Maybe you’ve heard of Ruth Stout, who is quickly rising to the top of my Ideal Dinner Party Guest List (posthumously, sadly). She smashed saloon windows with Carrie Nation during temperance, and then went on to become a garden guru in the ’60s and ’70s. I’m reading her book called “Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy, and the Indolent”. (If nothing else: such an appealing title!) Stout champions a way of gardening that essentially has one tenet: mulch the heck out of everything with straw, organic matter, newspaper, and forget about the rest. No weeding, and the organic matter of the mulch is supposed to occupy pests just as much as much as your plants themselves. The end. How she manages to fill up a book with this information, I’m not sure, but she does, and she’s lovable and eccentric and I enjoy every minute of it. It comes as no surprise, I suppose, that this woman was known to garden in the nude (as if I could like her more).I’m not the kind of person who believes that everyone should grow things. But for people who do want to grow things and are looking for a gateway plant, I would suggest growing greens: head lettuce, romaine lettuce, loose-leaf lettuce, kale, collards, mustards, chard, and the like.
For those just starting to garden, greens are not the showy crop they aim to produce–tomatoes and squash and other more summery, evocative fruits and vegetables frequently take that distinction. To me, though, these are less rewarding than a patch of greens. With lettuce at your fingertips, you have a relatively easy-to-grow, frequently harvestable salad bar that lends itself to every day eating. So many humble meals, in fact, become just that—a meal—with a bunch of greens on the side.Ben’s favorite is a loaf of crusty bread, soft-boiled eggs, a massive amount of lettuce and mustardy vinaigrette. We like Nigella Lawson’s supper onion pie, too, with lots of leafy stuff on the side (Matthew Amster-Burton turned me onto that one). For myself, it doesn’t get much better than a tortilla española, that staple of Spanish cookery.
Tortilla is sometimes called a Spanish omelette, but I’ve always found that a bit inaccurate. It’s more like a potato cake bound together with eggs–potatoes are primary, eggs are secondary. I got addicted to tortilla in Valencia, where leftovers are served cold the next day on crusty white bread as sandwiches (starch-phobic Americans everywhere are shuddering as they read that, but it is so good). A true Spaniard serves tortilla with some very olive oil-y, soft sauteed peppers on the side, but I prefer it with–you guessed it—a pile of greens.
My version uses a stovetop-to-oven cooking method, but some people consider this a bit inauthentic. Saveur has a stovetop-only version, but it is trickier—be warned. They must have gotten the same Spanish-madre advice as me, though: when in doubt, use a 1 egg to 1 potato ratio.
- At least 1/2 cup olive oil
- 6 medium potatoes, peeled if you care, and thinly sliced
- 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
- 6 eggs
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a thick-bottomed, oven-proof skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot but not smoking, add the potatoes and toss in the oil, cooking for about 10 minutes, trying not to let them stick too much (because they will). After 10 minutes, add the onion and continue to cook another ten minutes. Both potato and onion should become soft and a little golden, but not brown. Add the garlic if using and saute for a minute or so more. Lower the heat in the skillet.
- Beat the eggs in a with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of black pepper until well combined. Add the egg mixture to the skillet, shaking the skillet to distribute the beaten eggs throughout the potato and onion mixture. Continue to cook on the burner until the edges of the tortilla begin to set.
- Transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the tortilla is cooked fully and the eggs are set but still tender.
- Remove the tortilla from the oven and allow to cool for ten minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge to loosen, place a plate on top of the skillet, and, using hot pads to protect your hands, quickly invert the tortilla so that it is flipped out onto the plate.
- Eat immediately, or serve tapas-style at room temperature after cooling, with a green salad.