Spring is the time for kale sprouts – the best part of the plant.
Through March and April, kale which has survived the winter starts to put out flowering shoots, a bit like sprouting broccoli. Kale sprouts are delicious – the best part of the plant. They are much better than the tough older leaves that are served in trendy cafes along with quinoa and chia as “superfoods”.
I gather the sprouts when they are still growing fast, and tender enough to break off the stem easily. I wash them in a bit of fresh water, then drop them, still damp, into a pan with a bit of olive oil. Kale tastes best to me if I start it on a fairly high heat, tossing them in the oil. After a minute or two I turn the heat down and add just enough water to steam them without burning, but not so much that they become soggy. (Well, I do get this wrong sometimes, but then they are just ‘pan browned’ – definitely not ‘burned’.) When they are tender and they smell done serve them up.
Cook lots, or you will wish you had.
I cook broccoli the same way. Sometimes I add a clove of chopped garlic to the oil, especially with supermarket broccoli, which isn’t as tasty on its own.
I like the taste, of course, but I really love the leisurely ritual of eating them…
Globe artichokes have always been one of my favorite treats. I like the taste, of course, but I really love the leisurely ritual of eating them, nibbling the flesh off the base of each leaf, with lots of gaps for conversation in between (if you are not too greedy!).
In our part of the world they are ready to pick through June and July, when they have swollen to their full size, but before they get too thistle-ish. The internet has lots of fancy artichoke recipes, and even tutorials on eating them, but I like the simple way: cover them in water and boil them. You can tell when they are ready by poking a fork into the stem. Then see if one of the lower leaves pulls of easily. Cooking might take 15 minutes for younger ones, or longer when they are older.
Drain them well and serve with something to dip the leaves in. I like mayonnaise or melted butter best, but some people prefer hollandaise or olive oil and vinegar, etc. Keep pulling and nibbling leaves until you get near the centre. Then clear the last bits, including the fluffy stuff (the choke) away from the heart, which is the fleshy disk attached to the stem. A couple more bites, and it is all gone!
Artichokes do interesting things to the taste of other foods eaten with them. I always liked to experiment with this as a child. I still do, sometimes.
Around mid-June our hardneck garlic sends up scapes – curly stems you can eat.
Around the middle of June our hardneck garlic sends up scapes as the bulbs ripen below the soil. Scapes are like flower stems, and they are delicious, only available for a short time each year. They are at their best when they are still curled around. They get tougher later, when they straighten out.
There are lots of recipes for garlic scapes on the internet – garlic scape pesto, pickles, stir fry, and lots more. My own favourite way of using them is to saute them for a couple of minutes in hot olive oil and then serve them up fresh with a sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Pick them up and eat them with your fingers!
Frijoles refritos are easy to make, and Borlotti beans work really well.
Refried beans (frijoles refritos) go with lots of Mexican or Tex/Mex dishes, like quesadillas, huevos rancheros, burritos, or as a dip for tortilla chips. They turn out to be easy to make, and the Borlotti beans that many of us grow work especially well.
One cup of dried beans makes two or three cups of frijoles refritos, depending on how soft you want it.
one cup of dried beans
about 60ml (quarter cup) of oil or lard
one onion, finely chopped
two or three cloves of finely minced garlic
Soak and cook the beans as usual. Drain them, but save the cooking water separately.
In a heavy frying pan, sauté the onions in the oil until they start to brown. Add the garlic, and sauté a bit longer.
Add a big spoonful of the beans, and mash them in well with the onions. Fry them for a while, then add some more beans and mash them in with the rest. Continue until all the beans are fried. This process causes a reaction between the starches and proteins in the beans (a Maillard reaction, if you want to know) which brings out the special flavour.
Now add a bit of the cooking water at a time, mashing it in as you go, until you get the right consistency. Make it a bit sloppier, actually, because they set firmer once they cool. I like to make the dip version quite soft.
Salt the mixture to taste. Beans stand quite a bit of salt sometimes. Keep tasting as you go.
A Japanese favourite Okonomiyaki is a cabbage ‘pancake’.
A Japanese favourite Okonomiyaki is a cabbage ‘pancake’. It’s really delicious and easy to make. This recipe is an Anglo-Japanese version. Whilst it’s not totally authentic, because it uses easily accessible ingredients, it’s still close to the original, and just as tasty.
