Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Search for the Elusive Violet : Violet de Provence, Violetto Precoce artichokes

Violet de Provence, Violetta Precoce , Violet du Gapeau, Violetto di Chioggi, Violetto diToscano, and Romagna.
These  wildly  romantic names describe a small, purple artichoke much  loved in France and Italy but hard to find even here on the Central Coast. The Farmer’s Market in Santa Barbara sometimes has some artichokes  for sale at this time of year, but the  plants are as elusive as the Snark.

Wanting some for the vegetable garden, because once having tasted one, steamed briefly and eaten whole, choke and all—is to become a hopeless addict. These violet beauties can also be cut in half and grilled, which is how they usually appear in restaurants.(Recipe below) 

The plants of Romagna artichokes are available  (Island Seed and Feed). Romagna is purple, but unpredictable, it produces atrichokes of various sizes. In theory, you harvest the large center artichoke, then it should produce lots of small purple  ones as side shoots. Stay tuned on how this actually works.

The seeds of Violet de Provence, Violetta Precoce, and Romagna are available (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) as is Violetto from Territorial Seed Oregon.
Violetto di Toscano   which hasn’t  yet been  located as  seeds or plants looks a lot like the artichokes from the SB Farmer's market which might be Baroda Farms proprietary hybrid Fiesole.  These   are not sold through nurseries. (apparently Baroda sells only through large retailers such as Whole Foods, but as a company they are as guarded about their wares, as the Chinese were about their silk worms! ) 

 This Toscano could be the enigmatic Violetto of Territorial Seeds. 

Note:  photos are from (

When you find your  violet  Try this recipe from Saveur magazine: Pasta with Grilled Baby   artichokes,dressed with olive oil and garlic
1 lb. (about 10) baby artichokes with stems,        2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
  trimmed and halved lengthwise,                             4 cloves  garlic ,minced                                           2⁄3 cup freshly grated Parmesan                       
4 tbsp. unsalted butter

Zest and juice of 1 lemon6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste 
1⁄2 lb. spaghetti
  1. Put artichokes, 2 tbsp. lemon juice, and 6 cups water in a 4-quart saucepan. Boil, reduce heat, and simmer until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain artichokes; transfer to a medium bowl; toss with 4 tbsp. oil and salt and pepper. Heat a 12" grill pan over high heat. Place artichokes cut side down on grill pan and cook until  tender about , 6 minutes per side. Return grilled artichokes to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap; set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 6–7 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta water; set aside. Heat remaining oil and 3 tbsp. butter in a 12" skillet over medium heat; add chile flakes and garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic is soft, 4–5 minutes. Add remaining lemon juice along with zest, cooked pasta, and 1⁄2 cup Parmesan and toss together, adding rerved pasta water as needed to create a smooth sauce. Stir in remaining butter and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Photo: Todd Coleman


Friday, September 24, 2010

The American Begonia Society meets in paradise--- a trip to the Webb estate

Posted by Picasa
The Begonia Society (ABS) had its’ meeting at the Gazebo in Montecito a few days

ago. That’s Mike Flaherty, who owns the Gazebo (a fabulous florist and plant store in Montecito),himself a notable, prize-winning begonia hybridizer, addressing the meeting.

 Astonishing begonias were everywhere, and here is one of them---the tuberous plant is called Ray Hartley, and was grown by Paul Garber who is showing the members the latest exhibition style from European shows.

 The Begonia Society members then enjoyed a cook-out presided over by Ruben Pedregon of the Gazebo staff, who proved a deft hand at the grill---- as well as being a gifted floral designer.

Begonias per se, are not low water plants , but once a week watering seems to be about right in our maritime climate along the Central Coast. We have a Scentsational tuberous begonia (has a wonderful light lemony scent) which lives happily on the shaded front porch with once a week water, like a geranium.  Inland….. a different story.

The Begonia lovers were then whisked to the Webb estate which is a created  tropical paradise with a Caribbean theme.

             Of course, some lovely begonias live on the porch at the top of the stairs.

                   There’s a rose garden and a pond  of rose-colored water lilies.

           The main house overlooks yet another pond this one surrounded by amazing palms. In an inspired bit of landscape design, the golden fish-tail palm  contrasts with the purple grey of the brush beyond.

            And then there are the birds: black swans, emus,macaws, flamingos

and a toucan who sounds like a marimba....

         On our way out, dazzled and footsore, we saw a theater grotesque the likes of which can be found around here only at Ganna Walska's Lotusland.  

