Perennial Vegetables

As I looked around the garden recently I became aware of how dependent I am on vegetables that come back year after year.

Rhubarb has magically sprung up over the last month or so with its huge scalloped leaves creating a dramatic edge to the main vegetable garden.

It’s  accompanied by delicate clumps of  chives in the gravel path which have just started to bud and will soon break out into spiky purple flower heads.

Next to them are four thriving artichoke plants. I was given the slips by a friend, Julie, a couple of years ago and last year we had our first real crop. I will divide them next March and give some away.

Stridolo or bladderwort in the foreground has paired up with another perennial – artichoke.  The new strawberry bed was under the fleece to the left of the picture but that has now been removed!

And then between the artichokes and some gooseberries is a stand of sorrel which never fails at this time of year.

The other side of the garden is a bed of five year old asparagus which has been cropping for the past couple of years. It should last another fifteen or twenty as long as it’s kept well weeded and mulched and the thuggish horseradish next door doesn’t move in and take over!

All of these plants are perennials and they provide a much needed bridge between the winter veg and the new season’s sowings which won’t really yield much until June.

There are a good few self sown plants which are providing us with food – the wild rocket is flourishing since it turned a little warmer. Coriander has surprised me by establishing itself with no effort on my part. Parsley is so prolific I’ve been potting up unwanted plants and giving it away.

The apple and pear trees are in full blossom and a thornless blackberry’s been heavily pruned and then trained along a rough home-made hazel trellis.

The new strawberry bed looks pretty healthy and a few flowers are heralding the possibility of some fruit in this first year. I’m currently trying to decide whether to mulch with straw or not.

On the annuals front there are lots of seedlings ready to take the place of veg like ruby chard and oriental mustard that’s bolting and going to seed. I have a great selection of squash including my favourite Uchiki Kuri or red Hokkaido Kuri, and hundreds of pricked out celeriac – many of which I will give away.

A colleague has given me the seeds of a yellow lumpy courgette, variety rugosa fruilana. Apparently – despite it’s ugly warty appearance – it is delicious. Can’t wait to try it.

I have been given tomato seedlings by a couple of generous friends – Roma from Janet who’s also given me peppers and some tenderstem broccoli to try out. The others were heirloom varieties from Caroline down the road – who runs a community garden in Great Yarmouth.

My leek seedlings are looking good – they will be planted in shallow clumps of four or five rather than singly in deep holes.

So for the time being all I really have left to do is sow my beans which will go in home made potting compost over the next week or so.






Asparagus Risotto

Asparagus is a long term” investment” in the vegetable garden.

It’s a good three years before you can begin to harvest the crop.

That’s because the advice is to harvest very few spears at first  so as not to over deplete the new plant’s resources.

The spears of Asparagus were cut five minutes before

When you first lay the one-year-old crowns in their trench ready to be covered by soil they look like a writhing nest of snakes or alien roots.

They lay dormant for half the year before pushing up through the ground as the weather and soil becomes warmer.

It reminds me of the Jason and the Argonauts – the rows of soldiers springing up from dragon’s teeth sowed in the ground.

The season lasts about six weeks to eight weeks and then you leave the spears to grow into feathery ferns that are up to six feet high (185 cm).

Feathery Asparagus
Feathery asparagus ferns

They need staking so they don’t collapse and are left until the winter when they are cut down and composted and the bed is weeded.

Last November Fynn, who was visiting from Germany, helped me empty the contents of a finished compost heap onto the bed – a good and necessary feed for the plants which are now four years old.

Asparagus, parsley and lemonAsparagus, parsley and lemon
Asparagus, parsley and lemon

This first “cut” certainly tasted superb.

I cooked it with shallot, white wine, lemon zest and parsley.

And the obligatory hot vegetable stock.

Ingredients for Asparagus risotto

I used vegan parmesan cheese – which was really good.

I was pleasantly surprised!

Asparagus Risotto

5 from 1 vote
Asparagus Risotto
Servings: 4 people
Author: Cath
  • 12 spears asparagus
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium sized shallot, finely chopped
  • 300 g arborio rice
  • 1 glass (125 ml) white wine
  • 750 - 1000 ml boiling vegetable stock
  • 1 lemon zested (and the juice of half the lemon)
  • 1 large handful parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated vegan parmesan cheese
  1. Remove the woody end of the asparagus. To do this find the "breaking point" of the asparagus by gently moving your way up from the bottom of the spear with your fingers until it snaps.

    Keep the tender top parts and cook them in boiling water for a couple of minutes until al dente and not quite tender. 

    Then allow to cool, then chop into 3 cm pieces and set aside.

  2. Heat olive oil in large saucepan on low to medium heat and add finely chopped shallot until softened but not coloured.

  3. Add the rice and fry for a minute or two, stirring frequently, until coated in the oil. Do not allow to brown.

  4. Add the white wine - it will sizzle as it hits the pan. Simmer and stir gently until evaporated and absorbed by the rice. 

  5. Add the hot vegetable stock a ladleful at a time, stirring between each addition to allow the liquid to be completely absorbed, until the rice is cooked and the stock has been absorbed (you may not need all the stock).  

    The heat will probably need to be on about medium now.

    When done it should be al dente and ever so slightly "chalky" and will take about 15 minutes. 

  6. Add the asparagus, finely chopped parsley and minced lemon peel and the juice of half the lemon (make sure no white pith is on the zest when you remove it and before you chop it finely).

    Add parmesan.

    Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir well.

  7. The risotto should be served on warm wide soup plates and should be neither too solid or too sloppy. 

    It should be creamy and have a slight wobble to it when you shake the plate.