Grow Your Own


As I write this column the skies are blue and the sun is shining and new seasons produce is leaping out of the ground in the garden and greenhouse.  I so hope you too have managed to sow some seeds and experiment the sheer joy and excitement of seeing the seeds germinate and the first leaves unfurl and then there’s the gradual growth until your crop reaches the peak of perfection, ready to enjoy even if it’s just a few salad leaves in a seed tray on your kitchen windowsill.

Your very own organic leaves will taste sooo much better, because you, yourself have grown them, you’ll relish every bite and want everyone else to know how you grew and looked after and anticipated enjoying them for weeks.   When you grow some of your own food, it gives an added insight into the work and commitment that goes into producing beautiful produce, you’ll never want to complain about the price of food again and will want to hug every farmer and producer you meet.  I’m super lucky to have several garden heroes here who grow beautiful produce for us to enjoy and cook with and to sell in the Farm Shop, Farmers Markets and NeighbourFood.  So far we’ve had rhubarb, outdoor sea kale and now the asparagus is gleefully popping up out of the bed.  We’ve even had a few beets, they are about the size of table tennis balls at present but swelling every day.  Look out for new seasons beets in the Farmers Markets and use every scrap of the stalks and leaves as well as the beets themselves.  They are every bit as delicious as spinach, if anything, more delicious and meltingly tender and cook in minutes – also fantastic for juicing.  I’m a huge beetroot fan, love it hot as well as roast and pickled, for me it’s the vegetable that keeps on giving.  The new season’s crop is so mild and delicious compared to the end of last year’s crop which by now is woody and unpleasantly strong.  Try this beetroot gravlax with a side of salmon, it’s a delicious riff on the classic Nordic pickled salmon, gorgeous for a Summer lunch or as a nibble before a Summer BBQ, you love the cucumber and dill sauce and find lots of other ways to enjoy it. 

This week, I also include my new favourite cake which I told you about in November, it’s called Lori De Mori’s Olive Oil cake from Towpath, a little café on the edge of Regent’s Canal in London.  It may not sound appealing but for me it’s my new ‘best find’ of the last few months, a richly flavoured ‘madeira’ type cake that keeps brilliantly and if anything improves with age.  Try it, you’re going to love it, delicious with a cup of tea or coffee but also perfect as a dessert with some berries and a blob of crème fraiche.  This is ‘definitely a keeper’ as Rory O’Connell would say.

Wild garlic will soon come to an end so make a batch of Wild Garlic Pesto for your store cupboard before it disappears until next year.  Pick the smaller, sweeter leaves for best flavour. 

Another Tip…rhubarb is also at its best at present, so buy or harvest more than you need.  Chop into slices and freeze in kg bags for Winter –best to do this now while rhubarb is at its best.

Hope you too are feeling uplifted by the Summer weather, the bounty of the seasons and the gradual easing of Lockdown.

Here are some delicious recipes to enjoy this week.

Leila’s Olive Oil Cake

I find it just delicious on its own or with a little sprinkling of icing sugar.  I loved it recently with a compote of kumquat and some coarsely chopped pistachio over softly whipped cream but a generous tablespoon of roast rhubarb would be pretty irresistible too.

Serves 12

butter, for greasing the tins

3 organic eggs

300g (10oz) caster sugar

175ml (6fl oz) best quality olive oil

180ml (6 1/4fl oz) full-fat milk

1 organic orange, zested and juiced

325g (11oz) self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C /350°F/Gas Mark 4 (160°C Fan).

Line, butter and flour a 24cm (9 1/2 inch) cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl or mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until pale yellow. This should take about 5 minutes.

Slowly, in a continuous stream and on a high speed, pour in the olive oil, milk, orange zest and juice. You may need to lower the speed towards the end to prevent the mix from splattering everywhere.

Gently, fold in the flour, until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

(from Towpath by Lori de Mori & Laura Jackson, published by Chelsea Green Publishing)

Use every Scrap – Zero Waste Beetroot Tops (Stalks and Leaves)

Young beetroot tops are full of flavour and are often unnecessarily discarded; but if you grow your own beetroots, remember to cook the stalks as well. When the leaves are tiny they make a really worthwhile addition to the salad bowl, both in terms of nutrition and flavour. This isn’t worth doing unless you have lovely young leaves. When they become old and slightly wilted, feed them to the hens or add them to the compost.

Serves 4

450g (1lb) fresh beetroot tops

salt and freshly ground pepper

butter or olive oil

Keeping them separate, cut the beetroot stalks and leaves into rough 5cm (2 inch) pieces. First cook the stalks in boiling salted water (1.8 litres/3 pints water to 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt) for 3–4 minutes or until tender. Then add the leaves and cook for a further 2–3 minutes. Drain, season and toss in a little butter or olive oil. Serve immediately.

Beetroot Tops with Cream

Substitute 75–125ml (3–4fl oz) cream for olive oil in the recipe above. A little freshly grated nutmeg is also delicious.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Beetroot Gravlax

This modern Scandinavian version results in a two-tone gravlax, with a deep-red beetroot colour on the outside and salmon pink within.  Wild salmon is very difficult to source but why not try a side of fresh haddock.   

