Spring Flowers

It’s been a great year for spring bulbs, especially the tulips

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Berry tastic effort

Thanks to the efforts of three of the team we have transformed the strawberry beds, ready for a bumper harvest.

Big thanks go to Tesco for the grant we got that enabled us to get some weed membrane to make the maintenance easier.

This is the bed we added membrane to before and after our efforts. We moved all the strawberry plants to one side, widened, weeded, fed, put the membrane back down and popped the plants back in.

This is the existing membrane covered bed that needed some extensive maintenance. Spot the strawberry!

Signs of spring

Things on the plot are starting to blossom and some folks have done an amazing job of digging and raking ready for the new season. Currant bushes starting to bud and we will have loads of poached egg flowers again soon. A red tailed bumblebee was busy foraging the crocus

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Root to Shoot Cooking

Forget nose-to-tail cooking, this year’s big food trend involves eating every last bit of our vegetables

It’s time to love your vegetables. Not just the choice morsels, but the whole plant – leaves and stems, skin and base. After all, “nose to tail”, where every scrap of the animal is consumed, has become the mantra of meat eaters everywhere. Now us veg lovers are learning the same lesson: welcome to root-to-shoot eating.

It makes sense, especially for those of us who wince at the price of those carefully grown farmer’s market carrots, or the local, organic but rather-on-the-small-side cauliflower. But those plumes of feathery carrot leaves are edible too: use them to make a fantastic herby pesto or vivid green soup. As for the cauli, slice the stem and leaves into a stir fry, and suddenly there’s double the value. Plus, this cuts down on waste – and, yes, I know those bits could go into compost, but it’s greener still if they go into our bellies.

If you’re planning on making full use of these goodies, do wash them extra well: they won’t have had the helpful pre-cleaning that much of the produce in the shops gets. Sandy soil really clings, and any left will make your dish unpleasantly gritty. Soak the veg in at least two changes of water, agitating it well in the liquid. When they are done, lift them out of the water rather than tipping out the whole bowl to drain – the dirt will have sunk to the bottom.

Some leaves and stems can be on the tough side, or have celery-like strings running through, so you may need to slice them really finely – a millimetre thick if necessary. It’s worth it for the flavour. A good blender is invaluable for pounding down the more recalcitrant stalks, as is a sieve for separating the flavour from the fibrous waste.

And where possible, just work with it: the extra robustness of beetroot leaves, say, makes them great for ­adding to casseroles or using to wrap fillings, in the way that the Greeks use vine leaves. Read on for more ideas!

Beetroot tops

Beetroot leaves have an earthy flavour, and a heft that makes them more robust than spinach or even Swiss chard. This makes them ideal for slow cooking in a casserole. The stems are good too, but chop them first and cook them for a little longer than the leaves. If the leaves are looking limp, then a couple of hours soaking in a bowl of cold water may well be enough to revive them.

Try these ideas

Cinnamon-spiced 
beet greens

Fry the chopped stems from a bunch of beetroot, along with a chopped onion and a fat pinch of salt, in two tablespoons of olive oil for about 15 minutes, until the onion is tender. Add a chopped garlic clove, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon, eight roughly chopped prunes, a splash of water and the beetroot leaves, and cook for another five minutes or until soft – add a splash more water if it seems dry. Spread on a plate, dollop with Greek yogurt and trickle with olive oil. Eat with bread as part of a meze.

Beetroot top frittata

Fry chopped beetroot stems and leaves with onion and garlic as above, then stir in six beaten eggs, a diced boiled potato and plenty of salt and pepper. Heat a small frying pan with two tablespoons of olive oil, add the egg mixture and cook gently for 10 minutes until almost set. Brown under a hot grill. Eat at room temperature.

Red lentils with beetroot greens

Serves two, or four with other dishes

Ingredients
200g red split lentils
5 slices ginger root (each about as thick as a pound coin)
½ tsp ground turmeric
Leaves and stems from a large bunch of beetroot
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Spring onion greens from 1 bunch of spring onions (or 3 sliced spring onions)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
Yogurt to serve (optional)


Method
♦ Put the lentils in a large pan with one litre of water and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface, then stir in the ginger and turmeric. Cover, propping the lid slightly ajar, and cook for about 90 minutes, stirring frequently towards the end of cooking. Once the lentils have collapsed to a mush, add half a teaspoon of salt.
♦ Chop the beetroot stems finely. Roughly chop the leaves. Heat the oil in a pan and add the spring onion greens and beetroot stems. Cook for two minutes, until nearly tender, then add the cumin seeds and ground coriander. Cook for a few seconds, then stir in the beetroot leaves. Allow to cook until they are wilted.
♦ Serve the lentils with the beetroot and spring onion greens on top, and yogurt as well if you like.

