Living off the land


When I think of the original baby boomer, I think of our friend Jay Farbstein. He is an architect specializing in the design of large government buildings, and he lives on his family’s original property off Sunset Boulevard, in a rural area of Pacific Palisades.

He grew up helping his father tend the family vegetable garden, and has maintained it for many years.

The first time we met was at a dinner where the subject was food and wine, and after meeting Jay and his wife, Bonnie, we realized that we all love to cook.

After talking about his garden that night, we were surprised when there was a knock on our door the next day, and he arrived with a care package of seasonal vegetables.

A few months later, we were invited to visit the couple and, as we drove down their driveway, the first thing we came to was the vegetable garden, which is about 2,400 square feet.

At the entrance of the garden, there is a cast aluminum memorial plaque dedicated to his father, Milton, that was installed in 2007. The area is surrounded by a fence covered with passion fruit vines, and when the first fruit is in season we often visit Jay and help with the harvest. 

Nearby is an 8-by-12-foot greenhouse that was a birthday present from Bonnie. It is stocked with seedlings that mature much faster there than in the outside garden, and they are replanted as needed.

For example, the cucumbers mature a month ahead of those planted in the outside garden, and he picks the chili peppers year-round. In the greenhouse, parsley, chives and basil are available all winter, and early tomatoes are an extra bonus.

Recently, we were invited to Jay and Bonnie’s for a dinner. We dined on dishes that featured a variety of seasonal veggies from his garden: Fresh English Pea Soup, Beet and Burrata Salad, and Stuffed Squash Blossoms.

At the root of all of this is Jay’s fantastically green thumb, and he has a number of suggestions for fellow boomers who may want to join him in his hobby — starting with the tools of the trade. There is a special gardening stool that helps avoid bending over a lot. It can be adjusted to sit close to the ground or higher — either 4 inches or 1 1/2 feet off the ground — depending on what you are doing. It has handles and can easily be turned over to flip it upside down. In the future, Jay said he will put in raised beds, to make the work even easier.

He also keeps his garden packed with lots of compost. He uses the leaves that fall off the trees for compost and adds them to the soil.
If you have a gardener, be sure to let him do the digging — your back will thank you. Still, Jay insists on doing all the planting, weeding and picking himself.

Jay plants lettuces, carrots, beets and peas in the fall to harvest during the winter and spring. Then, in the spring, he puts in his summer veggies — tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beans and peppers — which he harvests all summer and into the fall. Which means it’s always a good time for gardening!

FRESH ENGLISH PEA SOUP

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 6 cups fresh peas, shelled
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Crème fraiche and chives for garnish

 

In a sauté pan, heat butter and sauté onion until soft. In a pot, heat vegetable stock and add peas and cook (do not overcook) until tender. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Push through a sieve into pot and add salt and pepper to taste.

Chill before serving, ladle into bowls or stem glasses and garnish with crème fraiche and minced chives. 

Makes 12 servings.

BEET AND BURRATA SALAD

  • 6 fresh beets
  • 12 lettuce leaves
  • 1 pound burrata cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup pistachio nuts for garnish

 

Place beets in a pot, add water to cover and boil until beets are tender when pierced with a fork. Remove beets, peel and cool. 

Slice beets into 1/4-inch slices. Arrange lettuce leaves on serving plates, top with a scoop of burrata cheese, arrange beet slices on top and sprinkle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and garnish with pistachio nuts. 

Makes 12 servings.

STUFFED SQUASH BLOSSOMS 

  • 12 squash blossoms with zucchini still attached 
  • 1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1⁄4 cup olive oil

 

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Carefully open blossoms wide; remove the pistils from inside the zucchini blossom and discard. (The pistil is the fuzzy, yellow floret found in the center of the squash blossom.) Set aside blossoms (keep zucchini attached throughout).

To prepare the stuffing: In a large bowl, beat the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs and salt and pepper until smooth. Taste the mixture; it should be highly seasoned. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

To fill the blossoms, the easiest way is to spoon the filling into a large pastry bag, but a small spoon also will work. Fill the clean blossoms about three-quarters full,
and gently squeeze the petals together over the top of the filling to seal. 

Brush a 10-by-14-inch baking dish with olive oil and arrange the stuffed zucchini flowers in the dish. Sprinkle the blossoms with salt, pepper and olive oil. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake, in preheated oven, until the cheese is puffy and the juices that run from the blossoms begin to bubble. 

Makes 12 servings. 


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

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