In California's Central Valley ag country, No Gardeners Left Behind—a group of teachers at Yolo Middle School, in Newman—combined force...
In California’s Central Valley ag country, No Gardeners Left Behind—a group of teachers at Yolo Middle School, in Newman—combined forces to enter our One-Block Party Contest. They grew vegetables, herbs, and fruits in their collective gardens, raising chickens for eggs, and learned from one another all summer long—veteran gardeners are teaching novices. They threw their party at the school on September 12, and it was a big hit; even the local paper, the West Side Index, came and wrote about it. This is Team No Gardeners’ description of the feast.
Our party was a huge success. We had a great turnout, with fellow teachers, spouses, kids, the superintendent of schools, and even the local press sampling our garden goodies.
The school day ends at 3 p.m. and that’s when we flew into action to set up the faculty room. Cheryl brought her blue and white lace tablecloths (school colors) to dress up the tables. In honor of the classy occasion, Cheryl also brought blue dishes from home and Anne contributed silverware left over from her wedding so that we wouldn’t have to use sporks and eat off paper plates. The centerpiece was sunflowers (weeds allowed to grow) from Karen’s garden.
By 3:30, our team had assembled and guests began to arrive. The common theme of the afternoon was amazement that the food was all home-grown. Everyone filled their plates and spent the next two hours enjoying one another’s company and the delicious spread of food.
The beverage of the day was refreshing lavender honey lemonade. (Originally we had planned our party to be outdoors, but extra-warm weather encouraged a change of venues.)
Appetizers included sungold and pear tomatoes, dried apricots, guacamole, salsa, deviled eggs, and zucchini pickles.
We had a choice of potato salad, a Japanese-style lemon cucumber salad, and mixed tomato salad.
Guests and team members sampled nasturtium butter or fresh chive cheese and roasted tomatoes on John’s hearty potato onion bread.
Butternut lasagna, stuffed zucchini rounds, vegetarian eggplant “meatballs” in marinara sauce, and pesto pasta tempted those still hungry.
But wait, there was more. For dessert we had rosemary orange marmalade cookies, freshly churned cherry chocolate chip ice cream, apple goodie (an Amish-style apple crisp), peach cobbler, zucchini cake, and candied walnuts.
No one went home hungry. Several took food to go for family members, and we still had leftovers for the staff to enjoy for several days!
Our homegrown food even made it to the classroom that day. Anne brought cherry tomatoes for her English classes to taste and held up carrots with their tops still on…Not what the kids are used to seeing at the grocery store!
Katie, who made the delicious peach cobbler, summed it up well in a post-feast e-mail: “Thank you, everyone, for letting me be a part of the Garden Party. I had a wonderful time talking with all of you, eating, and getting these wonderful recipes. Hope we can partake in another event like this soon.” We do too!
P.S. from Karen, dated December 18:
Our feast may be over, but Mark is still supplying the staff with fresh eggs. John’s apricot wine continues to ferment. I’ve whipped up basil pesto weekly until freezing temperatures hit. I harvested apples. I dried and roasted fresh tomatoes until well into December and with the remaining tomatoes I made and froze some super green-tomato salsa. Just this past week, when Christmas preparations are usually forefront, I’ve been experimenting with pomegranate recipes! Oh, and I just discovered that I still have a few zucchini left on the vines, chard ready to harvest, and a beautiful crop of Meyer lemons all ripe and ready to pick. The one-block party continues!
Recipes From the Summer Party
BUTTERNUT SQUASH LASAGNA
Cheryl Beaty made her own fresh noodles for this lasagna, but storebought works fine too.
3 1/2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-in. cubes
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 lb. whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 large egg yolks
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese (2 cups grated)
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 c. finely chopped onion
1/3 c. loosely packed fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
Fresh lasagna noodles (4 x 13 in.), cooked (approximately 9 noodles made my own)
4 oz. finely grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 425.° Toss squash with oil, 1 tsp. salt, and pepper to taste; place on baking sheet. Bake until light gold and tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
2. Reduce oven temperature to 375.° In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, cream, yolks, mozzarella, and a pinch of nutmeg (use more if you desire). Season with salt.
