Tag Archives: grasses

A mixed bag for February

A mixed bag of a weekend, and one in which I’ve been up to London to a delicious wedding food tasting, bought part of my wedding outfit (hurrah!), had a frustrating time on the ‘phone to Apple to try to resolve my quick-draining phone battery, squeezed in some shopping (20% off at the local garden centre!) and household chores, and finally managed to catch up in the garden before next week’s forecast big freeze.

Seed potatoes

Part of my garden shopping haul included some seed potatoes for chitting: I’ve been looking for a few weeks, but most of the local garden centres only seemed to have the same old varieties, and as I now only grow one bed with 10 plants of 2 varieties, I do like to trial different ones each year. These were Colleen, a first early, and Bonnie. a second early, both with good disease/pest resistance and sounding promising. I’ve also discovered one of the nicest potato varieties I’ve ever grown down here in the South-East at an online nursery in Doncaster, so intend to order those too to see if they are as good as I remember. The variety is Ulster Sceptre and I haven’t been able to find them since trialling them from T&M some years ago. It transpires that these used to be widely grown in Cheshire, which probably explains why I liked them so much – they reminded me of the potatoes of my childhood. My mum always said you couldn’t beat new Cheshire potatoes (sorry, Jersey!), although I suspect the good loamy soil has a lot to do with it too. Not entirely sure where I’ll put them, but they come in 5s, so too good to miss….

It’s been a particularly beautiful, cold but sunny weekend, so all the more galling that I wasn’t able to do quite as much gardening today as I’d anticipated. Still, it would have been even more annoying if I’d tried to sort my ‘phone out on a work day, I suppose. No matter, I eventually (by dint of eking out the very last hours of daylight until the sun finally disappeared beyond the horizon and the final rose-orange rays of the stunning sunset faded away), did what I’d set out to achieve: cutting down the autumn raspberries at the allotment, and pruning the late-flowering clematis to a foot above the ground, plus finishing cutting back the perennial grasses and Michaelmas daisies at home. All of which took a surprisingly long time, probably because I allowed myself to become rather side-tracked pruning roses (intermingled with the clematis) and pyracantha (likewise).

Wonky arch

Mission accomplished in the end, though – and another task set up for next weekend: I’ve been aware for a while that my rose arch near the front gate has been leaning at an increasingly drunken angle. Closer inspection as I clipped the roses yesterday showed that the wood has simply rotted in the ground and the whole thing will have to come down. It’s been in situ some 10 or 11 years, so I suppose I can’t complain – and if it’s going to go, far better to happen now, rather than later in the season when everything is in full bloom. New metal arch duly ordered, but the task of unravelling the existing climbing roses and removing the old arch will have to wait until another time – here’s hoping this week’s predicted snow doesn’t do the job for me!

After a busy and successful day in London on Saturday, and lots of delicious food to sample at lunchtime, I only fancied a light meal when I got back home. I hadn’t anything planned, but a small Harlequin squash in the storage basket in the conservatory was just asking to be used. Cue one of my favourite simple suppers: an oven-baked frittata with squash, leeks, feta and sultanas, served with cherry tomatoes quickly roasted in the oven with rosemary, garlic and thyme at the same time. So tasty.

Squash, Leek & Feta Frittata – serves 2

Squash and leek frittata_cropped

1 small round or butternut squash, peeled and deseeded
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 leek, washed and sliced
olive oil
knob of butter
salt and black pepper
few sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
50g feta cheese, crumbled
4 eggs, beaten

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 5. Chop the squash into chunks and place in a small baking dish. Sprinkle over the thyme leaves and chopped garlic, then season with salt and black pepper. Roast in the hot oven until golden – about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté the sliced leeks gently in the butter until softened. Stir in the sultanas and toasted pine nuts. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and season. Stir in the leek mixture and crumbled feta. When the squash is cooked, drain off any excess oil, and combine the squash with the egg mixture. Return to the roasting dish, distribute everything evenly and return to the oven for 10-12 minutes or until set and golden-brown. Cut into squares or triangles to serve warm with a green salad or with roast tomatoes. Also excellent cold (or reheated) the next day for lunch.

I’d made a similar dish, although probably more akin to a Spanish tortilla, last weekend, this time with potatoes, caramelised onions, thyme and cheddar. Served just warm, at a barn dance at the local school where we’d all been invited to bring a dish, it went down a treat. And proves that simple vegetarian food often hits the spot too.

Potato, Onion, Mushroom and Thyme Tortilla – serves 4-6

3-4 potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 large onions, peeled and sliced
150g mushrooms, sliced
pinch of sugar
large knob of butter
seasoning
few sprigs of thyme
6 eggs (or to taste!)
100g mature Cheddar cheese, grated

Sauté the sliced onions gently in a frying pan until very soft and tender – about 10-30 minutes. The longer you cook them, the more caramelised they become. Add the mushrooms for the last 10 minutes and a pinch of sugar towards the end.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in boiling salted water and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and leave to cool slightly.

