The Beautiful Organic Vegetable Garden at Rancho La Puerta

Organic Garden at Rancho La Puerta

One of the highlights of our recent visit to Rancho La Puerta was the morning hike to their organic vegetable garden followed by breakfast at the new cooking school. The hike is a gentle 2 mile stroll that provides a nice rest from the usual early morning mountain hikes.

We are met at the vegetable garden by Salvador who runs the gardens. He is an absolute treat. There cannot be too many people as passionate about their work as he is. Bursting with pride, he shows us the different varieties of oregano, lettuce and peppers which he pulls and snips for us to sample straight from the earth – sweet butternut squash, hot chilies, tender herbs and crunchy cauliflower. This is as local as it gets and you can taste it!  It’s a real inspiration to grow a vegetable garden.

No pesticides are used, crops are rotated and there is hardly a weed to be seen. The bees are in heaven and in fact Salvador has started keeping bee hives.  The vegetables provide a large majority of what is used for meals at the Ranch (as its lovingly known by all) and breakfast takes full advantage of the bounty at its doorstep.

Visiting the organic garden is the true embodiment of eating as close to nature as possible and also a reminder of how important it is to support local farmers by buying from farmers markets.  What a tasty and fulfilling way of eating!

I had signed up to take a cooking class the next day there with visiting chef Marie Simmons ( I had checked out the recipes that we were going to be making ahead of time and was very much looking forward to it. I was not disappointed; Marie was charming and the food we made was absolutely delicious.

I am happy to share a couple of the recipes that we made with you.

Oven Baked Cannellini Beans (makes 8 servings)

For the creamiest, most tender beans, it’s best to begin with dried beans.  Soak them for several hours or overnight and then oven bake.  Beans slowly baked in the oven tend to be more flavorful and have a smoother texture than beans that have boiled on top of the stove.  Make the beans ahead and refrigerate for up to five days.  Serve cold in salads, as a warm side dish topped with broccoli, cooked greens or stirred into soup.  Embellish them with sautéed cherry tomatoes, chopped Italian parsley and pitted Kalamata olives.

  • 1 pound dried cannellini (white kidney) beans or other dried white beans
  • 4 cloves garlic, bruised with a knife
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion halved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 to 3 cups water or unsalted broth, or more as needed

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Place beans in a large bowl and cover by at least 2 inches with cold water. Soak the beans 4 hours or overnight in refrigerator.  For a short cut to overnight soaking you can place the beans in a large pot and add water to cover by 2 inches.  Heat the water to a boil and boil for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and let the beans soak in the hot water for 1 hour.  Then drain and use.

2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

3. Combine the drained beans, garlic, olive oil, onion and bay leaf in a medium (5 quart) or large (7-8 quart) Dutch oven or oven proof casserole and stir to blend.  Add enough water or broth to cover the beans.

4. Cover the beans and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the beans are tender.  Let stand for 30 minutes.  As the beans cool, they will absorb most of the excess cooking water. Whatever liquid is not absorbed should be strained off and discarded, or reserved for soup.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

We served the beans with the following recipe:

Roasted Tomatoes with Black Olives and Italian Parsley (makes 4 to 6 servings)

Use cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes for this roasted topping for the cannellini beans. Serve hot or cold over either hot or cold beans

  • 4 cups cherry tomatoes or 2 -3 pounds medium sized plum tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus more if needed
  • 1 garlic clove, grated.

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Spread the tomatoes on a rimmed sheet pan, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Roast turning at least once, until the tomatoes begin to blister, about 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.

4. Scrape the tomatoes and their juices into a serving bowl.  Add the olives, parsley, oregano, vinegar and garlic.  Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Gently fold to combine.  Serve with beans.

This was a delicious warm and satisfying dish, one of many that we made that day.  More another time.

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