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
  • 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
  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.


Spanish Inspired Pumpkin and Bean Stew

I have a new cook book called Vegan Recipes from Spain which I actually bought from a wonderful bookshop in Norwich called the Book Hive  and not through Amazon!

I bought it because it has a lot of recipes featuring veg I grow in the garden – but surprisingly it didn’t have any pumpkin or squash recipes.

I was in search of a good recipe because some of my pumpkins are going mouldy and need using!

I cut away the affected parts – mostly around the stem – and roasted the rest in thick slices with the skin on.

I then cut them up in chunks and froze them for use in soups or stews.

But I kept some back and still needed a decent recipe for lunch today for my friend Dianne.

So I made this up.

I had a good look through the Vegan Recipes from Spain book and worked out what kind of spices I might use.

Last week I made a Spanish style lentil and squash soup with roasted garlic and sweet paprika. It was good but a little bland.

So I decided to increase the amount of spices I would use in this stew.

I used about a quarter of one of the half a dozen Hungarian Blue pumpkins I grew this summer.

I love the slightly antiseptic taste of saffron which is quintessentially Spanish.

Along with the paprika it gives the stew a great depth of flavour.

I should have used my own borlotti beans which are dried and stored every year but this was all last minute and I didn’t have time to soak them.

I had a couple of tetra packs of organic white beans in the cupboard which I ended up using instead.

The bright colours lifted our mood this grey January day.

It was all I had hoped for and more!

The rest of the pumpkin is in the freezer and will be brought out when I need to make this again – maybe with the borlottis next time round.

I will grow the Hungarian Blue variety again this season.

They are so delicious – not too sweet yet not at all bland.

They also hold their shape well.

Spanish Inspired Pumpkin and Bean Stew
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 20 mins
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Keyword: Pumpkin
Servings: 6 people
Author: Cath
  • 750 g roasted pumpkin (skin left on)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 15 strands saffron, soaked in a little hot water
  • 2 tsps sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp sharp paprika
  • 2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 cans cannellini beans or other white beans (460g drained net weight)
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes (400g)
  • 500 ml vegetable stock (2 tsp of bouillon powder added to hot water)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 30 or 40 whole sage leaves
  1. Toss in a little olive oil and roast pumpkin between 40 mins and 1 hour or until soft (but not mushy). Then cut into 1 inch cubes (2.5 cm square). Place to one side for use later on

  2. Fry onion & garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan on medium to high heat until transparent and turning pale golden

  3. Add sweet and sharp paprika and stir for a minute or so

  4. Add tomatoes, drained cannellini beans, stock and saffron with its soaking water. Add cubed roasted pumpkin pieces and cook for 40 minutes on a low simmer or in the oven on a low heat

  5. Season to taste with salt 

  6. Rub a little olive oil into sage leaves and either fry (it doesn't take long on the top of the stove) or roast in oven until crispy - about 5 to 10 minutes 

  7. Add chopped parsley to the stew and stir in then top with sage and serve with basmati rice or couscous or cooked bulghur wheat




Fruit Sorbet

A couple of weeks ago I looked out onto the garden and saw tiny orange globes hanging from an evergreen shrub in the main border.

I knew my father had planted the Japanese bitter orange as an ornamental specimen. It has shiny smooth green leaves and small fragrant white flowers in spring and early summer that stand out against the dark green yew hedge. It also sports the most vicious looking thorns a couple of inches long!

But I’d never really noticed the small orange fruit. I picked some of them and left them to settle in the kitchen while I wondered what to do with them.

Two weeks later – after Christmas – my friend Steve, came to stay again and pruned the apple and pear trees as well as the quince.

I cut back the gooseberries and redcurrants which were overgrown and tangled in the centre of the bushes to give them some air and to stop disease from creeping in.

The blackcurrants will have a third of their branches taken out when I harvest the fruit in summer.

And the Damson and Victoria plum trees will be pruned in the early spring or summer after the risk of silver leaf disease is over.

“Prune in June,” says Steve!

I’ve also coppiced the hazel tree – which really was overgrown and shading some of the vegetable beds. I cut the whole lot down to the base of the main trunk.

