I am thinking poetry....
The phones for once are quiet,
and there are long shadows
inside my room.
At an open window
On the hillside nasturtiums bloom.
Through sense memory, or euphoric recall, I am reminded of their peppery taste. Nasturtiums, also known as "Indian Cress," (cousins to the radish), fill my wooden bowl with their asymmetrical celadon leaves. Scattered on top, a bright profusion of flowers, mostly orange, but some bright yellow, or the muted colour of Devon cream, others in total contrast, a velvety, dark, burgundy hue, tantalise, tease, with their piquant promise.
I used to always cook with flowers when my life was simpler and my thumb greener. Squash blossoms fried in a cornmeal batter were a staple at my dinner table.
On lazy, sun drenched mornings in Melleray, roses, boiled with sugar cane, and reduced to a thick, sweet, ruby red syrup, was dripped, from Georgian silver spoons onto Belgian waffles. Rose petal coolers were sipped in summer beneath the majestic magnolia trees as bees hummed their drone-like litany.
The tiny blue flowers of the rosemary, the pink and purple blossoms of the thyme and sage, dotted the bottom of a large, brown, glazed Mexican bowl, as we drizzled fruity, hot, virgin, olive oil from a copper saucepan over them, then added more chopped herbs to steep, sending up an aromatic prayer to the kitchen gods.
Then we poured this scented oil into another bowl overflowing with cooked pasta shells. Once anointed, we carried them, ceremoniously, through the catacomb of alabaster, white, sun bleached rooms out to the verandah, to our waiting guests, who, with forks raised, and starched, white linen napkins tucked into blue collars, or rib-necked sweaters, awaited this magnificent feast, the ultimate gift from Mother Earth.
Harvest the nasturtium leaves and flowers. The medium leaves and
flowers are best. You may also find these in most gourmet markets.
40 Nasturtium leaves
20 Nasturtium flowers (assorted colours)
2 heads of Butter lettuce
4 hard cooked eggs, peeled and sliced into rounds
In the bottom of a large salad bowl prepare the dressing, stirring well
to dissolve the salt.
3 teaspoons peanut oil
2 teaspoons nasturtium vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
2 or 3 pinches white pepper
Wash the leaves, flowers, and lettuce. Spin in a salad spinner until dry.
Set the flowers aside. Tear the butter lettuce into bite sized pieces. Put
the nasturtium and lettuce leaves into the bowl, add the egg rounds
and toss until all the leaves are coated. Sprinkle the flowers on top.
Gently toss again just before serving.
Harvest and wash at least 20 nasturtium flowers. Boil a jar or decorative
bottle until sterilized. Fill the jar or bottle with the nasturtium flowers
and pour rice vinegar over them. Seal and put in a cool dark place for 3
Pasta Shells with Fresh Herbs
Since my kitchen is a good distance away from the verandah, where we like
to take our meals during the summer, and at special parties; after harvesting
the fresh herbs from my kitchen garden, I make this dish right at the table,
so I don't miss all the fun and good conversation. Also I can always count on
my girlfriends to help separate the leaves from the stems while I chop the herbs
on a cutting board. For those of you who do not grow herbs at home, you can
usually buy them fresh in the produce section of your local supermarket. You
may also use different varieties of the same herb, such as lemon thyme as
well as English thyme. You may include the flowers if they are in bloom.
After removing the stems, coarsely chop:
1 1/2 cups fresh herbs
Place the herbs in a large bowl.
1 pound of large pasta shells
1 or more dried hot red peppers according to taste.
6 tablespoons fruity olive oil
Cook the pasta shells according to package directions, adding the peppers to the
boiling water. When the shells are "al dente," drain the pasta in a colander and
discard the peppers. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan until extremely warm
but do not bring to a boil or allow to smoke! Pour the warm oil over the herbs in
the bowl and add the drained pasta. Toss the pasta/herb mixture until the shells
are well coated. Serve immediately.
The show stopper part of this dish is the wonderful aromatic fragrance that
rises up from the herbs as the warm oil is poured over them. It is a great
conversation piece as well as a sort of aroma therapy!
Note: This conversion table
might be helpful if you live in a country which
uses Celsius and other different measures.