptable. If you want lots of leaves and few flowers, plant the seeds in a shady area. (good idea if you plan on lots of Nasturtium salads:) If you plant them in poor soil in a sunny location, you will get lots and lots of tasty flowers for stuffing, floating or garnishing but we'll get to that as we go along.
No space in your humble abode? Have I got an idea for you. A Flower power window garden! Like many culinary herbs, Nasturtiums will grow right on your sunny window sill. They don't attract bugs because of their pungent peppery odor if anything, some say they ward off flies. The best house varieties are compact such as Copper Sunset, Empress of India, Whirlybird, and Alaska.
Why all this fuss about Nasturtium? Let's put it this way, they are the flower that just keeps giving and giving. Not only is it a polite guest in the home or garden, Nasturtiums are a ray of sunshine in the kitchen. Just look at this pasta dish prepared with Nasturtium Butter.
Imagine my delight when I discovered it in the fabulous Complete Pasta Cookbook from the Williams Sonoma Pasta Collection first published in 1996. Window Pane Pasta with Nasturtium Butter. It has a nice ring doesn't it? The recipe is rather lengthy so I'll try and break it down a bit. I've also scanned it below.
"The windowpane effect is achieved by sealing parsley leaves between two sheets of fresh pasta rolled so thinly that they are nearly translucent. In place of the parsley, try also making the window panes with other decorative, pleasant tasting fresh herbs such as small basil leaves or little sprigs of chervil or dill. As shown in the photograph, edible violas and nasturtiums provide a clorful garnish. You might also want to try sealing some of their petals in between the sheets of pasta. Other edible flowers you can use include more of the yellow to bright orange to orange-red nasturtiums used in the sauce; orange to deep violet pansies; and bright purple borage blossoms..."
The recipe suggests using egg pasta which is on a different page in the book. Although this recipe for egg pasta isn't exact, it does come from Williams-Sonoma Cooking At Home by Kristine Kidd and Chuck Williams. Of course, we can't forget about the delicately delicious nasturtium butter. You'll need 4 tablespoons. It too is on a different page so I've included the recipe below. If you would like detailed instructions, head on over to Food Wishes where not only will you find a recipe, but also a video.
Nasturtium Butter
1/2 cup (4 oz/125 g) unsalted butter at room temperature
40 nasturtium flowers, stemmed, and chopped (I'm sorry I can only give you a guesstimate on how many plants that might be. I'd say at least 10 organically grown nasturtium plants; or more:)
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf (Italian) parsley
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Butter made be blended up to 1 day in advance in the refrigerator or up to one month before use in the freezer.
I have a feeling Window Pane Pasta with Nasturtium Butter was not the reason why French impressionist Claude Monet liberally planted the entrance gate to Giverny with meandering blooms of nasturtiums. This image was scanned from Monet's Table; The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet. I'll be sharing recipes from it in November in celebration of the day he was born. If you click the image, it will take you to a better image.

The main alley of Monet’s garden at Giverny is invaded by nasturtiums. Monet planted them this way, but originally, it was not on purpose. Monet wanted to soften the straight lines of his alley by an edge of small flowers, and he planted what he thought were dwarf nasturtiums. They began ramble along eventually creeping though and over the gravel. Monet liked this effect so much that he repeated it intentionally every year. (source)
Did you know ground up nasturtium seeds were used as a substitute for pepper during WWII? I didn't. I did however know that the peppery flavored flower buds cured in vinegar make a wonderful substitute for capers. Gather up the partially ripened seed pods after the blossom falls off. They should be a light green. Clean them off and steep them in white vinegar. If you don't have enough to fill up a jar, start the ones you do have and then just keeping adding. Some call them Poor Man's Capers. Some go as far as pickling the flowers too. Here's a recipe for pickled flowers that I found in another one of my favorite cookbooks, The Bountiful Kitchen.
Pickled Flowers
Your guests will love the novelty of edible pickled flowers, served up as a garnish or an antipasto platter.
4 cups water
1 tbs. plus 1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 ounce nasturtium (about 20 flowers)
1-1/3 cups distilled white vinegar
Combine the water and salt in a sterilized 1-quart Mason jar or glass clamp jar, stirring to dissolve the salt.
Add the flowers and seal securely.
Set aside in a cool, dark place for 2 days.
