These day, most of us are familiar with the concept of farm-to-table cooking is popular in restaurants kitchens and books. But cook and author Jeanne Kelley has taken the notion one step further with the concept of garden-to-table cooking: creating healthy, delicious meals from the produce she harvest from her own garden. Here she shares her favorite cooking techniques, as well as ideas for making the most of her garden’s bounty.
What made you interested in a garden-to-table cooking?
In all professions, people want to develop and improve. For me as a professional cook, having access to the best ingredients bettered my cooking. As someone who loves to eat, better produce improved my diet and my enjoyment.
Do you find yourself eating everything you grow in your garden?
Sometimes a head or two of lettuce, arugula or a zucchini might get away from us and we’ll treat the chickens to some fresh garden treats. Mostly, we plant a good amount to eat and share with family and friends. And yes, I do have to supplement what I grow with trips to the farmers market or produce section— I can’t grow everything I eat!
Where do you find inspiration for new recipes?
Inspiration comes from several places, but mostly the garden. Meals I’ve enjoyed out, flavors from abroad, books highlighting a foreign cuisine, all influence how I prepare what’s available in the garden.
How do you make the most of what you have grown?
Harvest it at it’s peak and eat it soon after.
Which vegetables have you struggled with or needed more inspiration to cook?
Zucchini can be so productive. At first, it’s so exciting to grill and sauté the little squashes, but as summer progresses and day after day I’m presented with yet another large zuke, I kind of lose my enthusiasm for the vegetable and search for a new way to love it. The Zucchini Griddle cakes with Feta and Mint were born of that struggle.
When you have lots to harvest in summer, what are your favorite ways to use the additional produce?
I enjoy making some jams and some quick pickles, but I’m not much of a preserver. I enjoy eating my garden bounty best in season, and when I do have more than I can use, I find there are many happy recipients of my excess.
How do you make use of your “not so perfect” produce?
Jams, sauces and compotes make use of precious but not perfect fruit. Tomato Jam with Honey and Marjoram, Lemon-kissed Strawberry Jam, Santa Rosa Plum Jam all make good use of too ripe fruit or fruit that needs to have a blemish cut out of it, but is still juicy and delicious.
How do you stay inspired each season? Especially in winter when you have fewer choices?
Chard is often the only thing producing in the garden and you’d be surprised at how many great ways there are to enjoy it. It’s great in pasta as in the Penne with Chard and Sausage, and thrown into a pot of beans or soup. Cooked, chard can become central to a frittata or make a nice nest for poached eggs. Sauteed, it’s great as a side dish or served on whole grain toast. Whole leaves can enclose steamed fish…. I could on! Sometimes limits in the garden can be very good for creativity.
What is your most frequently used herb in cooking?
Flat leaf (Italian) Parsley is under appreciated by many, but not by me! I love the hit of fresh, green flavor it adds, and it blends so well with all vegetables and other herbs. I also add whole leaves to salad green mixes.
How often do vegetables take center stage in your dishes over meat?
Often. I genuinely love vegetables and do a lot meal planning based on what’s growing in the garden. I like meat too, but when I do eat it, I’m satisfied to enjoy a small, savory quantity alongside vegetable and grain dishes. Most of our meals are vegetarian as I try to cook based on what’s in my garden and pantry, but I’m a sucker for good taco truck and will eat whatever is served when I’m a guest at the table. I think it’s a happy, healthy and polite balance.
How have gardening and harvesting your own vegetables changed the way you cook and work in the kitchen?
Harvesting fresh vegetables just before eating them has simplified the way I cook. It’s amazing how good the vegetables are in their pure, unadulterated state—you don’t want to anything to mask their flavor.
What is your favorite season for cooking?
Summer is easily my favorite season. An afternoon of watering and harvesting in the garden, followed by a simple dinner outdoors is delightful. The long day light and warm temperatures make for pleasant evenings—perfect for grilling or cool salads.
What are you favorite things to make with the honey you have produced? With the eggs?
Both involve toast! I find the flavor combo of goat cheese, walnuts and honey irresistible. The Goat Cheese Toast are so simple yet so gorgeous. As for eggs, a fried egg atop buttered toast or the Soft Scrambled Eggs with Ricotta and Herbs are both sheer perfection.
To get the recipes referenced above, get Jeanne’s book, The Kitchen Garden Cookbook.