Everyone who cooks has a kitchen vice.
Some nip Sherry as they stir. Others cannibalize bits of raw steak or vegetables from chopping boards as they whack away. But not me. My vice is less caloric, but an equally unsound kitchen trait. I read during long periods while waiting for pots to boil.
For the record, I must explain that I don't dip into steamy novels or even self-help books at the stove; though, in a pinch, either might improve the recipe in hand dramatically. But no, I only read seed catalogues and gardening manuals during my culinary maneuvers. Fantasizing as I cook now about what I will be cooking later--if and when my kitchen garden shows some real signs of growth.
My favorite seed catalogue for all seasons (and I must aver I read them all scrupulously) is the handsome yet restrained bulletin I receive every spring from Shepherd's Garden Seeds in Felton, Calif. To my mind, the best seed catalogues are always a deft pairing of informative prose and unintimidating illustrations that will inspire rather than dishearten any potential tiller of the soil. And Shepherd's brochures amply fill both requisites.
Highly Personal Offering
Be forewarned, Shepherd's collection is a highly personal offering, culled by owner Renee Shepherd, from the very best seed growers around the world. It is studded with unusual vegetables, rare culinary herbs and bowers of old-fashioned perennials and biennials. Plus a well-conceived assortment of small garden dwarf blooms designed expressly for those with pre-shrunk greenswards; not to mention mini-patios, rooftops and even window boxes.
Reading Shepherd's '88 catalogue of salad seeds is like thumbing through a venerable foreign restaurant's menu of exotic greens. The lettuce varieties alone start my mouth watering outrageously; inspiring a mental image of all the untried variations that lie in wait for my summer salad bowl.
Lettuce is a late spring, early summer into late fall bloomer. It doesn't germinate in heat of summer, but there is still time to plant a crop of seeds by June and have a green salad waiting outside the kitchen door in August and September.
Kitchen Garden Recipes
One of the reasons I have been day-dreaming about lettuce so contemplatively, is another Shepherd's tome that is rapidly becoming a kitchen vice. It's a newly published, handsomely illustrated cookbook, "Recipes From a Kitchen Garden," compiled by Shepherd.
Shepherd's Garden Seeds catalogue is complimentary. For a copy, write: Shepherd's, 7389 W. Zayante Road, Felton, Calif. 95018. "Recipes From a Kitchen Garden" by Renee Shepherd (1987, $7.95, soft cover edition) is available at bookstores or can be ordered by mail from Shepherd's Garden Publishing at the address above.
Two highly unusual recipes from Shepherd's cookbook follow. Not surprisingly, both are salads, but here's the kicker--they're warm. Either would make a wonderfully fresh start for a summer meal.
WARM SHRIMP SALAD
2 cloves garlic
2 shallots, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped ginger root
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Freshly ground pepper
12 ounces medium-sized raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
Salad greens: 1 small head green lettuce, 1 small head red lettuce, 1 bunch rocket or arugula, or other salad greens, torn into bite-sized pieces.
Combine garlic, shallots, tarragon, ginger root, lime juice, vinegar, soy sauce, olive oil, sesame oil and pepper in container of food processor. Process until smooth.
Spoon 2 tablespoons dressing over shrimp. Let stand 30 minutes.
Saute shrimp in dressing in heavy skillet, tossing constantly, until pink, about 3 minutes.
Arrange salad greens in bowl and scatter hot shrimp over top. Pour remining dressing over salad and toss at table. Makes 4 servings.
MIXED GREEN SALAD WITH NUTS AND HOT BACON DRESSING
6 slices bacon, chopped
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon finely slivered lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 quarts mixed salad greens: several lettuces, rocket or arugula, radicchio, few sorrel leaves, or others
1/3 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
Saute bacon in large saucepan until crisp. Transfer to paper towels with slotted spoon.
Drain all but 1 1/2 tablespoons bacon drippings from saucepan. Return bacon and add onion, olive oil, garlic and pepper. Cook until onion is tender, about 4 minutes.
Add vinegar, lemon peel, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon parsley, thyme, salt and sugar. Cook 1 minute longer. Add mixed greens and toss until warmed, but not really wilted, about 15 seconds.
Transfer to bowl. Toss in nuts and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon parsley. Makes 6 servings.