The Random Garden: Summer

The tomato plants form an impenetrable fortress against the back wall of our garden, but they also line the sides of the yard like soldiers on forward support. We replanted a dozen of them to pots as they took off through our cool, wet May—the scent of tomato leaves hangs heavy in the air now as we witness the progression from yellow star flowers to green orbs bobbing in the breeze and when we brush past them.

It looks like we’ll have more cherry tomatoes (tomates cerejas) than anything else in this summer’s version of the Random Garden. Our plot of land grew surprisingly fertile under a thick layer of compost we’d laid upon it last year, so we tried that same tactic again this year, and expanded the experiment to encompass as much of the yard as we dared.

We still struggle to grow chiles and cilantro (coentros) in our damp climate in Colares—“where winter goes for the summer.” And few summers in recent recollection have been as cool and wet as this one. I keep moving the somewhat forlorn pot hosting my piri-piri plant around to capture as much of the sun as possible, but so for, it’s a fruitless task. 

At every winery we visit, the same chorus: All of them, two weeks, three weeks late with grape set and now patiently waiting for veraison. Harvest will come when it does, but we feel the delay too, looking back on photos taken at this time last year—we’d already harvested the first coração tomatoes. This week, we’ve yet to pluck the single ripe cherry tomato as it continues to blush in the sun. We’ll have to cut it into two tiny pieces to share it.

Meanwhile, we have but one butternut squash growing. With the wildness of the tomatoes, they’ve overcome the squash vines, leaving us with only two twining out of the tomato fortress. We wait expectantly for a male flower and a female flower to bloom together. Then Stephen goes out to, ahem, encourage them, using a paint brush to spread the pollen from the male’s anther to the central stigma of the female. We leave nothing to chance.

As yet, however, only one has germinated, leaving us wondering whether we’ll see any more. The cool weather apparently lowers the number of females that bloom, so there we are. The herbs love the cool weather, though, and we have lots of sage, basil, rosemary, and thyme—a bit of parsley too!—to gather to garnish our motherlode of tomatoes. 

One garden activity has maintained its levels from last year, and that’s the bit of grilling we do on our patio. As the first of the summer produce hits the stands, we combine it with a few rashers of local fresh sausage, to celebrate the (slightly) warmer days. I prepare an avocado and peach salad touched with rosemary to go along with the grilled red peppers, red onions, and potatoes—but you can also grill the avocados themselves for a tasty treat. Once you try that, it’s easy to get addicted! We also grill some of our preserved lemon wedges for a piquant addition to the mix.

Grilled Sausages and Vegetables with Avocado-Peach Salad

Salsichas Grelhadas com Legumes e Salada de Abacates e Pêssegos

For the Grilled Sausages

2-3 links of fresh sausages per person, depending on their size (about 6 inches)

1 red bell pepper, sliced in large sections (for 2 people)

1 red onion, sliced in medium-thick rings (for 2 people)

4 medium potatoes, like Yukon Golds, cut in half lengthwise (for 2 people)

Olive oil

Sea salt

  1. Light a charcoal fire in the grill, and bring it to a medium-hot temperature. Alternatively, you can use a gas grill to create a similar medium-hot fire, but put some chips on it to maintain a real smoky flavor to the finished dish.
  2. Meanwhile, parboil the potatoes for 12-15 minutes, depending on their size. Check them—they should be al dente when you take the from the stove and drain them. Pat dry and brush with olive oil.
  3. Brush the pepper and onion slices with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Brush the sausages with a tiny bit of oil, unless they are very fatty.
  5. When the grill is ready, place the sausages in the center of the grill, with the potatoes around the circle of the grill to be over the cooler part of the fire.
  6. Turn the sausages after 10-15 minutes. Move the sausages to the side so that you can add the vegetables into the center. They should end up sharing the space.
  7. Repeat the turning of the sausages until they are fully cooked (check with a knife to be sure the interior is done to your liking). Turn the vegetables as required.
  8. Remove all pieces from grill to warm platter as they finish. Serve with the salad.

For the Avocado-Peach Salad (Serves 2, can be doubled)

1 avocado, ripe but not yet soft

1 peach (preferably white), ripe but not yet soft

1 sprig rosemary

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

  1. Cube the avocado and peach into 1/2-inch cubes. Place together into a medium bowl.
  2. Using kitchen shears, cut the rosemary leaves into the bowl with the avocado and peach. The pieces of rosemary should be about 1/4 inch.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil and vinegar until emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Toss the dressing into the fruit. Let stand for a few minutes at room temperature to let flavors blend. Serve with grilled sausages and vegetables.