Welcome to Sassy Plants - a blog about urban gardening, edible landscaping, and other plant rants.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Penne all'Arrabbiata

We had 14 tomato plants in our garden this year, and about an equal number growing in large containers on our deck and in our small greenhouse.  When the subject of vegetable gardening inevitably came up at work, and my coworkers heard how many tomatoes we were growing, they would laugh and look at me as if I were completely nuts.  Then they would say something cute like "one or two plants is more than enough for our family".  Clearly these people are not Italian. It is all about the gravy, baby.  Tomato sauce, that is.

One of our culinary staples at home is Penne all'Arrabbiata. Arrabbiata is an Italian tomato sauce that literally translates as 'Angry Pasta' because of it's spiciness. Here is our recipe for Penne all'Arrabbiata:


6 cups fresh tomatoes  (If you don't have fresh tomatoes, use two 28 oz. cans but omit the salt if your canned tomatoes are already salted)
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons capers

Heat olive oil on low heat for one to two minutes.
Saute garlic and chili flakes for approximately two minutes. Add tomatoes and salt.  Simmer on medium heat for approximately one hour, stirring frequently.  Add capers and continue to cook sauce down to desired consistency - approximately 15 minutes.
Serve over cooked penne.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Butternut Squash Pie

In May I was at a Master Gardener plant sale where I purchased a small start labeled 'Spaghetti Squash'.  Certainly most people will crinkle up their noses and shudder when you put those two words together, but I had had a delicious curried spaghetti squash soup a few months earlier, and I was willing to try to recreate it and expand my gardening horizons doing so.  

So I planted the start.  I gave it a spot with what I thought was a fair amount of room. And it grew. And grew.  And grew even more.  It was a monster.  It devoured a hydrangea plant. It ran through my garlic. It covered up an entire cucumber plant. It mixed itself in with our potatoes. It trellised itself on our back fence and then kept going right into our neighbors yard.  It was truly a beast. Scott would look at it, and shake his head at it (and me) disapprovingly, and declare that we would never, ever do something like that again. 
As luck would have it, our Spaghetti Squash was mislabeled.  It is actually Butternut Squash, and it is delicious.  We grew THIRTEEN squash off the one plant, ranging in size from average to downright humongous.  I've given half to our neighbors and have been experimenting with different recipes including this one for Butternut Squash Pie.  I like to alter recipes so I have found a few good looking recipes for Butternut Squash Pie, that I have combined.  It turned out pretty well last time.  It was a lot like pumpkin pie, only better because I grew it!  I have made another minor alteration or two, and am going to try it this way for our Thanksgiving dinner: 


9" pie crust - unbaked
1 1/2 cups cooked & pureed squash
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup evaporated milk
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

To cook the squash, heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove stem, cut squash in half and scoop out seeds (see below for seed saving). Lay flat side down on a greased cookie sheet and bake for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until squash is soft. Allow to cool, then remove skin and puree.  You will probably have extra squash which can be frozen to make another pie or soup later on.
Reduce heat to 350 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl beat the sugar into the squash, add the eggs, evaporated milk, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla.  Pour into pie shell and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until set.

SEEDS:  Saving squash seeds is easy!  Just pick off any flesh, give 'em a good rinse, then lay out on a paper towel to dry.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


What could be cooler or more sustainable than growing your own sponges?!
I was so excited to grow luffa this year.  I wanted to have some for our own use, but I also wanted to give them as holiday presents.  Yes, I was planning in advance!  How sweet would that be to get a nice home grown luffa?
I harvested the luffa last week, and it turned out to be a very quick process because I only had two!  Better luck next year.
Here is a photo of the 'bounty' (one luffa is cut in half):

Here's the dirt on harvesting luffa:

Luffa is an edible plant.  If you want to eat it, just harvest the young small fruit and prepare it like you would prepare squash.
To use as a sponge wait until the luffa is done growing, is very lightweight and has turned yellow and dark brown or black. Peel the skin off, and rinse out the seeds and flesh. Dry seeds on a paper towel and then store for next year.
When the luffa is cleaned out soak it for 5-10 minutes in water with about 5% bleach.  Rinse and lay out to dry.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mouse Melon II

Last week I took about a dozen Mouse Melons and carefully squeezed out the tiny seeds to save and plant next spring. I left the seeds uncovered overnight, and when I woke up...   they were gone.
Today I tried again.  After cutting open a few of the tiny cukes I was bombarded by my cat Henry who jumped up on the counter and was butting my hand away to get at the cucumbers.  It turns out that my cat loves to eat Mouse Melons.  Mystery solved.                                                              
To save seeds from Mouse Melon you do a fermenting process like you would if you are saving tomato seeds.  Let the cucumbers get a bit over ripe, squeeze out the seeds into a bowl, let it sit for few days until a thick film grows on top.  Scrape off the film, rinse seeds thoroughly, spread out to dry on a paper towel, and then store in a cool, dry place.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Green Tomatoes

I used to despair over my green tomatoes at the end of the season.  I know there are many ways to prepare green tomatoes, but I want to eat the ripe ones.  I finally wised up and realized that you can ripen your tomatoes indoors!
Last year I kept clusters of tomatoes on the vine, and hung them all inside.  It worked pretty well, and we were eating the last of the tomatoes in late December. Not bad, huh?!  Below is a photo - it's a little grainy, but you get the idea.

Last week I pulled up our tomato plants, and with them about 5 or 6 gallons of green tomatoes. So this year I am hanging some of the tomatoes again, and I am also layering them with newspaper in small cardboard boxes.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mouse Melon

This tiny cucurbit was my favorite edible plant this year.
Mouse Melons (scientific name Melothria scabra) have many common names - Mexican Sour Gherkin, Mexican Miniature Watermelon, Cuka-Melon, Cuka-Nut, Sandita. I prefer Mouse Melon because the name is as cute as the fruit. Mouse Melons are an heirloom cucumber, originating from Mexico and Central America.  The fruits, which look exactly like a miniature watermelon, taste like a cucumber, but with a very lemony kick.  Almost like they are already pickled.
Despite it's delicate appearance our plant withstood a long heat wave without any babying, and produced a surprising amount of cucumbers.

Mouse Melon is a great choice if you are combining edible with ornamental plants in your garden. It is a very nice looking plant that trellises well and has small foliage that looks like a cross between squash and ivy leaves.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Salsa Verde

I have traditionally been more of a tomato salsa fan than a green salsa fan, but lately I have been grooving on the green salsa! It is a good thing too, because we had some prolific tomatillo plants this year.

Here is a very simple Salsa Verde recipe that I made yesterday:

4 cups tomatillos (approximately 15 tomatillos)
1/2 cup white onion
2 jalapeno peppers - seeded & stemmed
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Remove paper husks and thoroughly wash tomatillos.
Cut tomatillos in half, place cut side down on baking sheet and broil for 6 or 7 minutes until skin just starts to turn black.
Blend tomatillos, onion, peppers, lime juice and salt in a food processor until all ingredients are finely mixed together.