When faced with a beautiful fresh ingredient, the first response if often to take a complex approach and involve it in an elaborate recipe, only to lose its original charm. As we know, tomatoes are the foundation upon which many wonderful meals are constructed but taken singularly they are a true delight.
Tomato season is at its height right now, and we are being presented with healthy specimens to devour. The truth is, garden stock really outshines supermarket stock when it comes to the flavour of these beauties, so it seemed a shame to mask this in a pasta or casserole. Rather than sacrifice this rarity, I rallied the tomatoes’ flavour cousins: basil and parmesan, and built some rather
clumsy rustic bruschetta on sour dough for lunch this week.
If even that seems to be taking things a little too far, slice them in half and season with salt and pepper – a between meal snack that any nutritionist worth their salt would have to approve of.
Postscript: Some of you may have noticed I am having a love affair with Instagram at the moment, hence the ”’arty tomarty” images. I urge you to get involved and unearth your inner Annie Leibovitz.
Every year I raise a patch of broad beans – and not because I am a broad who loves beans – but rather because I enjoy presiding over a vigorous leafy crop laden with produce. A thick forest of tall growth bursting with fat pods does wonders for the soul.
Invest in a packet of seed and plant yourself some rows when next you are given some sunny moments of alone time on a future weekend. If the soil is moist, there is not much else to do but wait for a few weeks to see your bean shoots appear. Once established, rather than deep watering, broad beans love a good spray. Soon white flowers with black spots will appear – the forerunner to your pods. During this period, as your crop develops, make regular visits and marvel at the dense growth.
Other than a gentle watering, these beans will ask nothing of you, will not notice if you’re sporting gumboots with pencil skirt and will stand silently by you as your strategy for dealing with an aberrant child is formulated.
Here is a soup derived from a recipe in my new soup bible, a tome that will be seeing me well through Winter 2013 and beyond. (Many of my favourite food people have had a hand in this book: Sophie Grigson, Monty Don and Sarah Raven, so it was impossible not to own a copy.)
1 tbsp olive oil
3 onions sliced
1 leek sliced
1.5 kg shelled broad beans
4 garlic cloves crushed
4 new potatoes, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper
flat leaf parsley
- Heat oil in a large pan over a medium heat.
- Add onions and leek. Soften for 10 minutes stirring often.
- Add the beans, garlic, and potatoes. Stir then pour in 3 litres of water. Season well with salt and pepper.
- Increase heat and bring to the boil, then simmer for 15-20 minutes. Cool and then process with stick blender.
- Serve with parsley scattered over and some parmesan cheese on top.
Postscript: People originating from distant parts prefer to eat the beans freshly from the pod, with a glass of arak to see them down. Therefore, my beans rarely make it to the cooking pot, with often only a pile of vacated skins left abandoned on the counter top as evidence that they ever were.
We know Summer is in her prime when large frilly heads, collectives of miniature florets, billow about. With deep green glossy foliage giving us welcome visual relief during searing spells, it is no wonder we have such a fondness for these grand old dames of the floral realm – the hydrangea.
When the temperature climbs, I liken a generous vase of hydrangeas placed in the kitchen to putting on a cotton summer dress. Suddenly everything is lighter, fresher and cooler and all is as it should be to manage a summer’s day. Shedding minimal debris and with incredible staying power, they excel as cut flowers. Even as they slowly dry, hydrangeas take on a charming antique appearance – another dimension of their beauty.
Mass plantings under the eves of weatherboard homes, is a strong visual memory from a suburban Melbournian childhood that I hold dear. To generate your own mass plantings without having to invest a fortune, take cuttings from your (or a kind aunt’s) shrub. They strike in a pot of moist soil very quickly in a shaded spot, and if nurtured over winter, your wall of hydrangeas will be ready to plant out next spring. Providing you keep the water up to them during the heat and they dwell in semi-shade, these are not a difficult species to cultivate – and your vases will be filled for summer.
Postscript: rumour has it, that beautiful chocolate replica leaves for cake garnishes can be had by smearing the fresh leaves with melted chocolate, leaving to set and then peeling away…hmmm
For reasons unknown to me, I have always had an affinity to the wayward. A being with its own mind who surges forth without heed has never failed to capture my imagination. Fickle natured cats, colourful friends and the odd eccentric uncle are dotted fondly throughout my history. So therefore, it should not come as a surprise, that in the floral arena, a poppy will win me over faster than any long-stemmed dozen possibly could.
