The Kitchen Garden: Improve your meals by growing your own

The Kitchen Garden: Improve your meals by growing your own

A firm believer that every person, no matter what space is available to them, can grow some of their own food, Darina has used her columns through the years as a means of teaching us how to do it.

"Those of us who have a little back garden or some land are blessed indeed but you don’t need to be a landowner to grow some of your own food.

"You’d be amazed how much can be grown on a windowsill or balcony. All you need is a container filled with soil or compost, a few seeds, sunlight, water and a bit of patience to wait for the magic to happen.

"Once the weather warms up, seeds germinate within a couple of days; microgreens will be ready to eat in seven or eight days.

Then you can snip them onto your salad and sandwiches and garnish your plates like a fancy chef.

"Let them grow for longer and you’ll have an instant salad of organic ‘cut and come’ leaves. It’s perfectly possible to grow year-round salad leaves. One packet of seeds costs much less than a bag of frozen peas or even one herb plant.

"Fresh herbs too grow brilliantly in recycled cans or in a window box and you’ll be proud as punch as you snip off a few thyme sprigs or chives to add to your cooking.

"I could go on and on, you too will get addicted once you start. Apart from saving money there’s the feelgood factor one gets from the thrill of growing your own and the peace of mind that comes from knowing what’s not in the food you are about to eat and feed your family.”

BASIL ICE CREAM

Serves 6/ Makes 600ml

This is a wonderfully rich ice cream. Unexpectedly delicious, we love it with precious ripe figs from the greenhouse. We usually use sweet basil for this recipe but each basil will produce a slightly different flavour.

  • 1/2 vanilla pod
  • 45g basil leaves, torn
  • 175ml full-fat milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 60g granulated sugar
  • 175ml double cream, cold
  • ripe figs, quartered, to serve (optional)

The Kitchen Garden: Improve your meals by growing your own

Split the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the basil, vanilla pod and milk. Heat to just below boiling point and remove from the heat. Cover and set aside to steep for 10 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod and scrape again to release every bit of flavour. Add the scrapings to the milk and discard the pod.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together. In a bowl add the warm milk gradually, stirring constantly, until all the milk is added. Return to the saucepan and cook over a low heat for 8– 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon.

Pour the cream into a large bowl. Strain the basil custard into the cream. Mix well, then chill thoroughly. Freeze according to the directions for your ice-cream maker. Alternatively, pour into a plastic or stainless-steel bowl, cover tightly and freeze for 1½ hours.

Remove the bowl from the freezer and whisk the ice cream in from the edges of the bowl, continuing until smooth. Repeat two or three times until frozen solid. Scoop into bowls or serve on chilled plates and top with ripe figs, is available.

Asparagus rocket & wild garlic frittata

Serves 6

This is an example of how we incorporate seasonal ingredients into a frittata. Asparagus is an extra treat here; you can use any asparagus but I tend to use the thin, weedy, but still delicious spears in frittata and to add to scrambled eggs.

The Kitchen Garden: Improve your meals by growing your own

  • 225g thin asparagus
  • 8 free-range eggs
  • 50g Parmesan or Pecorino or a mixture, freshly grated
  • 2–3 tbsp roughly chopped wild garlic and rocket leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • wild garlic flowers, to garnish (optional)
  • salad leaves, wild garlic and rocket, to serve

Bring about 2.5cm of water to the boil in an oval casserole. Trim the tough ends of the asparagus, add 1 teaspoon of salt and blanch for 2–4 minutes until tender. Drain. Slice the spears at an angle, keeping 4cm at the top intact. Set aside.

Whisk the eggs together in a bowl. Add the blanched asparagus, except the tops, most of the Parmesan and the wild garlic and rocket leaves. Season well. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the egg mixture and reduce the heat to the bare minimum — use a heat diffuser mat if necessary.

Arrange the asparagus tops over the frittata and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Continue to cook over a gentle heat for about 15 minutes until just set.

Alternatively, after an initial 4–5 minutes on the hob you can transfer the pan to an oven (this is my preferred option) preheated to 170˚C/gas mark 3 for 10–15 minutes until just set.

Pop under a grill for a few minutes, but make sure it is at least 12.5cm from the element. It should be set and slightly golden.

FISH TACOS WITH SALSA VERDE & RADISHES

Serves 4

These are pretty addictive and best when the tortillas and fish are still warm and the radishes are fresh and crunchy. Tuck in the peppery leaves to add a little more zing to the tacos.

  • 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 110g radishes, sliced
  • 4 small spring onions, sliced at an angle
  • ½ - 1 chilli, deseeded and chopped
  • 700g John Dory or sea bass, skinned and cut into chunks
  • ½ tsp coriander seeds, roasted and ground
  • 12 corn tortillas, about 15cm in diameter
  • ½ cucumber, halved, deseeded and cut in long slivers at an angle
  • Lime wedges, to serve
  • For the salsa verde:
  • 50g coriander
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

The Kitchen Garden: Improve your meals by growing your own

Heat the oven to 240˚C/gas mark 9. First make the salsa. Whizz the coriander, 2 tablespoons of water, lime juice, extra virgin olive oil and salt and freshly ground pepper in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and chill.

Mix the lime juice, 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and the sliced radishes, spring onions and chilli together. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Brush a baking sheet with a little oil. Lay the fish fillets on the tray in a single layer. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a sprinkling of ground coriander. Roast for 3–4 minutes.

Meanwhile, hold the corn tortillas, one at a time, over a gas flame with a tongs for about 30 seconds to warm.

Fill each tortilla with a couple of chunks of fish, the radish, spring onion and chilli salad, and a couple of pieces of cucumber. Drizzle with salsa, fold over and repeat with the others.

Serve three tacos per person with a wedge of lime.

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