It’s a Tuesday in early March, and the garden at the Rancho La Puerta is in full swing. And Salvador Tinajerois, the head, gardener is munching his way through it. When he sees us, he hands us some arugula blossoms. “Taste this,” he commands. No matter we were, as far as he knows, uninvited visitors who had strayed from a hiking trail into the garden and were just milling about. Salvador wants to share the garden with one and all.
From the shoulder-high arugula, he leads us to green garlic (more tasting) to gorgeous rows of giant leeks, bok choy, green (immature) garlic, broccoli and fennel. There are cabbage, kale (four types) chervil, wild arugula and six kinds of lettuce. No wonder the salads are so delicious at the ranch. As he points everything out, he bends down, swipes the dirt from the base, cuts off a hunk and eats it.
And all of this is available for use in the cooking classes I’m there to teach. I take stock of the menu and decide to use leeks in the risotto instead of the out-of- season asparagus, add green garlic to everything in place of garlic, stir-fry and grill bok choy and accompany all with an arugula salad. Fresh chervil, frequently unavailable in the States, is bushy and abundant, and sautéed with fresh scallops, chives and oregano, it will make an appearance, too.
But possibly the most interesting and fortuitous garden occurrence is fresh rose hips, used in one of the desserts I'm making in the class: poached pineapple with rose hip tea. One of the helpers makes fresh rose-hip “tea,” which we combine with honey for beautiful reduced caramelized syrup to drizzle over the pineapples and frozen yogurt. For the complete menus, see my cooking class blog.