WRITTEN ON June 26th, 2013 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Cheese, Chicken, Dinner, Italian, Leftovers, Pasta, Vegetables

One of my favorite things about this time of year is being able to cook food fresh from my garden.

As a kid, I remember a favorite lunch of cherry tomatoes still warm from the sun, with slices of cheese and a few crackers. BLT’s with garden tomatoes were a treat for everyone – for my dad, brother and me because they were so tasty and for my mom because it was a quick and easy dinner that everyone loved.

We grew pumpkins one year. The wild and crazy vines looked like they fit right into our yard, but we were a little nervous when we realized they had snaked under the fence and trespassed onto Mrs. Long’s perfectly manicured lawn. She took it in stride, left it there all summer and started a competition to see who could grow the bigger pumpkin.

On Sunday nights at my grandmother’s house (better known around this blog as Dot), there were more tomatoes, plus string beans a plenty and cucumbers pickled in the leftover Claussen’s brine and jar (pretty thrifty – she was a child of the depression and also saved used tin foil, washed and folded back into the drawer). We were regaled with stories of her constant battle with the “damn squirrels” and my brother and I secretly laughed at the sight she must have presented to the neighborhood – “that crazy old lady in 5514 is out in her yard again, yelling at the trees.”

Even at an early age, I knew the best cantaloupe came from Debbie’s farmstand on the side of the road where Bellona and 83 met, and that you had to stop on your way to the beach to get the best of the Maryland Silver Queen corn and peaches. I grew up thinking the best of everything in the summer came right from Maryland, and often times from our very own backyard.

This is the third summer I’ve had a kitchen garden. The first summer, it was awesome. I had no clue why. The second summer, it was terrible. I had no clue why. So this spring, I enlisted the help of EARL’s Kitchen Gardens, to help set me straight so that I can plant my own garden for years to come.

So far, so good. We had all sorts of tasty spring crops, like broccoli rabe (my all time favorite green veggie), head lettuces, oodles of herbs and our first figs, just yesterday. My favorite so far as been the sweet peas, which I just harvested the last of this week. I didn’t eat a lot of peas growing up, in fact I don’t think my mother ever served me a single pea, having hated them all her life (she and my uncle apparently used to throw them at each other under the table), so I discovered them only a few short years ago.

They are sweet and delicate, the perfect spring flavor. My son and I have been enjoying them right from the vine, plus I’ve added them to salads and pastas. This recipe used the last of my spring peas.  Though it seems to happen every year, it always catches me by surprise when we go from a chilly, grey, rainy May and early June right into the dog days, sending my tomato plants into a flowering frenzy and signaling the end of the delicate spring plantings.

Tonight, we feast on our own arugula, dressed simply with lemon, good olive oil, kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, served along side a grilled steak. I love not having to go to the grocery store.

As with anything else in life, I’ve realized over the past few years that a garden is a total leap of faith. Who can explain why some things flourish one year and flounder the next. More than anything, you just have to plant some seeds, give ‘em love, and hope for the best. If nothing else happens, at least you tried. And if all else fails, there’s always the farmers market.

But I’ll tell you one thing – I can’t wait for Luke to taste his first cherry tomato, still warm from the sun.

Give Peas a Chance

Whole Wheat Pasta with Peas, Chicken, Leeks, Spinach and Cheese (makes 4 servings)

I used leftover grilled chicken thighs for this recipe. It’s the perfect way to use up any leftover chicken you may have, or chop up some rotisserie chicken.

½ lb whole wheat penne

1 ½ cups shelled peas

1 ½ cups fresh baby spinach, chopped

1 leek, halved lengthwise and sliced thin

1 ½ cups chopped leftover chicken

1 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

¼ cup dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio

¼ cup Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package instructions, reserving ½ cup of the cooking liquid before draining. In the same large pasta pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add leeks, season lightly with salt and pepper. Sweat leeks until they are soft and translucent. Add the chicken and the peas. Season with a little more salt. Saute about 2 minutes. Add pasta water and wine, reduce by half. Add spinach and pasta, cook about 1 minute more until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat, stir in cheese, check for seasonings. Add salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately.

Little garden helper

Garden Goodness

Try raw peas tossed in an arugula salad with ricotta salata

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