It should send up new growth which will make new hazel poles for use as supports. The twigs I will use as pea sticks.

I also turned the compost heap, forking a lot of the main pile into two black plastic dalek style bins – it’s breaking down nicely and should be ready for the new growing season in a couple of months time.

In other news: We are still able to pick salad including lettuce and curly endive growing under thick fleece, as well as parsley and chrysanthemum greens and stridolo – an Italian herb. I brined some oriental mustard leaves recently which are very tasty – and pungently hot!

Leeks have been great in soup and raw grated beetroot has been a refreshing salad with sliced orange and half moons of red onion dressed in red wine vinegar and olive oil.

As well as cooking together – Steve produced some amazing meals. I’ll post three recipes of his – using the ruby chard you can see below – next time.

He also found a use for the bitter orange which is very similar to Japanese wild orange or yuzu. It’s not eaten as a fruit but is used primarily for it’s scented juice and zest.

He used this to lace a black fruit sorbet with a tantalising tang of citrus.

Steve defrosted some of our blackcurrants and blackberries and macerated them overnight in sugar before adding a small amount of gin, the zest and tiny amount of juice from the bitter orange as well as an ordinary orange and blending it.

Then it went into the freezer and emerged a grainy, luscious sorbet the like of which I haven’t tasted for a long time.

He did the same with tayberries (a kind of raspberry), redcurrants and ordinary orange zest and juice with a couple of large jiggers of gin.   Again – a taste sensation!

What I liked was he didn’t try to sieve out the pips – he used the whole fruit – and I think it’s better for that. Anyway – the basic recipe is from this amazing website.

It’s worth mentioning that Steve didn’t use an ice cream maker or take the sorbet out and stir it as it was freezing and it still worked.

Thanks Steve. You’re a culinary and horticultural wizard!

Finally – I wish everyone a very happy, productive and resilient year ahead.

Thank you for reading my blog.

You can see Steve half way up the Bramley apple tree to the left of my head!




Leek, Chestnut and Apple pie

My friend, Rachel, who’s a fellow master composter, came for lunch last weekend bearing a gift of some shelled, peeled chestnuts.

I decided to make a pie.

The usual combination is chestnut and mushroom – which, quite frankly, I’m sick of and anyway I didn’t have any mushrooms.

So I thought about what was at hand in the garden and came up with Leek, Chestnut and Apple!

The apples are now picked and in storage in trays and with any luck will last most of the winter.

The leeks are most summer ones that have not run to seed.

Actually I’m surprised how well they’ve grown as it’s the first year I’ve grown them in clumps together – three to five or so together – rather than singly in deep holes.

My no dig guru, Charles Dowding (who I was lucky enough to hear speak last weekend), is right – plants like growing in groups with their mates rather than on their own!

The apples are Bramley cookers so they have a slightly astringent sour element to them – perfect for a savoury, almost festive pie.

I must admit I was lazy and used shop bought pastry.

I rolled it out and filled it with the mixture that was heavily seasoned with my favourite new spice – freshly ground white pepper – and a few sprigs of thyme.

I promise you this is good pie.

It was great with mash potato, carrots and gravy.

Slice the leeks along their lengths and wash in plenty of cold water to get rid of the muck and grit inside their leaves
Leek, Chestnut and Apple Pie
Author: Cath
  • 3 medium leeks
  • 3 medium cooking apples
  • 1 large white onion
  • 150 g fresh, peeled and cooked chestnuts
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 block shortcrust pastry (500g)
  1. Slice leeks in half down the middle along their lengths and wash thoroughly.

  2. Chop the leeks (the green and the white parts) and chop the peeled and halved onion.

  3. Peel and core the apples then chop them as well.

  4. Heat olive oil in wide frying pan and add chopped leeks, onion, apples and chestnuts as well as the whole sprigs of thyme. 

  5. Cook on medium heat for 10 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent it browning or sticking.

  6. Meanwhile roll out 2/3 of the pastry to line a shallow quiche or pie tin about 10 to 12 inches in diameter and prick the base lightly with a fork.

