Tag Archives: Mint

Germination Blues

Alliums

It’s been a funny start to the growing season – but then don’t we gardeners say that every year, no matter what the conditions?! This year feels to have been trickier than most, however, not helped by my having been away or otherwise engaged (son’s wedding plans gathering pace…) for the last three weekends. The second half of May is always the busiest in a gardener’s calendar, so things down at the plot had really run away with me.

Then there was the unseasonably warm weather over Easter, followed by an unexpectedly sharp frost at the end of April which decimated all my shooting dahlias at the allotment and seems to have had a disastrous effect on germination, both on the ground and in the propagator at home. No sign of carrots or parsnips, sown under fleece at the end of April, and those beetroot that did germinate have been chomped by slugs – unprecedented as beetroot are normally impervious to mollusc attack! In the conservatory, aubergines and tomatoes germinated as usual, as did my sweet peppers, but chillis have been a disaster, with one weedy looking plant, despite a second sowing. Peas and sweet peas too have been very poor, although I suspect the mangetouts sown in the open ground have been the target of mice, rather than solely germination problems. Courgettes and squash have fared little better, resulting in a meagre three courgette plants and four squashes in total, again despite a second sowing. I’m beginning to wonder whether there was something wrong with the seed compost!

Ah well, having returned from my various travels this week, I’ve managed to spend a couple of sessions down at the allotment on the balmy evenings we’ve been having and am finally feeling that order has nearly been restored. I’ve sown more root crops and peas, planted out the sweet peas I bought on offer in Homebase to make up for my poor showing and sown more mangetouts. I’ve weeded the salad crops which were being taken over by chick weed, horrible stuff that it is, and taken out the spent brassicas, flowering spinach and overblown winter rocket to make space for the courgettes, sweetcorn and French beans – this weekend’s job. Oh, and I’ve planted the new dahlias bought from Sarah Raven as tubers earlier in the season and all now making sturdy plants, alongside last year’s in the ground which have recovered, albeit slowly, from their premature frosting. Looking good…. I’m hoping to have some ready for the wedding flowers at the end of July, so fingers crossed.

Basil

On the plus side, the asparagus has been excellent this year and the broad beans are as good as ever. Tonight’s dinner saw me making the first broad bean pesto of the season, but with half mint, half basil, as the basil in the conservatory hasn’t quite reached jungle proportions yet. Delicious in a simple pasta dish with onions, bacon and a few extra broad beans. If you’ve never eaten freshly picked broad beans, there’s just no comparison with the shop-bought or frozen variety – I urge you to give them a go!

This weekend’s first task will be to sow my French beans straight into the ground (no runners this year; now there’s just me, I really prefer the finer taste of the French variety and I certainly don’t need the gluts that invariably accompany runner beans!). I also need to plant up my summer containers at home and mow the allotment grass, always last on my agenda, although it makes such a difference when it’s all neat and tidy. Here’s hoping the weather holds up – happy gardening!

Poppy in the wheat field

Beautiful broad beans

Just back from a fabulous week of yoga in the Spanish Alpujarras, I’m not even going to attempt to recreate the amazing vegetarian feasts we enjoyed on a daily basis in Las Chimeneas, not least because my tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and aubergines are still several weeks from being anywhere near fruition! To say nothing of cherries plucked straight from the tree, fresh peaches and apricots, and divinely buttery new potatoes….

Las Chimeneas salad lunch

What I do have, however, is a glut of broad beans, despite inviting friends to help themselves in my absence, and a plentiful supply of delectable English strawberries – perfect with my breakfast yogurt and muesli, as well as with meringue and whipped cream for the quintessential English pud. A week of heavy rain while I soaked up the Spanish sunshine has led to tremendous growth in the garden and at the allotment, so some of my broad beans have filled out rather more than I’d have liked: the ideal excuse to transform them into broad bean pesto! Having stripped my basil plants for Delia’s Pesto just before going away, I didn’t have quite enough fresh growth to harvest the 50g I needed for my standard Broad Bean Pesto, so a bit of adaptation was in order. Instead of basil, I chopped a generous fistful of fresh mint (Moroccan mint in my case, but ordinary garden mint would be fine too) and parsley, then filleted the broad beans after microwaving so that the end result was suitably emerald green and zingy.

Broad Bean, Mint & Parsley Pesto

Broad bean, mint & parsley pesto

12oz broad beans (after podding – you’ll probably need at least 2lb unpodded weight!)
1-2oz Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Large handful garden mint, thick stalks removed
Large handful parsley, thick stalks removed
2-3fl.oz virgin olive oil
Seasoning

Steam or microwave the broad beans for 2-3 minutes then blanch under cold water. Unless your beans are very tiny, fillet the beans by removing the outer grey shells – a little bit fiddly, but worth it for the end result and bright green colour.

Place all remaining ingredients apart from olive oil in a food processor with the filleted beans and whizz until smooth, pushing down the sides as required.

Add the olive oil in a slow and steady stream until you have a thickish consistency. You may not need it all, so keep checking.

Will keep for a couple of weeks, covered, in the fridge, or you can freeze.

Having made this heavenly green concoction, dinner for the past two nights has been child’s play: linguine with baby broad beans, smoked salmon, onions and a creamy pesto sauce last night, then a seriously good oven-baked risotto with broad bean pesto and king prawns tonight – heaven on a plate! As usual, this is an adaptation of Delia’s standard oven risotto, but none the worse for all that:

Broad Bean & Prawn Risotto – serves 2-3

Broad bean risotto

1 small onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
Generous glug of olive oil
75ml dry white wine
160g risotto rice
500ml home-made fish or vegetable stock (plus extra just in case)
2-3 tbsp broad bean, mint and parsley pesto (see above)
100g shelled baby broad beans (or use frozen peas if you’ve used up all your beans in the pesto, as I did, and can’t be bothered to trek down to the allotment for more!)
Handful fresh mint leaves, chopped (save some to garnish)
100g raw king prawns, defrosted if frozen
75g grated Parmesan cheese
Seasoning

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C, Gas 6. Cook the onion and red pepper in the oil until soft and golden – 5-7 minutes.

Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the rice to the onions and peppers 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, pesto and the stock, season and bring to boiling point. Add the shelled baby broad beans or frozen peas, if using.

Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then stir in the raw prawns, 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.

You could, of course, use the standard basil-based broad bean pesto and use pancetta or bacon instead of prawns – anything goes!