And other cruciferae.. wot wot..
Winter is all about the cruciferous vegetables for me - you know, that lovely group of cabbagey-type things like Broccoli, Cauliflower, all kinds of Cabbage (of course), Sprouts, Kale, Kohl Rabi... you get the picture...
They are all members of the same family (and are commonly known as Brassicas).
They are a super-nutritious group of veggies - the HIGHEST in Vitamins A & C and also Vitamin K, which is known to have super inflammation reducing properties (ie cancers).
Mostly frost-hardy, winter really is these plants' time to shine. They would have been some of the few things our veg-growing ancestors would have been pulling from their gardens at this time of year, and for some reason, I do find myself drawn to a shimmering white cauli during these dark days..
If you're not usually a fan of these somewhat 'odorous' veggies, but are willing to give them another go, then these few easy and inclusive recipe ideas might just convince you of their culinary worth. Say goodbye to the soggy-sprout!
FIRST THINGS FIRST though.. PLEASE buy organic. This group of vegetables is one of the most sprayed and pesticide heavy - because it attracts so many predators.
Most supermarkets have organic and if you have a farm shop near you they will probably have something close, or at least better than a commercially grown alternative.
Red Cabbage is SO good raw. Peppery and crunchy. Thinly slice and mix with grated carrot to make a quick 'slaw (dress as you like) A few caraway seeds and/or mustard seeds in this add an extra flavour dimension.
OR, incorporate thin slices into stir fry rice. Those handy quick-rice packs we all buy now..? Well stir fry rather than microwave and you can add a handful of red cabbage (or other veg) slivers and herbs/spices.
The Humble Cauliflower.
Ok, I know I've got a tough job here.. There couldn't be a much more anaemic looking vegetable than the Cauli. Poor old thing. First rule DO NOT BOIL!! If there is ever a way to suck life from a vegetable its through boiling!
ROAST golf-ball sized florets with lemon juice, sea salt & paprika for 25 mins at 200 degrees till slightly charred. Quite an elegant little party nibble, actually..
RAW - Make into couscous or add tiny florets to a salad with walnuts/almonds & blue cheese.
CURRY - there is no better mop for indian spices than a cauli. FACT. Just roast with indian spices (as above) if you can't be bothered with the whole curry-making malarky.
Argh! What to do with those big, weird-looking, rigid leaves?!
KALE CHIPS is the way to go.
They are dark and irony and rich tasting when cooked like this. Like crispy seaweed, minus about 400 calories!
Prep as shown and toss in a bowl with a little olive oil, sea salt and a few chili flakes. Arrange on tray as shown and roast for about 10 mins at 220 degrees. Serve immediately, as a side or a nibble ('crisps'!)
Garlic is the perfect 'beginners vegetable'. There really is nothing easier to grow in the veg garden than these cornerstones of cuisine..
That's not to say, of course, that they will just grow anywhere, willy-nilly, but if you start them right, then you can just pretty much sit back and wait until next July, when you pull them from the ground, ripe and ready! What could be easier than that?!
There are two main times for planting garlic - NOW and February.
The Autumn/Winter sown varieties give you bigger bulbs and fatter cloves and will store for about 6 months. Spring sowings give you smaller bulbs but with potential to last a bit longer in storage.
To save you the leg work.. 'Theardore' variety is perfect for sowing before the end of December. Buy from Tamar Organics and you'll have gorgeous, plump cloves ready for next summer.
How To: Separate the cloves into individuals. Push, root down, into well prepped soil, until tips are buried just below the surface, Space each about 6 inches apart. Each clove will grow underground to form a whole new bulb of garlic.
This is how they'll look next June... Magic!
There's somethin' a little suspicious about gherkins, if you ask me..
The odd little cousin of the cucumber family, and a bit sluggy looking, to my eye. Like, if you turn away for a minute you'll find one has slithered over your worktop and is making a run for the cabbages..!
So, bearing that in mind, I think the safest bet is to PICKLE the little critters as quickly as possible! Method for which follows...
Don't be disheartened if you're still waiting on your crops;, you are not alone!
My Runner Beans are a good three weeks behind on last year and whilst I am picking French Beans, they are certainly not as bountiful as in previous years.. We'll just have to hope for that Indian summer!!
