Friday, April 29, 2011

A summer of surprises

Well, that wasn't quite the summer I was expecting. No heatwaves to frazzle the foliage; plentiful rain to fill the tanks and swell the tomatoes; below-average temperatures that stubbornly refused to ripen the rockmelons.

Here's my scorecard for my various gardening endeavours this summer, from 0 (complete failure) to 10 (complete success)

Tomatoes: 11
Huge, tasty, prolific. My Amish Paste produced lots of half-kilo monsters like this one and is still going strong.

Eggplants: 0
Nice, healthy plants, no fruit. Not one.

Rockmelons: 1
Plenty of fruit, but not enough heat to ripen them. Most of the fruit were rather tasteless. I think I'm giving up on rockmelons, as they're clearly marginal in my garden.

Onions: 9
Good spring rain produced a nice crop of compact, juicy bulbs. I pulled them just in time to survive the worst of the wet weather in January.

Potatoes: 8
Not a huge number of spuds, but they were of excellent size and great taste. Why is it that I can never, ever find the last potato? Even after a thorough dig over by our chooks, the potato bed produced an unexpected second crop.

Pumpkins: 5
Not what I expected. I was confidently expecting a good crop of 1-2 kg rich orange Potimarron heirlooms like these ones from a couple of years ago.

… instead I got a handful of 5 kg greenish monsters like this one. Obviously someone at Diggers wasn't paying attention.

I could go on, but you get the picture. A decidedly mixed bag. But wouldn't it be boring if everything always turned out as planned? If you aren't reliant on one type of crop, there are always successes to compensate for the failures - and failures to stop you getting too big-headed about your successes.

Friday, April 1, 2011

My favourite recipe book

Most of my cookbook purchases over the years have been 'aspirational': I'm seduced by a gorgeous-looking book, buy it, try one or two recipes and then the book retires to the bookcase, where it gathers dust. You see, mostly I'm a spur-of-the-moment cook and can't be bothered with elaborate recipes.

The one exception is Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver, published by Penguin, 2007. I love this because it's a real gardener's cookbook. I cook every day, but I only get passionate about cooking with fresh produce that I've grown myself. This book is stacked with simple, rustic, delicious recipes, arranged by season.

Here's a sample, which as it happens is bubbling away in the oven right now, using capsicums, onions, tomatoes and herbs that I've just picked from the garden. (I've simplified and shortened the text a little.)

Spicy pork and chilli-pepper goulash
serves 4 to 6

2 kg pork shoulder off the bone, skin off, fat left on
olive oil
2 red onions, finely sliced
2 red chillies, finely chopped
2 heaped tbsp mild paprika
2 tsp caraway seeds
bunch fresh oregano
5 medium-large capsicums (pref. a mix of types and colours)
1 kg ripe tomatoes, peeled
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
small pot sour cream
zest of one lemon
bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C. Get a deep, ovenproof casserole with a lid and heat it on the hob. Score the fat on the meat in a criss-cross pattern all the way through to the meat, then season generously with salt and pepper. Pour a good glug of olive oil into the pot and add the pork, fat side down. Cook for about 15 minutes on a medium heat, to render out the fat, then remove the pork from the pot and put it to one side.

Add the onions, chilli, paprika, caraway seeds, oregano and a good pinch of salt and pepper to the pot. Turn the heat down and gently cook the onions for 10 minutes, then add the sliced peppers and the tomatoes. Put the pork back in, give the pot a shake, then pour in enough water to cover the meat. Add the vinegar. Bring to the boil, put the lid on, then place in the oven for 3 hours.

Stir the sour cream, lemon zest and most of the parsley together in a little bowl. Serve the goulash in a dish or bowl, with basmati rice and the flavoured sour cream. Garnish with the rest of the parsley.

If you want any more recipes, you'll have to buy the book!