We’ve been watching reruns of chef Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, wishing we’d watched more of the 94 that aired during the show’s 11 seasons. I began imagining what might have come to pass had Bourdain visited our garden and kitchen in midsummer.
I love what most viewers loved about bad-boy Bourdain—his fearless sense of adventure, his raunchy, blunt vernacular, his limitless curiosity about local cultures, customs, and the people who live them. An award-winning chef and writer, his curiosity focused often on food, especially food prepared using local ingredients and a few basic culinary tools.
Bourdain’s reverence for simple street food, in-home kitchen food, and tiny back-alley eateries patronized by the locals speaks to me. Especially in summer, when I’m always struggling to balance the rich culinary potential of an over-abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables with the never-ending work of tending them.
Crunched for time, we toss our meals together with a few (very) local ingredients and a few basic culinary tools: the chef’s knife, a skillet or two, the blender...and, yes, the hand-cranked bean frencher*.
Would Anthony Bourdain have enjoyed himself at our digs? Would you, dear reader? I like to think so.
First, a trip through the gardens
Bourdain said he wanted to learn about them.
Warning him about our ticks and the diseases they cause, I’d make him tuck his pants into his socks, don a long-sleeved shirt with tight cuffs, and spritz his face, neck, and ears with 20% Picaridin.
We’d chat as we meandered through the beds and rows—riotously messy and looking not at all like the gorgeous spreads in gardening magazines.
Ours features lots of weeds and weedy-looking “coves” of things we intentionally allow to go to seed: lettuce, arugula, dill, parsley, sunflowers, calendula. Also milkweed and other wildflowers popping up all over the place to encourage pollinators.
Bourdain would laugh appreciatively at the various jerry-rigged stakes, strings and wires supporting tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, raspberry canes.
He’d gasp at the size of the ripening blueberries, the 12-inch-diameter broccoli heads, the eight-foot ferns pumping carbohydrates into the roots that will shoot up next year’s asparagus crop.
He’d marvel at the abundance of edible-pod peas, green beans, a dozen varieties of lettuce, little cucumbers and zucchini, the cantaloupe hills and watermelon hills boasting grapefruit-sized fruit not ripe enough for eating.
Cantaloupe and onion
I’d encourage him to taste everything along the way, and select what he thought we should prepare for the meal ahead: “Whoa! That bites!” (chewing on a leaf of arugula). “Momma mia! Let’s pick a boatload of these” (smacking his lips after a handful of ripe purple raspberries).
Bourdain had a well-known disdain for vegetarianism, so I explain that, although I have protein things, there’ll be no pork-stuffed sheep-tripe packets, moose jerky, or unmentionable bull parts. Much of dinner will consist of what we harvest as we walk.
“Aw,” he says with a guffaw, looking at the bounty we’ve assembled, “I won’t complain.”
Then, let's go to the kitchen
Everything's a salad in summertime around here.
We hastily grab from the garden stuff available, wash/rinse it well, cook and cool some of it, and organize it in bowls and on platters.
A big bowl of mixed greens: several varieties of lettuces (bibb, summer-crisp, leaf), radicchio, chicory, arugula, spinach, Asian greens, thinnings from beets, chard, kale, edible weeds. Not all of them green, either: purple, magenta, bronze, pink.
The first cherry tomatoes, yellow, red, and purple.
A platter of cold steamed vegetables: green beans, broccoli florets, edible-pod peas.
Garlicky dill pickles from the “perpetual” crock on the counter: small cukes, tiny carrots, baby zucchini, green beans.
Our pickle crock
Once a month, I usually make a pile of whole-grain flatbreads and pitas to freeze, some rolled with crushed seeds or nuts, some incorporated with grated cheese, others with lots of dried herbs. I’ll defrost some of them, and set them up alongside a cheese board of local(ish) cheeses.
Add a few dressings, dips, and drizzles such as:
Bowls of spicy black bean dip and creamy chickpeas
We don't always fuss with our grill, but this evening, we’ll fire it up to roast some vegetables and grill spiny-dogfish fillets (a delicious ‘trash fish’ that’s usually tossed out and wasted), zucchini strips, red potatoes, green beans.
I’ll lay out a stack of big, blue plates, another of smaller plates, and shallow bowls for dessert. We’ll choose our ingredients, load them onto the plates or roll them into wraps, and choose our dressings, dips or drizzles.
A pile of lightly sweetened purple raspberries tacked into a pre-baked maple-meringue “bowl.” That's all.
Except we have to hand-wash the dishes: no dishwasher. (After all, Bourdain started as a dishwasher and, apparently, loved it!) He grabs a towel and helps dry.
Maybe a dip in the backyard pond after dark, floating on our backs amid the turtles, frogs and leeches, watching the bats swerve and dip, looking at stars. (Sober for us. We’re a teetotaling household.)
*Frenched green beans Steamed, boiled, sauteed, or prepared for freezing/canning, fresh green beans taste better “frenched”--sliced lengthwise, rather than being chopped. I don’t know why. They just do.
Years ago, I invested $20 in a hand-cranked bean frencher, which I count among the best kitchen tools I own. I only bring it out during green-bean season, tempting us to french, blanch, and freeze many packages of beans for use in winter soups, salads and sides.