          We stopped in Summerland on the way home and saw some low water succulents of magnificent size (just to prove we really, truly are members of the  low water camp even if we love  the Begonia Society.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fall, the Getty Garden and The Secret Life of Water

Autumn succulentsPosted by Picasa

September at the Getty Gardens

The garden at the Getty Center in L.A. always has a wonderfully demented charm next to Mier’s austere white temple of gleaming travertine and straight lines. The maze pond is about as regimented as the garden gets, and still manages to be subversive (as, say, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase) Azaleas in the middle of –a pond 

Having established itself as unconventional with the water maze, the garden takes off like a Henri Rousseau landscape
The Fall garden is notable for it’s masses of dahlias, cannas and color combinations

This is one of  the bougainvillea parasols---cold  iron forms when the garden was planted. Now… it works.

Here are dahlias  golds and yellows combined with orange roses..

The garden has it's wild warms balanced by the colder greys of a mass planting to the left:

Dahlias are not the most water economical  of plants.( At home, the dahlia bed is on a gray water system.)  Hopefully, the Getty Garden uses recycled water. (They do store a million gallons of water to use against possible fires.) And use goats to clear the brush :
          " Using goats to clear brush saves energy, reduces waste, and is just one of the strategies that helped   the Getty Center earn its Silver LEED certification recently.  LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and certification recognizes environmentally responsible design, construction, and management.  In 2005, the Getty Center became the first facility in the country to be awarded LEED certification for an existing building, earning its Bronze certification in the first days of the formal LEED program.  The Getty earned its new, higher Silver Certification this month by increasing its efforts to minimize waste and energy use beyond the 2005 levels" (from a press release by the Getty)

Spanish Goat (Scrub goat)

This is the Getty Cactus Garden, which  has not pleased everyone although it is, like goats, effective at surviving in a very difficult environment

Photo from Ency. Britannica

This photo was taken some time ago ---all the cactus are larger. However, this September the Cactus Garden looked greyish, i.e. water starved. Even cactus need to be sprinkled occasionally as the gardeners do at the Huntington Cactus Garden, and at Lotusland .

Water. The Secret Life of Water by Masaru Emoto. Emoto studied water crystals and how the crystal shapes could be effected by---- I’m going to let you find out for yourself. This is a remarkable book, highly recommended .

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor Day and beyond: Fall planting. A recipe for chicken.

Remember the Inca Calendar? Here they are doing the fall sowing.

Here we are on the central coast about 500 years later, doing the same thing. This is, as  SoCal gardeners know, is the primo planting time for a great many plants---leafy vegetables, perennials, anything but real tropicals, and surprisingly ---succulents.This Confederate Rose has managed to produce seven new offshootsin a month.
The medusa cristata is flinging out green fingers and a whole new leaf is developing to the left.

This mammalaria is not only blooming but growing a whole new orb as quickly as it can. 

Posted by Picasa
If you are planning a large planting of succulents, this would be the time.

It's hard to get away from the garden long enough to write ! Lettuce, red cabbage, Napa cabbage, mustard spinach (Tatoi) cilantro, late tomatoes  and a couple more chile peppers  (ever the optimitist,  hedging  bets.) All of them are sitting in an indignant group outside the back door insisting on getting in the ground now.
Remember the lime tree that lost its leaves and had to be draped in Christmas lights to stay warm last winter? Here he is--recovered, with limes growing... well, okay, only 2 limes, but still......
Add to your list of important books to read : Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver . I've always been a great admirer of her fiction.  The Lacuna and The Poisonwood Bible knocked my socks off, as did  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in a  different way. The novels are deeply poetic.

 AVM is an account of a year her family spent raising all their food, eating off the land. If you read it, you'll be shocked, and hopefully, inspired. (Why do you think all those vegetables are sitting outside my back door?)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.) The Lacuna: A Novel (P.S.)

Here  is a spendid recipe using all local ingredients for chicken thighs with honey, olives and oregano. .
Total time: About 2 hours, plus marinating time
Servings: 6
Note: Adapted from "The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking" by Phyllis Glazer and Miriyam Glazer.  This dish may be prepared several hours in advance and reheated in the oven.
12 chicken thighs (or one 4 1/2- to 5-pound chicken, cut up)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon capers (packed in brine), drained and coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 cups pitted green olives
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup flavorful honey (not clover) raw if possible
1. Rinse the chicken thighs and place in a bowl. Pour over boiling water to cover and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes. Using a sharp knife, scrape the skin to remove excess surface fat. Dry the pieces and place them in a nonreactive ovenproof casserole.
2. Make a marinade by combining the red wine vinegar, olive oil, capers, garlic, oregano and olives. Taste, and season if desired with salt and pepper. Toss the marinade with the chicken, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours, preferably overnight, turning occasionally
3. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Turn all the chicken thighs skin up, and pour the wine over. Brush the thighs generously with honey, and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour, then remove the cover and continue to bake until the tops of thighs are golden brown.
Each serving: 566 calories; 32 grams protein; 29 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 34 grams fat; 10 grams saturated fat; 115 mg. cholesterol; 23 grams sugar; 491 mg. sodium.
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Must stop and go to the local FARMER'S MARKET before it closes and buy some raw honey!