Serves 30–40

2 sides of wild salmon or organic farmed salmon

2 heaped tablespoons sea salt

3 heaped tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons dill, chopped

175g (6oz) beetroot, peeled and grated

Cucumber and Dill Sauce (see recipe)

First prepare the salmon.

Fillet the salmon and remove all the bones with a tweezers. Mix the salt, sugar, pepper and dill together in a bowl.  Place the fish on a piece of parchment paper and scatter the mixture over the surface of the fish. Wrap tightly with parchment paper and refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours.

Line a long oval dish with parchment paper. Put one fillet, skin side down, on the lined dish. Mix together the salt, sugar, pepper, dill and freshly grated beetroot and spread over the surface of the salmon.

Place the other salmon fillet on top and wrap the salmon tightly with the cling film. Place a weight on top (I use a chopping board). Turn a couple of times during the next few days. Serve with the Cucumber and Dill Sauce (see recipe).

Cucumber and Dill Sauce

Serves 8 – 10 depending on how it is served.

1 crisp cucumber, peeled and diced into 1/2 – 1cm (1/4-1/2 inch) dice approx.

salt and freshly ground pepper

1-2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 heaped tablespoon of freshly chopped dill

450ml (15fl oz) Greek yoghurt or best quality natural yoghurt

4 tablespoons cream

Put the cucumber dice into a sieve and sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for about 30 minutes.  Dry the cucumber on kitchen paper, put into a bowl and mix with garlic, a dash of wine vinegar or lemon juice and the yoghurt and cream.  Stir in the dill and taste, it may need a little salt and freshly ground pepper, or even a pinch of sugar.

Boost your gut biome    

Beetroot Kvass

This is a slightly sour/salty tonic of a deep-red colour known to help clean the liver and purify the blood.

2 large beetroot
1 1/2 litres (2 1/2 pints) filtered water (or non-chlorinated)
2 teaspoons sea salt
50ml (2fl oz) starter – this could be whey, water kefir, sauerkraut juice or kombucha

Scrub the beetroot but do not peel.

Chop into small chunks – 2cm (3/4 inch) cubes (roughly).

Put into a 2 litre Kilner jar or something similar with a lid.

Add the water, sea salt and starter and secure the lid tightly.

Allow to sit in a warming undisturbed place for about 5 days.

Bubbles will start to appear (fermentation is taking a hold) – taste it after day 3, if it is to your liking.  Strain out the beetroot chunks.  Bottle and store in the fridge once it reaches the desired sourness.

New Season’s Asparagus with Mussels and Hollandaise on Toast

Swap out seakale for asparagus if you are fortunate to have some.

Serves 4

8-12 stalks of asparagus in season

20-24 mussels

Hollandaise Sauce

2 egg yolks

1 dessertspoon cold water

110g (4oz) butter cut into dice

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, approx.

4 slices of pan loaf bread for toasting

sprigs of chervil or dill

First make the hollandaise.

Put the egg yolks into a heavy bottomed saucepan on a low heat.  Whisk with 1 tablespoon of water, then gradually whisk in the butter, cube by cube as it thickens gradually – careful it doesn’t overheat.  If it does, pull the saucepan off the heat and dip the base in cold water for a minute or two.  When all the butter has been incorporated, whisk in some freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste.  Transfer to a small Pyrex bowl or measure and keep warm in a stainless-steel saucepan of hot but not even simmering water while you prepare the asparagus and mussels. 

Break off the ends of the asparagus spears where they begin to get woody.  They will snap at that point if you bend over your index finger. 

Bring about 2.5cm (1 inch) of water to the boil in a saucepan, season well with salt and add the asparagus.  Cover the saucepan, bring the water back to the boil and cook for 3-4 minutes (depending on the size of the asparagus spears) or until the tip of a knife will pierce the thickest end.  Drain while still al-dente, it will continue to cook a little.

Wash the mussels, check they are all tightly shut.  Choose a wide sauté pan, add the mussels in a, maximum, double layer and cook for 3-4 minutes over a medium heat which is usually enough for the mussels to open.  Remove, strain and save the mussel liquor.

To Serve

Meanwhile, toast and butter the bread. 

Cut the asparagus spears into 2 or 3 pieces at an angle.

Remove the mussels from their shells, scatter over the asparagus, drizzle with Hollandaise and garnish with sprigs of chervil or dill and serve ASAP.

Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Compote

Sweet Cicely is one of the first herbs to pop up in Spring, the seeds are spicy and the leaves have a liquorice sweet anise like flavour.  Use liberally to garnish sweet dishes. 

Serves 4

450g (1lb) red rhubarb, e.g. Timperely early

450ml (16fl oz) stock syrup (dissolve 175g/6oz of granulated sugar in 300ml/10fl oz of water and boil for 2 minutes)

4-6 sprigs of sweet cicely

Cut the rhubarb into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Put the cold syrup into a stainless steel saucepan, add the rhubarb and sweet cicely.  Cover, bring to the boil and simmer for just 1 minute, (no longer or it will dissolve into a mush). Turn off the heat and leave the rhubarb in the covered saucepan until just cold.  

Remove the sweet cicely, serve garnished with fresh sprigs of sweet cicely and lots of softly whipped cream.   

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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