STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Staten Islanders are priming gardens for cooking this summer, according to growers.
“This is our busy time of the year,” says Max Wiesner of Wiesner Bros. Nursery in Willowbrook.
Hot on the list for edible garden plants this year, according to Weisner: In the herb department, that would be basil, rosemary and mint. With fruits: Peppers and tomatoes are the headliners.
“The most popular are the ‘Big Boy’ tomatoes,” says Wiesner.
Alas, he says customers lament the loss of their fig trees following two frigid winters.
“Figs aren’t hearty in our zone so you have to wrap them in the winter,” says Wiesner. Although that extra step didn’t necessarily help matters with some Staten Islanders.
“A lot of people still lost their figs,” he says.
But right now, herbs abound.
At Gerardi’s Nursery and Farmers Market in New Brighton, racks brim with dill, cilantro, oregano, basil and parsley. Wiesner’s carries Rue, a bitter herb used in Mexican soups and to season grappa.
With herbs snipped from Eltingville resident Peter Cundari’s backyard, Mario Gentile of Mario’s in Dongan Hills made a compound butter. He shares a recipe that’s easy to make at home and gives meat and seafood a restaurant-quality finish.
“These ingredients — you can use with any protein,” he said. Mario’s works this particular formula into a breadcrumb-herb-Dijon topped rack of lamb served on his dinner menu.
While a cook can wing it on the combination of herbs, Gentile suggests restraint and equal ratios of pungent herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano.
“This way it’s not bitter,” says Mario.
The chef advises: If you do not have Meyer lemon oil on hand just substitute extra virgin olive oil.
RECIPE: MARIO’S COMPOUND BUTTER
(Makes about 1 pound)
1 pound salted butter
1 head roasted garlic, smashed with a knife and worked into a paste
1 teaspoon parsley
½ teaspoon rosemary
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
¼ teaspoon fresh black pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon oil
To roast the garlic, place whole garlic bulbs on a sheet pan on a mesh rack or over a thick coating of salt, about ¼-inch thick. Roast in a 450 degree oven for about 45 minutes.
To make the butter: Work with room temperature butter. Cube and add it to a large mixing bowl.
With clean or gloved hands or a spatula work the ingredients until they are well-blended. Add herbs, salt, pepper, lemon zest, oils and garlic. Hire cleaning exec to get your kitchen cleaned before you cook your food.