  7. Cook the pastry blind (with greaseproof paper and beans holding it down) for ten to fifteen minutes - unless you have an aga or solid fuel stove in which case you can place the whole pie including mixture and top on the solid bottom of the oven and it'll cook it all at the same time.

  8. Season the leek, chestnut and apple mixture well with salt and ground white pepper and remove the thyme sprigs.

  9. Add the mixture to fill the (baked) pastry case and then roll out the last third of the raw pastry in a circle big enough to fit over the top and damp the edge lightly with water.

  10. Lift and cover the base and filling, press down firmly round the two edges with a fork and trim with a knife. Then prick or make a slash in the top so the air or steam can escape when cooking.

  11. Bake in moderately hot oven (180C or 350F) for about half an hour or until golden brown.

  12. Slice and serve with veg and gravy.



Chrysanthemum Greens with Sesame Dressing

One of the wonderful things about having your own garden, plot or allotment is that you can grow vegetables you love but which otherwise are hard to obtain.

One of my favourites is chrysanthemum greens or shungiku, as they’re called in Japanese.

Not only are they really pretty – they have a lovely cream and yellow flower – they also taste great.

The flowers run to seed and self sow profusely, springing up throughout the veg garden. They are easily weeded out where they aren’t wanted.

They can be stir fried with other vegetables or blanched briefly in boiling water and then cold to make a Japanese salad or appetiser called goma-ae.

They are a key ingredient in sukiyaki or shabu shabu – a one pot stew that’s cooked at the table.

They are hardy and seem to grow for most of the year except the depths of winter when snow freezes everything in its path.

If you don’t have shungiku you can use spinach instead.

Don’t be tempted to use the leaves of conventional chrysanthemums!

Make sure the stems are edible – if they snap easily when picking  and don’t need a knife or scissors to harvest then they will probably be OK and not too stringy.

Otherwise just pick off the minor branches or leaves and use them – discarding the more woody main stems.

I tend to use the tops and sides and leave the main body of the plant to regenerate yet more succulent leaves.

Although it’s the end of November I still have wide range of edible vegetables in the garden including these spring onions and chrysanthemum greens or “shungiku”

Once blanched in boiling water and refreshed in cold the leaves can be chopped and mixed with shoyu (soya sauce or tamari), sugar and roasted freshly ground sesame seeds to make goma-ae.

They retain their bright green colour and make a simple, tasty and nutritious side dish.

I served this with plain white rice and a silken tofu soup which is from the recipe book Every Grain Of Rice by Fuschia Dunlop.

Remember you can use spinach if you don’t have shungiku.

Most recipes for this have a ridiculous amount of sugar (1 Tablespoon) – so I have cut it back to a quarter of that and I think it still tastes sweet enough.

The sesame seeds are dry roasted – either in a pan in a hot oven or under a hot grill for five minutes- or in a dry frying pan.

You can use a conventional pestle and mortar or one like this which is ridged and specially designed for grinding seeds (should be available online from a specialist Japanese importer – they’re called suribachi in Japanese) or one of the plastic grinders as seen in the photo below.

Chrysanthemum Greens in a sweet sesame dressing
Prep Time
20 mins
Servings: 2
Author: Cath
  • 300 g chrysanthemum greens or shungiku
  • pinch of salt
For the dressing
  • 3 tbsp lightly roasted or toasted white sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp shoyu or soya sauce
  • 1 tsp mirin
  1. Put the leaves in a large pan of salted boiling water, and bring back to boil and remove them or drain after 15 seconds.

  2. Refresh in a colander with cold running water and then with your hands squeeze the excess moisture from leaves. 

  3. Lay stems together on a chopping board and slice with a sharp knife into 3 cm (1 inch) lengths.

    If necessary do this in batches.

  4. Squeeze again discarding any liquid and place in a medium to large bowl.

For the dressing
  1. Grind the freshly roasted sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle until roughly ground - you don't want it to be too homogeneous and fine.

  2. Add other ingredients and mix/massage it with the greens in the bowl - it's quite a dry dressing with not much liquid - don't be tempted to thin it down.

  3. Place in smaller individual bowls and sprinkle with a few whole seeds.