It is not so hard to cook dried beans on your stove top.
Here is the method of cooking dried beans which I have refined over many years. It is easy, and it gets rid of the indigestible substances that give beans such a bad reputation. You don’t need any special equipment like pressure cookers – it works well in a covered pan on your stove top. In fact, I prefer doing it this way because I can monitor when they are done more easily.
Enough for 2 or 3 people, and combines well with one tin of tomatoes:
One cup of dried beans
Soak the beans overnight in plenty of water. Ok, you do have to think ahead a little. If you have to leave them a second day, just drain them and give them fresh water until you are ready to cook. Remember, they will swell to more than twice their original volume. When you are ready to cook, drain the beans. Bring a pan of water to the boil, and tip in the beans. Get them boiling again, and boil for a further two or three minutes. Drain again and discard the water. This gets rid of most of indigestible stuff without losing the flavour.
Now cover the beans in new water and simmer with a lid on the pan until they are done. Keep an eye on them so they don’t dry out and burn. And how do you know when they are done? Lift a few beans out on a wooden spoon and blow on them. If the skins start to split and peel back they are about ready. Let a couple cool down and taste them. Repeat until you are satisfied. If the skins split in the pan they are a bit over done, but it is not a disaster. Near the end of the cooking, adjust the salt to taste. Salting them at the beginning is supposed to slow down the cooking, but I don’t know if this is really true. As a guide, our beautiful white Aztec beans (a kind of runner bean, really) take about 20 minutes. Borlottis take 30 or 40, and red kidney beans a bit longer. Beans that have been stored for a long time take longer to cook.
Now drain them, and carry on with whatever recipe you are using.
A beetroot recipe which is both different and delicious.
At certain times of year allotments offer an embarrassment of riches for us growers. Finding new and exciting ways of cooking our favourite vegetables can be as challenging as keeping the couch grass at bay.
Here’s a beetroot recipe which is both different and delicious. Easy to make, but impressive enough to garner you plaudits from the family, it’s a great way to use up some of your beetroot harvest.
Thanks to The Guardian’s 10 best beetroot recipes 23rd Feb 2013: Original recipe by The Fabulous Baker Brothers: Glorious British Grub by Tom Herbert and Henry Herbert (Headline)
75g golden caster sugar
40g of butter
A splash of red wine vinegar
1 tsp of honey
7 thyme sprigs
4 fresh beetroot
250g of puff pastry (ready-made life’s too short to make puff pastry!)
4 slices of goats cheese
salt & pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Place a smallish, heavy, oven safe frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sugar to the pan and stir till it dissolves, then add a big pinch of salt, all the butter and a splash of red wine vinegar. Keep stirring till it has turned mahogany brown. Take care not to let the sugar burn.
2. Add 1tsb of honey to the pan. Pick the thyme leaves from the stalks and add them too.
3. Cut the cooked beetroot into nice fat slices and carefully (so you don’t burn your fingers) arrange the slices on top of the caramel to fill the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry so it’s big enough to cover the beetroot, then place it on top, tucking the edges down into the pan. Put the whole lot in the oven for 30mins or until the pastry is golden brown.
5. Wearing oven gloves, place an upturned plate over the frying pan (it should be bigger than the pan) and, holding the two together, flip the lot over. Leave it for 30 seconds to let the caramel fall from the pan onto the plate, then slowly lift the pan.
6. Serve by the wedge while still warm, with a disk of cheese on top and, if you fancy, a drizzle of honey.
An old French recipe. Don’t be fooled by the name; it’s actually a cake.
Living in England we are so lucky to be able to enjoy a regular harvest of apples in a vast array of different varieties. The abundant apple trees at the allotment first deliver a delicate beauty in spring, when festooned with fragrant blossom. Then in the autumn months we can happily enjoy a bountiful harvest of sweet, juicy apples.
Although I have tried to select my apple varieties to ensure they store well it’s inevitable that I will have to freeze some to use in the coming months. At home we have a production line going to core, peel and slice the apples, soak them in lemon water and freeze them, thereby keeping them fresh and delicious.
One of the reasons we do this religiously is because I have discovered an amazing apple cake recipe which, once the freezer is full of apples, we can enjoy until supplies run out.
