Sowing parsnips and carrots

Carrots and parsnips are the only veg I sow direct into the ground.

They don’t like having their roots disturbed whereas other seeds can be multi sown and then planted out when they’re bigger giving them a better chance against the birds and slugs.

Always sow parsnip from fresh seed. I picked up some Hollow Crown in the supermarket today – and fingers crossed they do better than last year when they completely failed to germinate.

I don’t have much success with carrots either – again dodgy germination seems to be the problem.

So despite the rain and the drop in temperature I’m giving them both another go, inter-sown between my rows of onions.

I’m hoping the smell of the onions and garlic will deter carrot fly.

Parsnip seed

I created four shallow drills by drawing the sharp end of my dibber across the veg bed, then watered them before sowing half with carrot seeds half with parsnip seed as evenly as I could.

I drew the earth back over them and tamped them down lightly with the back of the rake. No watering in needed as the drills are already moist.

I’ve also planted out some lettuce and kohlrabi seedlings.

Talking of carrots – I braised some shop bought ones with my indefatigable ruby chard. Just steamed in veg stock until almost all the liquid is gone.

The other vegetable that has overwintered despite everything is fennel. The bulbs are really quite small once I’ve peeled away the rough, frost-burnt outer leaves.

But they were delicious with crushed chopped garlic, olive oil and stock – again allowing the liquid to evaporate until there’s an unctuous sauce in the bottom of the pan which gets a hit of lemon juice stirred in right at the end as the pan comes off the stove.

So fresh and completely different from raw fennel which I know many people don’t like because of the strong aniseed taste.

The other thing I did was brine some oriental mustard leaves. It’s a key ingredient in several recipes I love including a silken tofu soup from cookery writer Fuschia Dunlop.

I’ve started growing them under fleece after I was given some plugs by the Escape Project at Swaffham.  They’re creating a therapeutic show garden at Chelsea this year!!

Previously I bought it ready made from a stall on Norwich market – imported from China.

Now I make it myself following this amazing recipe – although I only made a third of the quantity.

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Spaghetti with chard

Ruby chard yields great harvests throughout most of the year – especially now when it’s still mild and hasn’t been clobbered by frost.

It’s nice washed and wilted with either garlic sliced and softly sauteed in olive oil or sultanas or raisins and toasted pine nuts.

I’m also picking sprouting white and purple broccoli, bulb fennel, red cabbage, kale, parsley, chrysanthemum greens and wonderful salad leaves.

The overwintering garlic and onions, planted in autumn, seem to be doing well – despite some of the new shoots being nibbled by something! They’ll be ready later in the year in early to mid summer.

I’ll also sow some Bedfordshire Champion onion seed under cover next month to supplement these.

They and some shallot sets will be planted out in spring.

In other allium news – the leeks are almost all gone.

I’ve been madly cooking with them over the past month before they go to seed or succumb to rust. Look back at my previous recent posts to find the original recipes for my leek, chestnut and apple pie and the leek, lemon and walnut pilaf.

I’ve made some good leek and potato soups. One I tried to jazz up with white wine and lemon juice – it was OK but I realised simple is best.

This one was made on a rocket stove at the allotment and took more than 2 hours to come to the boil!

It was comprised of a couple of finely chopped shallots, a medium onion also chopped, and about three large leeks well washed and sliced or chopped – greens included.

I threw in a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and about two large peeled potatoes diced maybe 1.5cm or half and inch square.

And covered that with veg stock.

I cooked it for twenty minutes or half and hour.

Then I blended half of it smooth and left the rest chunky. I think a good handful of finely minced parsley lifts the whole thing.

Add a dash of soya cream or milk  just before serving if you like.

Cider update

Well I’m almost ready to bottle – I’m hoping to inveigle friends into helping me.

Tony Davey – a good friend of mine gave me a dozen of his one and a half litre Grolsch bottles which he described as ‘gold dust’.

He also passed on some of his old pressure barrels to make wine.

Thanks Tony!

I should be able to bottle half my 25 litres of cider in these 1500ml bottles

The three barrels he’s given me will allow a little experimental wine making – most likely with the glut of currants and gooseberries that are in the freezer at the moment!

These are some of his demi johns in his amazing wine cellar!

Back to the garden and you can see the chard’s a more intense ruby red than ever.

I’ve given bags of it away to friends.

I learnt a couple of new ways to cook it from Steve who came to stay over New Year.

He made a wonderful tomato, chard, olive and caper pasta sauce with garlic and onion and a slug of red wine.

It was so tasty I had thirds.

The other recipe was a chard and ‘cream’  sauce with nutmeg – also for pasta.

You need to wash the chard well (at least three times in my opinion).

Separate the leaves from the stems and roll them up and slice into thin ribbons.

You fry the chopped stems and onion first in olive oil for about 10 minutes and then add the chard leaf ribbons – stir frying with two spatulas to keep it all in a large frying pan.

Then add and stir in soya cream (I use Provamel) and nutmeg and a little vegetable bouillon  and cook for a further couple of minutes – delicious.

The key is not to swamp the spaghetti.

Spaghetti with chard
Servings: 4
Author: Cath
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 400 g Swiss Chard or Ruby Chard stalks and leaves included
  • 250 ml soya cream or oat cream
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
  • 1 level tsp ground nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Wash the chard well and separate the main bits of the stalks from the leaves. Cut off any ragged untidy ends of the stalk too.

  2. Chop the stalks into small dice the same size as or slightly larger than your chopped onion (no bigger than your finger nail) 

  3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion and chard stalks over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they don't brown.

  4. Then add the chard leaves which you've stacked, rolled and sliced into fine ribbons and cook for another five minutes - keep the leaves moving until they wilt down.

  5. Add cream and the bouillon and the nutmeg and cook gently for another five minutes until the cream has started to thicken and is well incorporated into the chard and onion. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

  6. Serve with spaghetti or tagliatelle ( about 370 g dry weight for 4 people). Don't be tempted to swamp the pasta just a couple or 3 tablespoons of the sauce per person should do.

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