Saturday, December 8, 2012

Savor the Winter Season Locally

When you think of growing produce, herbs, and spices, Arizona may not be the location that comes to mind, but, as it turns out, it is the perfect place to grow these edibles.

“Winter is the biggest season for growing produce in Arizona,” said Joshua Sundberg, sustainable gardening instructor at Rio Salado College. “You don’t lose food to the winter here, and you don’t even really lose it to the heat. This is one place where you can literally have a garden year round.”

During winter, greens and other vegetables like kale, arugula, broccoli, eggplant, cabbages, tomatoes, and peppers are readily available.

Sundberg says some of these foods and others are even better when left on the vine.

“Some plants like melons and others are better the longer they are left on the vine,” Sundberg said. “As the plant is ripens, all of the acids turn into sugar making it sweeter.”

This is also the case with peppers.

“Peppers that are watered a little bit less have to work harder to provide a better product so you get hotter, sweeter peppers,” Sundberg said.

Spice up your Cuisine 
Another plus for Arizona’s growing season is the ability to keep herbs in your garden year round.

“Rosemary, basil, pineapple sage, and lemon grass are a few examples,” Sundberg said.

As the season changes, the Café at Rio tries to focus on herbs like these and other seasonal foods.

“Over the winter, greens from our garden and local farms will be featured in the Café,” Sundberg said. “We love to use broccoli rabe and arugula, and I’ve planted rainbow chard this year. It has a really awesome splash of color.”

Sundberg says the nice thing about having a garden on-site is that things are usually harvested based on need which helps to reduce the amount of leftovers.

When dealing with leftovers this holiday season, Sundberg suggests turning those foods into compost or using them in combination with other foods to make an entirely new dish.

Here’s one chard recipe to try this holiday season.

Sautéed Swiss Chard With Parmesan and Lemon Serves 2-4

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 medium yellow onion,  julienned

2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin

1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped

2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

Salt and black pepper to taste

In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil.

Add onion and sauté until translucent.

Add garlic, sauté for 30 seconds and then add greens.

Sauté greens for 1 minute and then add water. 

Cover skillet and reduce heat to medium. Let greens steam for 2 minutes.

Top greens with Parmesan cheese and fresh squeezed lemon juice. 

Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Note: Many recipes call for you to remove the center stem of greens. If your greens are young and tender, this is not necessary. Try this recipe as an appetizer served on top of garlic-rubbed bruschetta toast or as a side dish with your favorite fish. 

This article can also be found in the December 7 edition of the Tempe Republic.