This is an old French recipe for apple biscuit, don’t be fooled by the name, it’s actually a cake. Biscuit was originally a dough cooked twice, (bis for twice, cuit for cooked). The biscuit was very hard so it would keep for months, a staple food for sailors. The original ‘biscuit’ then developed into meaning ‘a light cake’, a staple for baking. Today it means a soft as well as a dry cake. This apple biscuit is soft and light and showcases the apples to perfection.
The recipe is from a very old cookbook I have called The Heritage of French Cooking by The Scotto Sisters and Annie Hubert Bare (Limited Editions Booktitles).
4 large apples, I use dessert apples.
A knob of butter
2 tablespoons of brandy (calvados is great but any brandy will do)
6 1/2 oz / 200g plain flour
3 tablespoons of cornflour
6oz/ 185g caster sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tsps baking powder
3fl oz / 90mls orange juice
5fl oz / 155mls groundnut oil
45g of flaked almonds
1. Preheat the oven to 350f / 180C/ gas 4. Grease a 20cms cake mound.
2. Peel, core and chop the apples into thin slices. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the apples. (I add mine straight from the freezer if using pre-frozen apples). Fry for 2 mins on each side or until the liquid has evaporated and the apples are golden but dry looking. If using brandy pour the brandy over the apples and flambé. Shake the pan till the flambé dies down. Put the apples onto a plate to cool down.
2. In a bowl combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, cinnamon, vanilla essence, baking powder, orange juice, oil and eggs. Mix to a smooth batter.
3. Pour one third of the batter into the cake mould. Arrange half the apples on top to completely cover the batter. Cover the apples with half of the remaining batter. Arrange the remaining apples* on top and finally cover with the left over batter.
4. Sprinkle the flaked almonds on top of the cake and bake in the oven for 55mins. Once cooked let the cake cool for 5mins then unmold and serve warm, or at room temperature, on its own or with fresh cream.
*for an alternative version I substitute the top layer of apples for a layer of blackberries which is equally as delicious. If using frozen blackberries these should be de-frosted before use and the excess liquid drained off to prevent the cake becoming too wet.
Jayne brought some one of our work parties. Delicious!
(Jayne brought some of her Swedish crispbread to one of our work parties, and it was delicious. I’ve converted her deciliter units to cups. Joe)
Here is the recipe for the Swedish crispbread. Our corn flour isn’t as good as the Swedish Risenta corn flour (majs mjol) but polenta flour may work.
1.5 cups cornflour
2 cups seeds – for instance :
0.5 cup linseed
0.5 cup sunflower seeds
0.5 cup pumpkin seeds
0.5 cup sesame seeds
1.5 cups boiling water
3/8 cup sunflower or rape seed oil
1/2 teasp salt.
flake salt for topping
Mix flour and seeds, add boiling water and oil and mix thoroughly.
Take half of the mixture and place on sheet of baking paper the size of oven shelf. Place another sheet of baking paper on top and press or roll mixture until flat. Take top piece of baking paper off and place in oven.
Bake at 150 degrees C for 45 minutes.
Try to do all the mixture in one go as it doesn’t sit very well.
I wondered if our white “Aztec” beans would work in this…
Fasolia gigantes are very large white beans much loved in Greek cooking, and I wondered if the white-seeded “Aztec” runner beans that some of us grow would work instead in this recipe which I found in Rena Salaman’s book Greek Food. I tried it out on a Greek friend of mine, and the result was “just as it should be”.
Serves four people as a main course.
2 cups dried “Aztec” beans, or about 4 cups of fresh ones
Half a cup of good olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
2 tins of tomatoes or about 1kg of fresh ones
Salt and black pepper
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
If you are using dried beans, soak them overnight, drain, then boil until just tender, but not too soft. Fresh beans just need boiling for a few minutes and draining. Heat the olive oil and fry the onions, garlic and dried herbs until they start to be golden. Add the tomatoes and their juice and a bit of water and mash them up a bit and cook for 30 minutes or so, until the sauce starts to thicken. Spread the beans across the bottom of a nice oven dish or casserole. Mix the parsley into the sauce, pour it over the beans and mix them all together. Sprinkle a bit of oregano and black pepper on top and bake at 180 degC for 40 minutes, until they start to look a bit crisp on top.