Drain and transfer the flowers carefully to a sterilized 1-pint Mason or clamp jar.
Slowly add the vinegar and seal. (The jar will be less than full)
Set the jar aside for 3 days.
The pickled flowers have a shelf life of about 6 months.
Nasturtium leaves have a peppery-mustard taste much like water cress or arugula but with larger leaves and no tough stems. You can use them like watercress in sandwich spreads, or in soups, minced in vinaigrettes, and chopped in mayonnaise as a sauce for chilled fish. For sauces and salad dressing, use about one to two tablespoons of minced fresh leaves, depending on the amount needed. If you wait for the seeds to dry and choose not to pickle them, grind them up in a pepper grinder. Use as you would pepper or add to your favorite savory herb blend.
No need to be too fussy handling the flowers. One of the reasons they make an excellent garnish is because, although they look fragile, they are quite enduring. Use the spicy blossoms either whole or chopped to decorate creamy soups, salads, butters, cakes and platters. The leaves and flowers offer a delicate touch to tea sandwiches. My favorite is cucumber sandwiches with the yellow flowers like those from the Alaska series.
How patient are you? Stuff the blossoms! A simple egg salad is brought to life nestled inside that itty bittty cup. If you followed that link, you will be pleasantly surprised. No egg salad in that work of art. I was at one website where it was suggested to stuff the vibrant flowers with guacamole, Imagine how pretty that must look. I will be trying it!!!
Hummingbirds love nasturtiums. You too can enjoy their delicious nectar. Make vinegar. It's easy, really. Place about 5 nasturtium flowers in a one-cup jar and cover with hot (not boiling) white vinegar. If you like, add a sprig or two of fresh dill. Cover the jar and let the blossoms steep at room temperature for about 4 or 5 weeks. You can use it unstrained, or strained in salad dressing, marinades or added to sauces for a peppery flavor. Personally, I sometimes use rice vinegar and a clove of garlic. I also strain the spent flowers and replace them with fresh blooms. Great for gift giving!!!
Before I leave you, I'm going to drop off this video on How To Make Nasturtium Pesto. (Yes, pesto:)
And also another recipe. This one is from another excellent book titled The Good Herb by Judith Benn Hurley. It was a toss up between Crab Salad with Nasturtiums or Smoky Tomato Soup with Nasturtiums. I'm going with the tomato soup. After all, tomato season is right around the corner!!! One more thing. Well, there's lots more I'd love to share about nasturtiums but alas...The spiciness you will discover in nasturtiums is somewhat regulated by the summer heat. I usually plant some nasturtiums in partial shade so the spiciness is a bit milder for those who prefer it. Radiating sun equals a spicier taste!
Smoky Tomato Soup with Nasturtiums
2-1/4 pounds ripe Italian plum tomatoes
1 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. cumin seed
1 clove garlic, very finely minced
1 small onion, minced
1 cup loosely packed nasturtium leaves, plus 4 nasturtium flowers.
Prepare the grill or preheat broiler.
In a large bowl, toss the whole tomatoes with olive oil to prevent them from singering on the grill. Grill about 5 inches from heat source, turning frequently, until tomatoes are roasted and tender, about 5 minutes. They'll pop and spit while grilling so be careful. As the tomatoes are done, return them to the bowl.
Toast the cumin seed in a dry nonstick pan over high heat until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. The seeds pop and jump around while toasting, so pay attention.
Tip the roasted tomatoes into a processor or blender along with the roasted cumin, garlic, onion, and nasturtium leaves. Whiz until smooth. Serve warm at room temperature, or very slightly chilled, garnished with the nasturtium flowers.
Hopefully, my sleepless nights will be over soon. I've tucked the newly transplanted nasturtiums into their cozy fresh home and hung it between the two windows on the shed. I'm going to be redoing the window boxes while I wait ever so patiently for their little leaves to pop over the rim. Rest assured, I will be sharing that day!!! Thank you for spending the time in the garden with me this week. I do hope you will plant a few nasturtiums this year, Not only will they reward you with their vibrant simplicity, they make good kitchen pals too!
I really enjoyed gathering this post together. As I smile to myself at the thought of a few other new guests to the garden, I'm contemplating doing a post such as this again. Louise:)

Resources
1. Finding Cinderella in a Bleeding Heart