Fact of the Week

Forced rhubarb in season now. Don't miss out!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Spring awakening

This morning dawned bright and clear and so wrapped up in a couple of fleeces I jumped at the opportunity to tend to the garden, to survey the damage from the pre-Christmas snow and the biting cold and to start readying the ground for Spring.  Having been away over Christmas and New Year, it was my first day of 2011 in the garden and it was pure pleasure.

I spent the morning clearing away the leaves which were scattered generously over the garden by my neighbour's apple tree, cutting back the dead wood which was cluttering up so many of the plants (a reminder of last year's vigorous growth) and rooting out some of the more vociferous weeds which appear to be undaunted by the challenge that winter throws at them. 

Sedum - new growth

And as I cleared, the promise of Spring jumped unexpectedly out at me from every corner of the garden.  My herbaceous perennials are burgeoning from their bases.  Herbaceous perennials (like lupins, aqualegia, sedum, delphiniums, primula, monarda, lobelia, dianthus etc) die back in the winter, however their roots sit patiently below the surface, waiting to put forward new growth in the spring.  And from the bottom of all them, there is fresh growth peeking apprehensively from the base, ready to rush forward as soon as the weak, wintery sun gives way to the warmer days to come. 

My daffodils have forced their way through the frozen ground, their fresh green spears appearing liberally right across the garden.  The tulips, crocuses and hyacinths are all there too, each awaiting their turn to put on a gaudy display of spring colour.


But today it was the snowdrops' turn to steal the show, delicately gracing the garden with their understated presence.  The first flowers of 2011. 

And so as the garden gave me the promise of Spring today, I thought I would share with you a recipe that tastes of Spring but can be easily put together from ingredients in the shop today.  This is my Spring Salad...

Spring Salad

5 potatoes (new if you can get them otherwise normal will work just as well)
1 avocado
1 tree of broccoli
2 dessert spoons of capers
Rocket or other lettuce shredded
Juice and zest of two lemons
Big handful of mint, parsley, basil or a combination, finely chopped 
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Chop the potatoes into large bite size pieces (or halve if using new potatoes).  Cook in boiling water until done.
While the potatoes are cooking make the dressing.  Zest and juice the lemons.  Add twice as much olive oil as lemon juice (i.e. the dressing should be 1/3 lemon juice and 2/3 olive oil).  Mix and season with salt and pepper. 
In a separate saucepan steam the broccoli and the peas.  Put in a large serving bowl and add the capers, cucumber and avocado (cut into chunks).  Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and let them cool for 10 minutes.  Then add to the bowl with the dressing and mix everything together.  Just before serving add the rocket/lettuce.

Optional extra: if you like fish and want to make the salad more substantial it is also delicious with mackerel, shredded and scattered over the top. 

I forgot to mention that my first sweet pea has germinated but more about that another time...


Saturday, 29 January 2011

An Introduction

Welcome to my blog. 

Before I start, I thought you might like a little background information on who I am and what I am intending to post on TasteBuds. 

A year ago I bought a small but perfectly formed one bedroom flat in south east London.  My budget might  just have, optimistically, stretched to two bedrooms but instead I opted for one bedroom and a beautiful, yet compact, garden.  Which is not to say that the second bedroom would not have been useful, especially when my wonderful (yet unimaginably messy) little sister came to stay for three weeks during the summer and stayed for three months...

However, the garden has provided month after month of excitement, a constant excuse to sow, plant out and harvest, to swap gardening tips and surplus seedlings with friends, colleaugues and neighbours and, most importantly, a steady and incredibly bountiful supply of fruit (if you count tomatoes), vegetables and salad from March all the way through to today (as well as providing my little sister with a green and tranquil oasis in which to lie in the sunshine and read her book, raising her head only occasionally to pluck a ripe strawberry). 

With the joy of successfully growing, comes the even greater joy of cooking whatever the garden has produced.  Of lovingly taking the harvest back to the kitchen - undoubtedly the second most favoured 'room' in my house (the living room is at best incidental after the endless possibility offered by the garden and the kitchen) - and putting together a simple supper or a daring dinner for friends. 

So alongside the record of the highs and lows of my garden as it emerges energetically from winter, into spring, summer and autumn, I will share with you recipes that I have cooked both from the spoils of the garden and ingredients bought elsewhere, recipes that have delighted and amazed and others that are simple, hearty, healthy and wholesome.
Cooking from the garden in January may seem like a tall order but the cavolo nero, rocket and mizuna that I planted at the end of the summer has battled bravely through the December snow and continues to provide me with a steady crop of leaves from which to fashion simply yet tasty suppers.  Yesterday was cavolo nero pesto with a side salad of freshly picked and incredibly tender rocket and mizuna leaves.  Recipe below...

Cavolo Nero Pesto
(Cavolo Nero is a type of Italian cabbage.  Its dark leaves grow off a long stalk above the ground, protecting it from snow and heavy frost.  It is one of the few (tasty) vegetables that will survive the winter outside).

(Mizuna is a fast growing, hot oriental salad leaf.  To maximise space in my little garden I grow it in window boxes or any spare pots I have lying around and it seems to thrive.  If you cut the larger leaves to eat, it will keep growing providing you with a constant source of salad).

Cavolo nero in my garden
Young mizuna leaves in a window box

Cavolo nero leaves, with the central leaf vein removed
2 garlic cloves, peeled
Handful of pine nuts
Handful of freshly grated parmesan
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Cook the cavolo nero leaves and garlic in salted boiling water for 10 - 15 minutes until tender.  Drain and squeeze out the excess water.  Put the leaves and garlic into a food processer and blitz.  Add a couple of generous lugs of olive oil, the pine nuts and parmesan and blitz.

In a separate saucepan cook the pasta (I use fusili or conchiglie where possible).  Once cooked, drain, reserving a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water.  Add the pasta water to the cavolo nero and blitz to combine.  Season to taste (you may also wish to add extra olive oil for extra yumminess...). 

Mix the cavolo nero pesto with the pasta and serve with a side salad.

Enjoy x