3. Melt butter in a small pan over medium-high heat. As butter starts to sizzle, add onion and cook until transparent. Add sage leaves and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Place half the squash in a medium bowl and mash. Add the other half, leaving it in whole pieces. Gently stir in the butter & sage mixture. Add the stock. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Spread 3/4 cup of ricotta mixture in a 9-cup baking dish. Top with a layer of noodles. Spread 1/2 of the squash mixture over the noodles. Top with a layer of noodles. Spread 1/2 of remaining ricotta mixture over noodles . Repeat layering and sprinkle top layer of ricotta with Parmesan.
6. Bake lasagna until cheese is golden and bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Karen March made these vegetarian “meatballs”.
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 12-oz. eggplant, peeled and diced
1 1/2 tbsp. water
1 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. oregano
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup Italian cheese (preferably a hard cheese)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups tomato basil sauce, kept hot
1. Heat oil in large frying pan and cook garlic over medium heat until golden. Add eggplant and 1 tbsp. water. Cover and steam over low heat until very soft, stirring occasionally. Add remaining water only if eggplant begins to stick to frying pan. Set eggplant aside and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, combine bread crumbs, parsley, salt, oregano, eggs and cheese in a large bowl. Stir in eggplant, mix well, and let sit for 20 minutes.
3. Using a cookie scoop, shape eggplant mixture into balls. Heat olive oil in frying pan over medium heat and cook eggplant balls in batches, turning occasionally so they brown evenly. Serve with tomato basil sauce.
SOURDOUGH POTATO ONION BREAD
This is John Paiva’s specialty. To make it, you need to allow about a week to make a sourdough starter and about 3 days to make the bread (most of it is unattended time, though!). To see John make the bread, click here.
1) Boil 3 to 4 small, washed but unpeeled potatoes in 2 cups water and let sit overnight. Save the potato water!
2) Refresh the sourdough starter by removing it from the refrigerator and adding 1 cup water and 2 cups organic malted bread flour per cup of starter.
3) Using 1 cup refreshed starter, add 1 cup potato water (from soaking the potatoes in Step 1) and 1 1/2 cups organic malted bread flour to a bowl and let ferment at room temperature for 6 hours. Return the fermented dough to the refrigerator for 12 hours. Remove this fermented dough (called “preferment”) from the refrigerator 1-2 hours before the next step.
4) To the preferment, add 1 cup warm potato water and stir vigorously. Add 1 tbsp. kosher salt, 1 cup mashed boiled potatoes, and 1/2 cup minced green onions. Add 2 to 3 cups organic malted bread flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough is difficult to work with a wooden spoon. Roll the sticky dough onto a bread board and continue to sprinkle on flour until the dough no longer sticks to your hands as you knead it for a full 10 minutes. Spray a large bowl with oil and then put the dough inside. Cover and let rise in a warm place until dough has doubled or tripled in volume.
5) Roll the dough back onto the bread board and cut and shape into two loaves. Spray loaf pans with oil and place shaped loaves into the pans. Cover and let rise until almost doubled.
6) Score each loaf with a razor, mist with a spray bottle of water, and bake in a preheated 400° oven 40 minutes. Rotate loaves halfway through so that they bake consistently on all sides.
7) Let bread cool for 20 minutes before slicing.
FRESH CHERRY CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM
John Paiva brought this freshly made ice cream to the party. Freeze the container of your ice-cream maker for at least a day before making the ice cream.
1 egg, whipped
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
2 cups fresh cherries
Mini-chocolate chips to taste
Thoroughly mix all ingredients in a bowl and place in the pre-frozen container of an ice cream maker. Turn on ice cream maker and let freeze (about 20 minutes). Sample finished ice cream with friends!
By Karen March, Team Leader