Tag Archives: Tidy-up

A taste of Crete in an unseasonally warm English autumn

Paleochora crocodile

Although it’s now nearly 4 weeks since I returned from my late autumn sunshine week in Crete, it’s hard to believe that temperatures in London yesterday were in the early 20’s, yet crisp, golden leaves were falling all around. Crazy weather! Very pleasant, though, for planting out the last of my spring pots with bulbs and violas, and continuing with the autumn tidy-up. I even found some alarmingly fat caterpillars on the shredded stalks of my purple-sprouting broccoli this afternoon when I made a hasty visit to gather some spinach and salad leaves for tonight’s dinner. It was too dark to do much more than puff a little organic pyrethrum dust over them and pick off the most obvious offenders, but I shall definitely be taking a closer look tomorrow – not what you expect at this time of year!

Other jobs on the agenda tomorrow, after a few weekends being too busy socialising to do much at the allotment, include clearing the beds of squash, courgette and sweetcorn plants, general weeding after all this warm and humid weather, and planting my broad bean seeds to overwinter for an early crop next spring. I’ve not planted any spring or winter cabbage this year as they always seem to get decimated by the combined forces of slugs and caterpillars, plus they take up an awful lot of room in the ground when there’s only me to eat them. Kale and broccoli provide a crop over a longer period, especially in March/April when there’s not a lot else around, and seem less affected (usually!) by pests as long as you net them from the ever-hungry pigeons. I’m giving garlic a miss too – the last three years have been blighted by fungal rot, so I can only conclude there are spores throughout the soil, despite careful crop rotation. The elephant garlic I trialled this year didn’t seem to be affected, but the individual cloves were far too big for one (or even two), so not really practical unless you have a large family to feed. Fortunately, Mr Waitrose does a nice line in organic garlic, so I think I’ll manage!

One thing I loved about Crete was the huge variety of vegetable dishes on offer. My hotel had its own vegetable garden and each evening we were regaled with a range of different and unusual vegetable side dishes, including okra, aubergines, peppers and pumpkins – delicious! I ate out at some lovely restaurants at lunchtime too, including a lovely find in Anidri, a tiny village above Paleochora, where my cousin lives. The Old School Café serves fabulous home-cooked food and the two of us dined like queens for the princely sum of €23 including wine and raki! My favourite dish was a pear and Graviera tart, closely followed by stuffed and baked aubergines in a tomato sauce, but it was the pear tart that intrigued me – I’d never thought of using pears in a savoury tart, although I adore the classic French combination of pears and blue cheese as a starter.

anidri cafe

I couldn’t find any similar recipes to recreate the dish when I got home, so I’ve experimented with my own and was delighted with the results. Graviera is a hard Greek cheese and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it here, so I opted for Gruyère instead, to give it that mature, tangy flavour – a good Cheddar might work too. See what you think:

Pear & Gruyère Tart

Shortcrust pastry case, 7-8” diameter

1 red onion, sliced

1oz butter or olive oil

2 pears (I used Conference, not too hard)

Juice of ½ lemon

2 eggs

1 small pot natural yogurt or crème fraiche

Fresh nutmeg, grated

Few sprigs fresh thyme, stripped from the stalks

2oz Gruyère (or to taste, plus extra to sprinkle on top)

Pre-bake the pastry case as usual.

Cook the sliced onion slowly in the butter or oil for about 15 mins, then add the pears, peeled and cored, then sliced thinly lengthwise (sprinkle with lemon juice while preparing to stop browning). Cook gently for a further 15 mins, then remove from heat.

Beat the eggs, then add small pot of natural yogurt, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, chopped thyme and seasoning. Stir in 2oz grated Gruyère and mix. Place the onion and pear mixture at the bottom of the pastry case, distributing evenly, then pour over the egg mixture. Sprinkle with extra Gruyère.

Cook at 180°C/Gas 5 for 25-30 mins or until golden brown. Serve with salad and enjoy!

Pear tart and salad

I served mine with fresh leaves and tomatoes from the garden, along with roasted beetroots and a splash of balsamic vinegar – the earthy taste of the beets really complimented the sweet, yet savoury taste of the pear tart.

I imagine the recipe would work equally well (if not better?!) with blue cheese, such as Gorgonzola or Blue Stilton, and perhaps with walnut pastry rather than standard shortcrust. Certainly worth a try next time…

Advertisements

Butternut squash and a blustery day…

Euonymus in full autumn gloryIt’s been an unseasonally warm, but blustery day here in the South-East – the perfect weather for walking dogs through autumn-hued forests and starting the great garden (and allotment) tidy-up. Having been on holiday the first week of October, then back to a change-of-season head cold, I feel as though the change from summer to autumn has happened almost overnight! All of a sudden the nights are drawing in, leaves are changing colour and the harvest definitely needs bringing in.