Pre-heat the oven to 200180°C/Gas 5. Whisk the eggs in a separate large bowl, season and stir in the grated cheese, thyme leaves, caramelised onions and mushrooms, and the cooked potatoes. Mix well to combine and pour the mixture into a greased 24cm round ovenproof dish (or you can use a rectangular dish if you prefer). Add more beaten eggs at this stage if you’re using a bigger dish or it doesn’t look enough! Make sure that everything is distributed evenly, then cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Best eaten lukewarm, but you can eat it immediately or leave until cold. The Spanish often take their tortilla on picnics, cold, where the flavours really shine through. I hasten to add that this is by no means a traditional Spanish recipe, merely my take on a combination I adore 🙂

Poppy at Tapsells in frost

 

 

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The Great Garden Tidy-Up

Despite the bitter wind and icy temperatures, I ventured out in the garden on Saturday afternoon to do battle with my perennial borders. The chilly Northern winds of the past week had wreaked havoc with my overwintering grasses: a statuesque Miscanthus zebrinus, burnished Miscanthus Sioux, the smaller, but no less fabulous Miscanthus yakushima and a stately Calamagrostis Karl Foerster. I love the way they stand tall through the worst of the winter weather and shimmer enticingly in the frost and snow (when we get any!), but just lately I’ve noticed the dry stems have been torn asunder by the wind and are blowing round the garden. It’s also the ideal time to cut them back while it’s still so cold, before the new shoots start to form for this year’s growth.

Helen Yemm, garden columnist for the Daily Telegraph and local gardening guru (a plotholder at our local allotments no less!), recommends tying up the grass before you start, to stop the stems blowing around as you work, but I find it easy enough to take handfuls at a time and snip about 6-9” from the base with my secateurs. I suppose with larger clumps and the tying-up method, you could go in with shears, or even a hedge-trimmer, but for my small garden, even with established clumps (the Miscanthus in particular are easily 2-3’ in diameter!), I find the secateurs method quite manageable. The trick then is getting the wheelbarrow to the compost pile before the wind blows it all around the garden (or Poppy the dog buries her ball at the bottom of the barrow, then uproots the lot looking for it….).

A bit of weeding underneath (the dreaded woodrush (Luzula) that’s taken up residence in my mixed hedge (and is impossible to get rid of!) and the equally annoying Geum urbanum) and I felt I’d done a good couple of hours’ work! Certainly too cold to stay outside for much longer…

Autumn colours

The grasses  in their autumn glory…

Garden trimmed in Feb… and duly shorn in their winter guise

Definitely the kind of day for a bowl of homemade soup when you come back indoors, and one of my favourites is Carrot and Coriander, again originally based on my much-loved Covent Garden Soup recipe book, but adapted over the years. Not my own carrots, unfortunately – my heavy clay soil isn’t ideal for carrots, especially the main crop. I can usually manage summer pickings, enough for salads and steamed veg, but the slugs and carrot root fly (despite the fleece protection) go to town if I leave them in the ground too long.

 Carrot and Coriander Soup

1oz butter

2 medium onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

2 sticks celery, chopped

1lb carrots, diced

1 tspn crushed coriander seeds

1 ¾ pts homemade chicken (or vegetable) stock

Freshly grated nutmeg

¼ pt milk (or single cream) – optional

1 tbspn fresh coriander, chopped

Salt and pepper

Crème fraîche and more fresh coriander to garnish

Melt the butter and gently cook onions, garlic and celery until soft – about 10 minutes. Meanwhile chop the carrots, then add with the crushed coriander seeds and cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Add the stock, nutmeg and seasoning, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20-30 mins or until the vegetables are tender. Leave to cool, then whizz in a blender until smooth. Return to a clean pan, stir in the chopped coriander (don’t add before you blend, or your beautiful orange soup will turn a murky brown colour…) and add milk (or cream if feeling luxurious!) depending on the consistency of the soup. I don’t like this soup too thin, but much depends on personal preference.

Garnish with more coriander and a swirl of crème fraîche if you’re feeling posh! Otherwise enjoy as it is, served with fresh bread or sourdough toast.

This should make enough for 6 generous helpings – and it freezes beautifully, of course.

Working lunch

The perfect working lunch…

P.S. Today, by contrast, has been a crisp and sunny winter’s day, much better for the soul! I was able to get on with some digging down at the allotment to make a new bed and transfer in one of my old gooseberry plants (Pax – a deep red dessert variety that is spine-free and mildew-resistant, also very late, so the perfect follow-on plant to my stalwart Invictas). I’m nearly at the stage where I can wave goodbye to the top end of my plot and concentrate on the raised beds and orchard – just the last of the rhubarb to move now, as soon as it starts to show…

Hellebore Party Frock close-up

My favourite hellebore ‘Party Frock’ – a real harbinger of spring today