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.


Leek, Lemon and Walnut Pilaf

I have lots of leeks in the garden that need eating – as some of them are running to seed.

I’ve also been fighting a virus so I came up with a dish that contains lots of vitamin C (parsley and lemon) and alliums (shallot, fennel and leek) – perfect for boosting your immune system!

I thought I’d adapt the recipe on the back of a packet of Freekeh for a Leek Pilaf.

I also included some of my first “late” bulb fennel.

Half of the fennel went into the pilaf – the rest I diced and used to make a salad.

I combined it with a few roasted walnuts, half  a chopped apple dressed with a pinch of salt, cider vinegar and olive oil and some finely minced parsley.

In August or September I stupidly planted out some of the fennel in a spot that was too shady and so – desperate for light – it bolted.

But it’s produced the most wonderful umbellifers of acid yellow that along with late-flowering orange calendula and creamy chrysanthemums have brightened up garden at this dismal time of year.

The rest of the fennel looks as if it will be edible – I must mound up the earth/mulch around the pale white bulbs as I’ve found that makes them bigger.

So what on earth is Freekeh!

I’d never heard of it until recently – but it is common in the Middle East.

It reminds me of bulgur, which is the cracked wheat used in tabbouleh – but it has a very different taste.

Freekeh is the young green wheat that’s been smoked and roasted.

Please ignore the erroneous weight shown on the digital scales! This is about 125g of Freekeh which I think, when cooked, is plenty for about four people alongside a salad or another side dish

I first came upon it a year or so ago in a local wholefood store and then, searching for a recipe, stumbled across one by Ottolenghi in his book, Plenty.

It was slightly too complex for my taste as it had too many competing flavours – the freekeh on it’s own has a strong smoky aroma and taste.

And he served it with yoghurt – which I thought was not really necessary.

But it did whet my appetite and curiosity and so I present you my simple take on Freekeh Pilaf.

Leek, Lemon and Walnut Pilaf served with Fennel and Apple Salad
5 from 1 vote
Leek, Walnut and Lemon Pilaf
Servings: 4
Author: Cath
  • 250 g leeks, quartered lengthways and chopped
  • 50 g bulb of fennel, diced
  • 1 shallot about 50g in weight, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme or double the amount of fresh
  • 1/2 lemon zested and juiced
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 125 g freekeh or bulgur wheat
  • 200 ml vegetable stock
  • 12 walnut halves chopped
  1. Pour and heat 2 tbsp olive oil into a wide, heavy frying pan or large saucepan on a low to medium heat.

  2. Add the finely chopped shallot, diced leeks and fennel and if you have no fennel just use an extra 50g of leeks to make up the weight. Soften for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't brown.

  3. Rinse the freekeh in a sieve and add to the pan of leeks etc along with the thyme and the vegetable stock.

  4. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed (Do add a little more liquid and cook for five minutes more if the freekeh is a still a little crunchy).

  5. Then take off heat and let it stand covered for 10 minutes.

  6. Roast the walnuts under the grill or in the oven for a few minutes - don't let them burn! 

  7. Stir in the zest and juice of the half a lemon. 

  8. Top with walnuts and parsley.