All my apples are in already, beans have finished and the last few courgettes are not really ripening, despite the residual warmth in the sun. On the plus side, the late-season sowings of salad and herbs I made in September are romping away, looking promising for winter greens if I can keep the slugs and frost at bay – I think a judicial application of organic slug pellets and a fleece overcoat might be in order!

Autumn raspberries are still producing, albeit at a slower rate, but still enough to top my breakfast muesli and yogurt a couple of mornings a week – which can’t be bad for October. The dahlias are also magnificent still, producing vases full of deep magenta, fuchsia pink and claret red blooms, with some spidery white cactus flowers for good measure. The stalks are shorter this year, but I can’t complain and I have so many vases for every eventuality that they always look good.

My Sarah Raven tulips finally arrived this week, so I made a start, late this afternoon, on empting my summer tubs in the garden – doesn’t seem two minutes since I planted them up for summer! The tuberous begonias I bought as tubers have been phenomenal this year, so I’m going to attempt to keep them over the winter. For now, I’ve just shaken off any loose soil and left them to dry out in a tray in the shed, but before the frosts arrive, I shall wrap them in newspaper and store in the garage overwinter.

I’m going to do the bulk of my tulips next weekend, when the weather will hopefully be a little colder. I’ve ordered orange Ballerina, deep-purple Recreado, deep red Couleur Cardinal and red and black Pimpernel – should be a sight to behold! And this year I’m reverting to planting single blocks of colour in each pot for maximum effect, rather than mixing them and risking them not flowering at the same time, as happened this spring.

Pickings from the allotment this weekend included calabrese, beetroot, kale, mixed salad leaves, coriander, parsley, leeks and butternut squash, the latter now being left in a capacious basket in the conservatory for winter use. Indeed, most of them are so huge, they are enough for several meals in one go (such hardship!). Recipe ideas to follow:

Butternut squash, leek and bacon risotto

Serves 3 (or 2 with enough left for arancini the next day…)

Half a large butternut squash, peeled (easiest with a vegetable peeler) and chopped into large chunks

Olive oil

1 tsp coriander seeds

100g smoked bacon, chopped

225g leeks, trimmed and sliced

150g arborio risotto rice

50g butter

1 small onion, chopped

75 ml dry white wine

approx. 500 ml homemade stock (vegetable, chicken or ham)

1 dspn chopped fresh sage

2 tbsp Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

salt & pepper

To serve:

50g Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, grated

Chopped parsley or toasted pumpkin/squash seeds to garnish.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, Gas 6. Roast the chopped squash in olive oil, seasoning and crushed coriander seeds for 30 minutes. Turn oven down to 160°C, Gas 4. Cook the bacon and the onion in the butter until soft and golden – 5-7 mins. Place a 9” square baking dish (2” deep) into the oven to warm up. Add the leeks and the rice to 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, then the sage and seasoning and bring to boiling point. Finally stir in the roast squash. Transfer the contents of the pan into the warmed dish, stir and bake, uncovered, for 20 mins. Then stir in 2 tbsp Parmesan and add more liquid 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 mins, before serving with extra cheese and toasted pumpkin or squash seeds as a garnish – or parsley if you prefer.

(Don’t forget to make arancini with any leftover risotto – delicious! See https://rhubarbandraspberries.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/bluebells-tulips-and-wild-garlic-a-bounty-of-bulbs/ for instructions.)

Butternut Squash Dauphinoise squash dauphinoiseThis recipe is courtesy of my BBC Good Food kitchen calendar, slightly adapted to the contents of my fridge. I often make potato or parsnip dauphinois, but had never tried it with squash and was pleasantly surprised. No. 1 son was home for the weekend and this made a delicious accompaniment to roast chicken, roast potatoes and home-grown calabrese.

150 ml double cream

150 ml milk

Bay leaf

Sprig of thyme

1 clove garlic

Grated nutmeg

½ large butternut squash, peeled and thinly sliced

Butter to grease dish

50 g Gruyère cheese, grated

Place milk, cream, bay leaf, thyme sprig and crushed garlic in a pan, bring to the boil, then switch off and leave for 10 mins to infuse.

Heat oven to 200°C. Grease an oblong, shallow ovenproof dish with butter, then add the thinly sliced squash in layers. Season, then pour over the milk and cream mixture including the herbs. Cover with foil and cook in the oven for 30 mins. Then uncover, make sure all the squash is submerged and add more milk if you think it looks a little dry. Scatter over the grated cheese. Return to the oven for a further 30 mins until the squash is tender and the whole dish is golden. Serve with roast meat, sausages, etc. This amount makes enough for 3, but can easily be doubled to feed more.