What this weather IS good for, however, is SEED SOWING!
Damp, warm soil is absolutely perfect for seeds - much better than hot and dry weather - so if you do anything this weekend, get some seeds in the ground, or in module trays for planting out later if you don't have the gaps right now.
This week I have sown;
I have sown all but the rocket, radish and leaf salad in module trays, as I know I will have gaps in a month or so that I can pop the seedlings into.
The Chard and Perpetual Spinach plants will last through the winter in most places; I was cutting right up until April this year from a sowing made last September. The lettuces will also persist until first frosts, which can be as late as December, so quite worthwhile doing.
ALL OF THE ABOVE (bar the Cavolo Nero) can be sown right up until September, Indian Summer or not!
Other things to sow now that will (most probably!) give a harvest before winter;
Tips for the Perfect Veg Garden in AUGUST
Plenty to do! But that's the joy of being a gardener, right?!
Screw all this 'Five A Day' rubbish; make it 'Ten A Day' and you can make this one of them!
Makes: 1 courgette lemon drizzle loaf
For the cake
Ok, not quite 101, but we're definitely at 'glut-moment..'
Courgettes.. Gourd love 'em, they like to grow don't they.. I swear. if there's anyone in the UK who actually needs to buy a zucchini right now, then they need to start moving in different circles..
So what to do with the little beauties..?
Here are my
TOP 5 EASY WAYS with COURGETTES
Raw Ribbon Salad - Use a peeler to take wafer thin strips along the length of the courgette.
Mound up on a pretty plate and using the peeler again, add Parmesan shavings to taste. Dress with olive oil, lemon juice, fresh ground S&P, and few chili flakes/Poppy seeds.
Strips of cucumber in this is also very nice.
Courgette Fries - Cut courgettes into chip (fries) sized batons and dust in seasoned flour (S&P plus extras ofeyour choice; I like to add some Smoked/Sweet Paprika, or Cayenne)
Saute for a few mins on each side till crisp and golden. Serve as you might chips, or as a snack with a little yoghurt & garlic dip.
Mini Courgette & Feta Fritters -
Using the ratio of 3 zucchini & 50g Feta + 1 beaten egg & 75g Flour as a base, you can make as many of these as you like! Grate the courgette and squeeze out excess moisture. Add the flour, beaten egg, crumbled feta (plus a little grated parmesan if desired) then add any chopped fresh green herbs you like (Coriander, Parsley, Basil, Dill) and S&P. Make into mini patties and fry a few mins each side. A great starter!
Zucchini & Parmesan Chips -
An oven-baked, more refined version on the above 'Courgette Fries' .. Preheat oven to C 220/200 fan and line 2 baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
For 2 courgettes;
Beat 2 eggs and add a glug of milk, a crushed clove of garlic, S&P, and 1/2 tsp Smoked or Sweet Paprika.
Make up a plate of seasoned flour and another plate of Panko Breadcrumbs & Parmesan Cheese in equal quantities (approx 50g should of each should do)
Cut the courgettes into chip sized batons and dip in the flour, then egg mix, then panko mix. Bake for 15-20 mins, turning half way through cooking. Serve with fresh garlic mayo for ultimate yum!
And the easiest of all... COURGETTI !
This is the new spaghetti, according to all 'the foodies'/dieters out there, and I must admit, it's puritanically good eating. The only thing you really need for this is a Spiralizer, which does make the whole thing stupidly simple.
Depending on how your serving your 'courgetti' you need not even cook it at all, though if I'm serving it as a Spaghetti alternative, say with Ragu, or Pesto I do find that a minute or two light saute, or a run through with the hot 'pasta' sauce makes it soften and yield, and combine much better into the dish overall.
Using it raw, I like it as a alternative to noodles in a 'noodle salad' with other Spiralized veg (carrots, cucumbers) or marinated with salt and lemon and served as a side with any Mediterranean fare. The possibilities are as endless as the courgettes themselves!
Instant Strawberry & Vanilla Conserve
Sloppy and sweet, just like the best Bonne Maman, and no faffing around with sugar thermometres, and setting points..
This couldn't be easier and whilst it will only last around a week or two in the fridge, you will have no trouble using it up in that time!