Slow-cooked beef shin with beetroot tops

Serves four

Ingredients
1 tbsp oil or dripping
700g beef shin, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
150ml red wine
1 tsp brown sugar
1 x 400g tin of tomatoes
500ml beef stock
1 bay leaf
Leaves from a large bunch of beetroot
Rice or sourdough, to serve


Method
♦ Heat the oil or dripping in a large pan. Cook the beef cubes, a few at a time, until browned all over.
♦ Remove the beef to one side and add the onion to the pan with a splash of water. Cook, stirring well, until the onion is tender and beginning to turn golden. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
♦ Stir in the wine and sugar, and allow to bubble up, then add the tomatoes, stock and the beef, plus a bay leaf. Season with salt and cook, covered, over a low heat for two hours or until really tender.
♦ Finally add the beetroot leaves and cook for another 20 minutes or so.
♦ Check the seasoning. Serve with rice or thick slices of sourdough.

Carrot tops

Those verdant plumes that top bunches of young carrots are too good to throw away. Carrots are part of the same family as parsley and the leaves taste of the herb, but with a hint of their sweet root. The downside is that the stems are tough, so wilt them properly, save them for soups, which you can sieve, or add them to the stock pot.

Try these ideas

Carrot-top chimichurri sauce

Chop the tender carrot leaves finely and mix with one teaspoon of smoked paprika, one chopped garlic clove, two chopped sprigs of fresh oregano, four tablespoons of olive oil, two tablespoons of red wine vinegar and salt to taste. Serve with barbecued meat.

Simple carrot-top falafel

Finely chop the leaves from a bunch of carrots. Soak 250g chickpeas overnight, drain and process with the carrot leaves, two crushed garlic cloves, two teaspoons each of ground cumin and coriander, one and a half teaspoons of salt and half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Chill for an hour, then form into balls and deep fry.

Carrot-top pesto

Carrot tops make a good pesto, but leave out the stems, which are tough. For the best flavour and texture, pound the ingredients in a pestle and mortar – but it’s still worth making with a quick whizz in the food processor. Any dry, hard cheese will work. Grana padano or, of course, parmesan are ideal. Although ordinary cheddar is a bit too moist, that cracked, dried-up lump of cheddar that’s been lurking in the back of the fridge will do fine.

Ingredients
10-20g carrot leaves (weighed after removing the stems)
½ small garlic clove
20g cashew nuts
20g dry hard cheese, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil


Method
♦ Chop the carrot leaves finely and put them in a pestle and mortar with the garlic and a fat pinch of salt. Pound to a paste, then add the cashew nuts and pound again.
♦ Add the cheese and pound one last time to make a nubbly paste (alternatively, put all the ingredients in a mini food processor and whizz to a paste).
♦ Stir in the olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Store in a jar in the fridge for up to a week.

Carrot leaf soup with carrot jewels

Carrot stems are good for soup, as you can sieve out the tough bits. I’ve tried making it with a mix of roots and tops, but it turned a depressing muddy brown colour, as any child who’s mixed orange and green paints could have warned me. This is a much better plan, a delicate creamy herb-green soup with little cubes of sweet amber carrot dotted through it. If you have used the leaves of a bunch of carrots for pesto, you can make this with just the stems.

Serves two as a lunch

Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
Green parts of a bunch of spring onions, chopped
A handful of celery leaves (or a stem of celery), chopped
1 small potato, chopped
Leaves and stems from a big bunch of carrots
500ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp butter (or olive oil)
1 carrot, cut into 1cm dice


Method
♦ Heat the oil in a medium-sized pan and add the spring onions and celery leaves, with a pinch of salt. Cook for a minute then stir in the potato.
♦ Wash and chop the carrot leaves and stems and add those too. Cook, stirring, for five minutes then add the stock. Simmer for 20 minutes until tender. Blend with a hand blender. When it is really smooth, rub the soup through a sieve (this is important: the soup will be gritty otherwise). Return to the pan and season, adding water if it is too thick.
♦ Heat the butter (or oil) in a pan and add the carrot dice. Cook, covered, for five minutes or so, shaking the pan often, until the carrot is tender. Serve the soup with the carrot cubes spooned over.

Steamed carrots and tops with tahini miso dressing

Lightly steamed and wilted, carrot tops reveal a delicate, floral, seaweed flavour that becomes addictive. Served drizzled with tahini miso dressing, they make a tempting starter or the perfect companion to white fish, grains or soba noodles.

Serves four as a starter or a garnish

Ingredients
350g carrots, scrubbed under water
80g carrot tops (including the stems), washed well


For the dressing
4 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp red miso
6 tbsp water
1 tsp maple syrup or light brown sugar
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp black sesame seeds (optional)


Method
♦ Cut the carrots into 8cm-10cm batons and roughly chop the carrot tops. Place the batons in a steamer and cook for two minutes. Add the tops and cook for five minutes.
♦ Meanwhile, mix the tahini, red miso and water until well blended. It should be slightly thick but pourable. Add more water if needed. Season with maple syrup or sugar and rice vinegar. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
♦ Serve the carrots warm or cold, drizzled with the dressing and sprinkled with sesame seeds if using.

Recipe by Valerie Berry

Coriander roots and stems

If you buy coriander from Asian supermarkets, it will often come with the skinny white root attached. This helps the leaves stay fresh, but it is also highly prized in Asian cooking for its intense flavour, which is a key part of curry pastes. The stems, too, are packed with flavour. They are a bit too tough to eat whole, so chop them finely, or add them to curry pastes. To prepare coriander root, cut the stems off about 1cm above the root. Soak the root in cold water, and give it a good scrape to get rid of any grit. Lots of recipes need more than one coriander root, so save any spares, cleaned, in the freezer for up to three months.