And finally:

Stuffed butternut squash with sausage, onion and kale

Serves 2

1 medium butternut squash, halved and deseeded (but NOT peeled)

50g pearl barley

200g kale, thick stalks removed, finely chopped

2 good-sized sausages

Olive oil

100g halloumi or feta

1 onion, chopped

1 tsp harissa paste

100g cherry tomatoes, halved

½ Jalapeno chilli, finely chopped

Gruyère or Parmesan cheese, grated, to top

Roast the squash halves, cut side up, on a tray in the oven at 200°C for 50 mins – 1 hour, depending on the size of your squash. Meanwhile, cook pearl barley in a pan of water for 40 mins until tender, adding the chopped kale for the last few minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the onion slowly for 30 mins, adding the skinned and chopped sausage for the last 15 mins. Add to the pearl barley, along with the chopped feta or halloumi, tomatoes, chopped chillis and harissa paste, then season well.

Scoop out the tender flesh from the squash and add to the barley mixture, mixing lightly. Return to the squash shells, sprinkle over Gruyère or Parmesan to taste and return to the oven for 15 mins until nicely golden.

Enjoy!

This was based on a recipe from my Sainsbury’s Cook’s Calendar – obviously a good month for calendar recipes. My squash was so huge that I could only eat a quarter of it in one go and I did find that it wasn’t as good re-heated for lunch the next day: the barley seemed to have absorbed all the liquid so it was a little dry. Perhaps serve with tomato sauce if re-heating? First time round it was delicious however!

Leo and the logpile

 

 

The start of it all?

At last! Having knocked my perennial borders in the garden at home into shape last weekend, breathing in the deliciously sweetly-scented daphnes (Jacqueline Postill and aureomarginata) as I worked, I finally managed to make it down to the allotment to start my spring clear-up, the traditional start of my allotment year. I suppose it was really a case of cutting down dead foliage from last year: the autumn rains came upon us so fast and persisted so long that I just hadn’t had chance to take down my runner bean and pea supports or finish cutting things back. No matter, now is just as good. And in the case of asparagus and dahlias, I always feel leaving the spent stems in situ over the worst of the winter protects the precious crowns and tubers underneath. The weeds are shooting fast and furious, but the soil was surprisingly crumbly and workable in my raised beds, so weeding was easy and quite pleasurable – especially after weeks of not being able to get out in the garden at all…. The badger-ravaged sweetcorn stems finally came out today too, and all the woody material and pernicious perennial weeds like couch grass, buttercups and dandelions went straight up to the allotment bonfire heap for burning.

I cut back my autumn raspberry canes too (Autumn Bliss and Joan J), a job which should ideally have been done last month, but never happened – too many family birthdays and celebrations on the few sunny days! The early rhubarb is looking very promising, but I think I’ll wait another week before I try my first taste of the year.

My autumn-sown broad beans (Aquadulce Claudia – what else?) are looking good, but I filled in the few gaps there were with a spring-sown variety, De Monica, which extends the season a little, although I never find the later-sown ones do as well as the delicious November-sown crop.

My raised beds have been in situ for 6-7 years now and some of the boards are starting to rot. I definitely need to contact my local scaffolding company and see if I can arrange a delivery of more used boards before the growing season really begins in earnest. Other plotholders have also expressed an interest, so I’m hoping we can combine our orders and save on delivery.

My couple of hours down on the plot flew by – and I still had time for the inevitable and enjoyable chat with fellow allotmenteers: such a sociable pursuit! I had to leave time to walk the dogs before darkness descended, though, so I downed tools, tired but very content, at 5 o’clock and returned home with a highly satisfactory haul of leeks, parsnips, purple-sprouting broccoli and a bunch of daffodils just starting to show their golden yellow.

Time for a cup of tea and a well-deserved piece of tiffin, I think.

Tiffin

1 8oz pack Nice biscuits

4oz butter

1 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp cocoa

2oz sultanas

1 tbsp golden syrup

4oz dark chocolate

Melt all ingredients apart from the biscuits and chocolate in a saucepan. Crush the biscuits finely in a polythene bag with a rolling pin and stir into the mixture. Spread into a shallow, 7” square tin (lined with foil for ease) and chill in fridge for a couple of hours. Melt chocolate in a bowl in the microwave at a gentle heat (I do it in short bursts as it burns very easily!). Spread on top of the tiffin and leave to set, then cut into 16 squares. Perfect with a cup of tea after a good day’s work in the garden!

Tiffin