One of the things I love most about gardening and cooking is that they keep you attuned to the rhythm of the seasons. I’m pretty sure I’d hate to live in a country where there wasn’t a marked contrast between the various times of the year: what would you have to look forward to? As it is, I relish the first rhubarb of the year, then the first asparagus, and so on through the year. Every season has its favourites, right down to parsnips and leeks, which are all the better for a hard frost in the winter!
Flowers too are so much more special for their fleeting appearance in the year’s calendar. The tulips have been heavenly this year, just going past their best now, but rapidly being overtaken by the purple drumsticks of alliums in their moment of glory. I’ve been delighted by my Sarah Raven selection from last autumn: the deep purple Recreado, bright orange lily-flowered Ballerina, and fabulous rich red Couleur Cardinal. The one slight fly in the ointment was the Pimpernel, supposed to be a deep scarlet and intended to fill one of the tubs flanking either side of my garden arch with Couleur Cardinal on the other side. Unfortunately, they’ve come up as a pretty pink and white viridiflora variety (Groenland, perhaps?) – lovely, but definitely not what I ordered and certainly not the matching colour I’d hoped for!
Tulip viridiflora ???!
Tulips from previous years have flowered beautifully on my sunny island bed, as ever, with carmine-pink Doll’s Minuet, scarlet Oxford and apricot/pink Menton putting on a splendid show, preceded by the early and reliably perennial white Purissima. My experiment with last year’s container tulips down at the allotment was less successful, with only a few flowering again; the varieties I’d transplanted were the later-flowering Cairo, Belle Epoque, Ronaldo and Bruine Wimpel, and only a handful of the Cairo made an appearance, despite the bulbs being a decent size when I transplanted them. I’ll leave them in situ and see how they perform next year, but also try a few of this year’s earlier tulips and see how they do. It could be that they don’t get the baking they need due to the overshadowing asparagus ferns for much of the summer….
Seasonal harvests are another joy: my haul from the allotment this evening, despite the so-called hungry gap, was an impressive basket full of rhubarb, asparagus, lettuce, purple-spouting broccoli and parsley!
I couldn’t believe how much the asparagus had grown since picking my first spears last weekend: there must have been well over a kilogram tonight. Fortunately, I was dropping a birthday card off at a friend’s house on my way home, so left a bag full of rhubarb and asparagus too!
Deciding what to cook with your seasonal goodies is another delight. I rarely plan ahead once the allotment is in full production, just wait and see what’s ready and then decide what I fancy cooking. Not unlike a Masterchef challenge, really, but with considerably less pressure…..
Tonight I opted for a Roast Asparagus & Smoked Salmon Risotto, followed by Rhubarb & Amaretto Syllabub – heavenly combinations both.
Roast Asparagus & Smoked Salmon Risotto – serves 2-3 generous portions
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
75ml dry white wine
170g risotto rice
500ml home-made vegetable stock (plus extra just in case)
Handful fresh mint leaves, chopped (save some to garnish)
Handful fresh parsley, chopped
10-12 spears asparagus
100g smoked salmon, chopped
75g grated Parmesan cheese
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6. Cook the onion and garlic in the butter until soft and golden – 5-7 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the asparagus by breaking off any woody stems (they should break easily at a joint). Place in a roasting dish, drizzle with olive oil, season and roast for 10-12 minutes or until just tender. Remove from the oven and set to one side, then turn the oven down to 160°C, Gas 4.
Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the rice to the onions in the pan and stir through to get a good coating of butter. (It will look as though there’s not nearly enough rice at this stage, but it swells during cooking.) Add the wine and the stock, season and bring to boiling point. Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then stir in the cooked asparagus, cut into bite-size pieces, smoked salmon and chopped mint and parsley, plus 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more stock if it’s all absorbed – I find it always needs more, so make sure you allow extra. Return to oven and cook for a further 15 minutes, before serving with extra cheese and more chopped mint to garnish – or parsley if you prefer.
Rhubarb & Amaretto Syllabub – serves 6
Juice and rind of 2 small oranges
5-6 tbsp demerara sugar
300ml double cream
3 tbsp caster sugar
125ml dry white wine
2 tbsp Amaretto liqueur
10-12 Amaretto biscuits, roughly crushed
Place the rhubarb in a shallow ovenproof dish and add the grated rind and juice of the oranges, then sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Leave to cool.
Whip the double cream, caster sugar, Amaretto liqueur and white wine until it holds its shape in loose swirls. Spoon the cooled rhubarb into the bottom of 6 stemmed sundae dishes (or wine glasses). Sprinkle the crushed Amaretti biscuits over each glass, then top with the syllabub. Top with any leftover biscuit crumbs, or a reserved piece of rhubarb, if you have any left.
Chill before serving and enjoy!