Fresh From the Southwest
As bright summer days grow shorter fading into cool golden evenings that herald the beginning of fall, the greenhouse at Vermejo is bursting with lush ripe tomatoes and crunchy lemon cucumbers. Tenacious vines spiral their way up wooden stakes toward the warm glass ceiling supporting loads of six different varieties of heirloom tomatoes including striped Green Zebra and dark purple Brad’s Atomic Grape. Trays filled with arugula, lettuce, fresh herbs, and colorful microgreens infuse the air with a fresh earthy aroma. Out in the gardens, new dark green pumpkins seem to appear overnight, and squash crowd the beds, creating a bountiful display that will be ready for carving and roasting just in time for our October Harvest Festival.
The Vermejo Greenhouse is one of our restaurant’s favorite sources of locally grown produce. Greenhouse Grower, Jess Bolger loves to spend time there tending to her “babies” as she often calls the tender shoots of green poking up from the rich soil. After helping out in the dining room during breakfast service, Jess happily swaps her apron and notepad for dirty fingernails and rolled-up sleeves to go work in the greenhouse watering, weeding, and ensuring her crops’ protection from bugs and mites.
Jess’s eyes light up when she gets to answer questions about what’s growing in the greenhouse, and she loves nothing more than touring curious guests around the young veggies encouraging them to pluck a leaf or a juicy tomato for a fresh-from-the-vine tasting. “Here, give it a taste,” she says, holding out a handful of arugula.
Jess enjoys both parts of her job because they allow her to see the entire life-cycle of the things she grows, from planting the seeds to watching guests savor the delightful flavors from a colorful plate.
“People have been growing crops and farming for thousands of years. To carry on that tradition and to watch people enjoy eating what I have been able to grow and nurture out of the ground is so satisfying,” she said.
“Everything is organic in our greenhouse, she continued. We have a pretty simple system, the kitchen tells me how many we are expecting for dinner and I come straight to the garden, pluck what I need, and tote it right to the kitchen where it’s washed, cut, and prepared! Clean eating is simple, and it comes full circle at Vermejo.”
With reminders of autumn drawing in, and whisperings of Jack Frost’s chill right around the corner, I ask the question, “Is this sustainable through the winter months as well?”
Jess is quick to explain that yes, Vermejo picks tomatoes deep into November, and with a heating system installed in the greenhouse, sees a healthy supply of greens, lettuces, spinach, radishes, and arugula throughout the year.
“As the days grow shorter, the time frame for growing a lot of these veggies tends to take a little longer, but they are there nonetheless!”
In addition to the hardy greens, herbs are another year-round resident of Jess’s nursery and the intricate scents of sage, basil, dill, rosemary, and oregano fill the air and provide tasty variety to the dishes in the dining room in every season.
Tomato Toast is a favorite menu item that begins with a batch of Vermejo Greenhouse salsa verde spread on a slab of freshly baked brioche and adds layers of heirloom tomatoes, basil and just-plucked microgreens for true plains-to-plate flavor.
Chef Cory Untch was willing to share the recipe.
Vermejo Greenhouse Salsa Verde
- A giant handful of small, flat-leaf parsley sprigs
- Large handful of mint leaves or lemon balm leaves
(about half as much as the parsley)
- Large handful of marjoram leaves
(about half as much as the parsley)
- 3 whole anchovies
- 1 heaping tablespoon drained capers
- 1 small garlic clove, roughly chopped
- 2 to 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Place the herbs in the bowl of a food processor. Add the anchovies, capers, garlic, a pinch of salt, and the Dijon mustard. Add a few good glugs of olive oil and start pulsing to get things roughly chopped.
- Check consistency and add more olive oil as needed, along with the vinegar at this point. Pulse until the salsa comes together — some people prefer it to have larger bits of herbs still intact, others prefer it creamier.
- To serve, spread on some warm toasted bread and top with a sprinkle of salt.