DELICIOUS with Scones & Clotted Cream.. ROLL on WIMBLEDON!
Makes 1 big or 2 small jars (approx 500ml)
Well, it's Chelsea Week, which means it's the green light to release all those young tender plants that have been cluttering up the greenhouse, out into the big wide world! Yes, we could still get a frost, but there comes a point where the youngsters just have to fend for themselves... Enough molycoddling.
(I admit, I am saying this from the South of England, and those of you in the north will already know to shake your heads at this advice..)
But for the rest of us, it's planting time! Here's a few things I've been planting out..
Natures original superfood, NETTLES are richer in vitamins and minerals than both broccoli and spinach and packed full of iron.. A natural liver detoxifier and antihistamine, they are even good for arthritic pain!
... And they're free!
Pick and eat them NOW whilst they are still bright green and soft. The flavour and texture changes quite quickly as they approach flowering. Use them any way you would use spinach or make the classic Nettle Soup Recipe below.. Scroll down for a Nettle Soup For Plants recipe.
Polly's Nettle Soup
Pick over the nettles, wash them thoroughly and discard the tougher stalks. Melt the butter in a large pan over medium-low heat, add the onion, leek, celery (or carrot) and garlic, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes, stirring a few times, until soft but not brown.
Add the rice and stock, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the nettles, stirring them into the stock as they wilt, and simmer for five minutes or so, until the rice and the nettles are tender (very young nettle tops will need only two to three minutes). Season with plenty of salt and pepper.
Purée the soup in two batches, reheat if necessary and check the seasoning. Serve in warmed bowls, topping each portion with a large dollop of yoghurt and a generous sprinkling of snipped chives, or to make more of a meal out of it, serve with half a boiled egg, as above, and a dash of Tabasco.
Nettle Soup For Plants
...Because plants need dinner too!
This brilliant, natural fertiliser contains iron, copper magnesium, nitrogen, potassium, and calcium.
Perfect for all but very young plants (as it is quite potent) it is especially good for leafy growth, so use it over the next few months to get your plants good and strong before they start fruiting.
Quick method - For a quick method, stuff one carrier bag of nettles in a bucket and steep in 2 litres of boiling water for up to an hour. Strain the leaves and stems out and toss in the compost bin. Dilute the fertiliser 1:10 and it’s ready for use. This quick method will give a weaker result than the slow method.
Slow method - Fill a bucket with the leaves and stems, bruising the foliage first. Weight down the nettles with a brick, large stone, or whatever you have around and then cover with water. Only fill three-quarters of the bucket with water to allow room for the foam that will be created during the brewing process.
Ideally you want to use non-chlorinated water (and preferably rain water). Set the bucket in a semi-sunny area, away from the house as the process is a tad smelly. Leave the mix for one to three weeks to ferment, stirring every few days, or when you remember.
Using the fertiliser - Finally, pour out the solution, minus the nettles (add the nettle dregs to the compost bin). Dilute at one part fertiliser to ten parts water for watering plants or 1:20 for direct foliar application. Any leftover undiluted mix makes an can be added to the compost bin to stimulate decomposition.
When using nettles as fertiliser, remember that some plants, like tomatoes and roses, do not enjoy the high iron levels in nettle fertiliser. This fertiliser works best on leafy plants and heavy feeders. Start with low concentrations and move on from there. Use some caution when using nettles as fertiliser since the mixture may still contain prickles!
Better than a rhubarb crumble, these flapjacks are chock-full of wholesome oats, fragrant fruit and some special ingredients that add that extra bit of secret deliciousness. Roasting the rhubarb first intensifies its unique flavour and sweetness and makes for a very moreish treat..
Method (couldn't be much easier!)
Line the base and sides of a 20x30cm (approx) tin with non stick baking parchment and preheat the oven to 180℃/Fan 160℃.
'Lemon' Drizzle Cake? Sooo last season, darling!
Ok, Lemon Drizzle is still delicious, of course, but it is Valencia Orange season now, and what better way to mark it than with an (equally delicious) version on the classic tea-time favourite.
The addition of the Almond & Vanilla Extracts are optional but HIGHLY recommended..
In addition to