Try these ideas

♦ Cut coriander stems 1mm thick to make “cubes” and stir through carrot soup for bursts of flavour.
♦ Add finely chopped stems instead of leaves in any recipe that requires cooking: the flavour of the stems stands up to heat better than leaves.
♦ Nam jim is a classic Thai dressing for salads, meat and fish: finely chop one green and one red mild chilli, half a small garlic clove, a slice of fresh ginger, one coriander root and eight stems. Pound in a pestle and mortar with two tablespoons of palm sugar, then stir in one tablespoon of fish sauce and the juice of half a lime.

Chicken with coriander root and coriander stem dipping sauce

Juicy and fragrant, this is great cooked on the barbecue too, once the weather improves.

Serves two

Ingredients
1 coriander root, chopped
1 fat garlic clove, chopped
A pinch of ground turmeric
2 tbsp Thai fish sauce
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 chicken leg joints
4 spring onions


For the dipping sauce
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
1 mild red chilli, finely chopped
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
3 tbsp finely chopped coriander stem


Method
♦ Put the coriander root, garlic and turmeric in a pestle and mortar with a fat pinch of salt, and bash to a paste. Stir in the fish sauce and vegetable oil.
♦ Cut slashes in the chicken joints to help the flavour permeate. Rub over the paste. Cover and leave in the fridge to marinate for two to four hours.
♦ Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.
♦ Cook the chicken and the spring onions on a ridged griddle pan until nicely striped, then transfer the chicken to a baking dish in the oven for another 20 minutes or so, until cooked through.
♦ Mix together the dipping sauce ingredients and serve alongside the chicken and spring onions.

Celery leaves

Here in the UK, we rarely see heads of celery still crowned with their lush green leaves, the way they are sold in markets on the Continent. But the best part of all, the pale yellow, tender blanched baby leaves, are still there to be discovered right in the heart of the bundle of stiff stems. They have a more intense flavour than the stalks, with a hint of bitterness.

Try these ideas

♦ Add chopped celery leaves to a salad.
♦ Cook in oil with chopped onions, as a base of a soup or stew.
♦ Add to a stir fry shortly before the end of cooking.
♦ Chop them finely and mix with lemon zest and garlic, gremolata-style, to scatter over a chicken casserole.

Celery leaf, caper and olive relish

This is spectacular with a piece of grilled or pan-fried white fish.

Enough for four people

Ingredients
Leaves from the middle of a head of celery (a good handful)
1 tbsp small capers in vinegar, drained
1 small shallot, finely chopped
About 10 stone-in olives (a mix of green and black)
2 tbsp olive oil


Method
♦ Roughly chop the leaves and stir in the capers and shallot.
♦ Remove the stones from the olives and chop the flesh, then add that to the celery and capers.  Stir in the olive oil. Taste and add a pinch of salt it if needs it.Other forgotten treasures

Spring 
onion 
tops

The dark green tops can be used instead of onion or leek when making a soup – best in green-coloured soups rather than red or orange ones. Or add them to stir fries.

Potato peelings

I rarely peel potatoes now (except for roast potatoes) but any peelings can be tossed in olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Bake for around 20 minutes at 180C/160C fan/Gas 4 until golden and turning crisp. Sprinkle with salt and eat as a snack or instead of croutons on a hearty soup.

Parsley stalks

Packed with flavour, they are great made into a soup (use the carrot top recipe). Or slice them finely and use instead of celery, frying them with diced onion and carrot as the classic “mirepoix” base for a casserole.

Broccoli stalks

The Chinese value the stalk above the head, with good reason: it has a more refined flavour and a good crisp texture. Use a small, sharp knife to peel away the thick outer skin, leaving just the tender core, which can be steamed or stir fried.

Cauliflower stalk, core and leaves

All have a nutty flavour that’s even better than the florets. Peel the stem and slice, then cook alongside the florets. The leaf ribs can be a bit stringy, so slice them very finely and add to stir fries.

Tomato sepals

The green, starfish-like stem at the top of the tomato is what gives those bunches of vine tomatoes their glorious smell – and they aren’t poisonous, despite what some internet sites would have you believe. Chuck a couple in the pan when you make tomato sauce in order to bump up the flavour.

Lemon
 leaves

Use lemon leaves to flavour oriental broths (like kaffir lime leaves), added to fish stews as a lemony “bay leaf” or steeped in water for a tea.

One to avoid

Rhubarb leaves, which contain poisonous levels of oxalic acid.Swipe between articles

May the force be with you

Having a go at forcing some rhubarb under an unused compost bin. It looks so beautiful and nearly ready to harvest.

Winter scenes

It’s been such a benign winter so far. Some beautiful light over the site and some great crops.

Fruity foray

Wow, what a great team effort pruning the fruit bushes. Looks very neat and tidy ready for a bumper harvest in summer.

The chaps even managed to get the new fruit cage post in after much excavation.