As far as my experience is concerned, poppies are a law unto themselves. Try cultivating them into obedient rows similar to zinnias or marigolds and you’re bound for frustration. Poppies emerge from where poppies choose. As evidenced above, this rogue poppy produced itself unannounced from a flowerpot that had been designated for another species. Not particularly fussed by this, the poppy is flourishing happily with a lamb’s ear. Like anyone who has sat in a contorted position for a lengthy period in order to accommodate a sleeping feline, so the lamb’s ear will need to withstand its sardine-like confine until the poppy finishes flowering.
If I cast my mind back over previous seasons, the most glorious poppies that have ever existed in my garden were not the ones whose seeds were carefully laid on the soil and devotedly watered, but those whose seeds were captured by the breeze and laid unattended until sprouting time was deemed appropriate. Poppy life experience has taught me to shake their desiccated heads randomly across the garden beds, and to be enchanted when, without notice, a poppy appears. You can sprout the seeds in small pots or trays and transplant, but the mortality rate is often high. Those that survive though, will give you the most spectacular display and boost your horticultural ego to dazzling heights.
Tall poppies are just that. They rise high above their herbaceous neighbours and steal the limelight – because they are successful and glorious. It is pointless though to cut them down, as their vase life is very limited. Like the human variety, they should be left in their own environment to shine.
As a gardener, if I can persuade you to do nothing else – grow poppies.
Postscript: these red poppies are now pods, beautiful heads full of maturing seeds. If you would like to share in the progeny, leave a comment and I will send you some at seed harvest time.
These beans are reaching their potential – how are you doing?
Steadfastly focused on reaching the top of the frame, these climber beans have been progressively wrapping their tendrils from rung to rung, whilst fanning out their leaves to extract as much energy from the sun as they possibly can to fuel the task. This week they finally made it, but the journey has not been without its challenges.
Recent days have served them random temperature spikes, sudden downpours and blustery winds. On those days their desire to let go and sink back onto the earth was strong – but they held their line. It was during these arduous times that their community came to the rescue – the broad beans providing a windbreak, the frame supported their limbs and the zucchini, absorbing the excess rainfall, put a halt to root rot.
Bolstered by the neighborly support, the beans forged on, weaving and winding their way upward. At this point, buoyed with confidence, they believed they were immortal and could climb forever. Until this:
Their dewy, pristine leaves began to dapple – eyelets and peepholes appearing where a ravenous caterpillar’s appetite had paid visit.
The beans did not falter, however. Secure in the knowledge that appearances are not everything – despite external imperfection, a productive life can still be lead.
The beans are flowering now and soon we will reap their fruit.
The coming year will not always be flawless or without hurdle, but during these times remember the beans. Maintain the climb, ignore the tattered bits, reach out to your community and surge to the top of your frame – and beyond.
There aren’t many places more grounding than a vegetable plot.
To potter amongst the growth, inspecting leaves for bugs and looking for signs of a budding flower – or better – a spent flower giving life to its fruit, is a most pleasant way of expending time. A quick morning reconnaissance with a cup of coffee in hand, can become an hour in what seems like no time.
A vegetable patch, aside from the obvious benefits of bountiful produce, provides a place of introspection and digestion of all that has taken place in your busy world prior. With only snails and the occasional thrip to hear your thoughts, your mind is given licence to open itself to broader pastures, normally fenced off by the chatter of indoor living. New resolve, clarification and acceptance are often arrived at as a tomato branch is secured to a stake or withered foliage is removed to make way for new. The patch is a place to reassess, formulate and commit to future steps.
Gardening expertise comes not from books, a degree or birthrite but by simply – gardening. The former will certainly put the icing on your earthy cake but the latter: turning over soil, planting and watering provides the knowledge that embeds itself and becomes second nature – over time.
Start small. Mark out an area to dig and fertilise. Mine is located several steps from the kitchen door, to ensure quick retrieval of herbs in mid-stir or a greater likelihood of a visit when the weather becomes inclement. Choose a few vegetables that appeal and some herbs for instant gratification. No doubt some will flourish, others will die or be feasted upon by invertebrates before you, but inevitably your place of inner sanctum has been established.
Postscript: and your horticultural career has begun.
Just the appearance of a bunch of silverbeet radiates clues to its goodness. The squeaky, glossy generous foliage spells out in no uncertain terms, the abundance of goodness it contains. Alive with little packets of chloroplasts, the bunch almost seems to vibrate before your eyes.
Silverbeet is a pleasure to grow in the vegetable patch. Looking lustrous and leafy, the gardener’s horticultural self-esteem is given a hefty boost. Stalks can be sliced off at will, without the need to remove the entire plant leaving an ugly bald spot behind. New leaves will continue to sprout and according to ‘silverbeet experts’ these are the finest for culinary purposes. I let mine over grow for effect.
This week, a large bunch was harvested and sent across to a willing neighbour. To my delight, this is what we received in return, still warm.
While the crop is plentiful, it’s nice to seek out new ways to incorporate silverbeet into our weekly intake. This year, I happened upon this simple soup, which is light enough for lunch in the warmer weather.
1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 rashers of bacon, diced
bunch of silverbeet, stems removed and greenery shredded
1 litre chicken stock
salt and pepper to season
- Heat oil in large pot and gently fry off onion, garlic, ginger and bacon until cooked through.
- Add silverbeet and cook down for about 5-10 minutes until wilted.
- Pour over chicken stock and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Puree with stick blender.
- Season with salt and pepper.
Postscript: Always happy to learn new ways with these leaves. If you have tips, please share!
If you consider yourself an entry-level gardener, then you simply cannot go wrong by kick-starting your vegetable plot with a row of verdant lettuce.
When tomatoes are barely flowering and beans are just beginning to wrap their tendrils around the rungs of their frame, at least that lovely row of lettuce seedlings that were planted at the very same time (all those weeks ago) have produced a satisfying harvest. This is my gardening impatience coming to the fore, when after daily watering and nurturing, there does not seem to be proportional output from the plot. If a lettuce can be brought to the table in the early phase of the season, that is sufficient to stave off any disquiet and fuel expectancy for the next plants to yield.
Given plenty of water, sunlight and some fertile earth, lettuce, no matter what the variety, is a sure-fire way to build a budding gardener’s confidence. For those who simply cannot wait for their crop to reach maturity, there can be sneaky snips of external leaves, to be brought inside for last-minute salads or into the lunchtime rolls. This actually encourages growth.
To keep a ready supply of lettuce, when the first row have reached adolescence, start off a second row of babies. By the time the adolescents are adult cropping size, your third row of babies can go in. This way, you will have lettuce for your brood and that of every neighbour in your street. Passing surplus vegetables onto friends and neighbours is every bit as rewarding as harvesting for yourself.
In a perfect world, everything on our plate would be grown in our backyard, but that world isn’t quite the one we inhabit right now. However, if you can sit down to a meal with at least one constituent, whose only footprint was rendered from your muddy gumboot, then that is coming close enough in my book.
Postscript: Our mignonettes have all been consumed now, and we are about to start on some crispy icebergs. Had thoughts of a caesar salad the other day, so Cos might have to be next.
A freshly gathered bunch of herbs exudes every bit as much beauty as a posy of its floral relatives.
Aside from their culinary use, herbal cuttings serve as sturdy backdrops for floral arrangements – and providing the water is replenished, do so with incredible staying power. Their robust nature and depth of colour gives the floral heads prominance and easy positioning. Simple flowers such as nasturtiums, lavender and daisies are offset beautifully by rosemary and parsley. Dahlias and mint are another prime example:
A collection of cuttings in the kitchen is refreshing to the eye and can be snipped at as recipes across the week call for sprigs, bunches and garnishes. Case in point, this week we were the fortunate recipients of a lovely fresh snapper, reeled in by a fishing acquaintance. After scoring the skin, we massaged the catch with olive oil and sea salt. The final rub down was a herbal concoction made in the pestle and mortar – oregano and thyme with a splash of olive oil to bind.
The fragrantly coated fish was then securely wrapped in foil and baked in a 180 degrees celsius oven for 45 minutes. The result, a lovely succulent fish served with a feta and olive salad. This is not a difficult exercise and if you have a good local fishmonger, you can have a nice fish feast on your table requiring little more that 10 minutes preparation plus cooking time (make the salad while it bakes).
Postscript: There is a combination of five different herbs pictured above – can you identify them all? Clue – see tags…
The Spring Racing Carnival is on our doorstep, and how do I know this? Why, I have just clipped my first bunch of roses for the season of course.
Not to be confused with the splendor of the Flemington Race Track, our roses are looking pretty good this year, and I believe it may be due more to favorable weather conditions combined with neglect rather than any horticultural prowess on my part. I will take credit, however, for the arrangement.
What a strange dichotomy the rose-bush is – the bulk of the year spent as a spiky, jutting, nondescript cane and then almost overnight, metamorphosing into a lavish leaved bush filled with unfurling colorful jewels. Their appearance is so sudden and display so elegant, that even the routine journey to the office is punctuated with pleasant garden glimpses.
Roses have the ability to laugh in the face of colour scheme edicts. Pile their clashing colours into a vase and you are immediately rewarded with an object of beauty, that becomes the focal point of the room and the elevator of spirits to all who enter.
These are tea roses and to me, bestow far greater beauty and fragrance (and economy) than the hothouse variety. This season, bring a bunch of your blooms indoors and try not to smile as you walk past your posy.