Tuesday, April 24, 2012

G.G. Garden Update: A day of rain and Jamie Oliver's Caponata recipe

Unlike the rest of the Eastern side of Australia, here in The Sticks it is as dry as the back of beyond. Oh wait?! We basically are in the back of beyond.

Via my twitter feed I've seen flooded streets, people whinging about the rain never stopping, and others showing off and gumbooting up. Not here- no siree! The gumboots have only had one official outing, the lawns are dying, my patches need a good couple of inches and all the dams could do with a top up.
SO...I literally danced around my room this morning when I looked outside to see the drizzle starting. I love rainy days. I poured myself a pot of Indian Spice and prepared myself for laazyness plus. Reading my latest great cook book and cooking some pumpkin soup and pickles... until I realised that my dumb butt didn't get around to planting some new seedlings I should have popped in yesterday. Rookie primary producing error. Get your plants in before the rain!! As we know Mother N waits for no G.G. to get her butt into planting gear, so I went outside into the drizz and dug some trenches to put in the rest of the garlic, kale, herbs and lettuces.

By the time I was finished, I was one muddy girl but at least the plants could settle with a whole day of rain to water them in. I think we only ended up getting around 1/4 of a piddly inch- but still, better than nothing! I'm hoping for more. Rain dance anyone?

Things are actually going quite well in both patches at the moment. I don't wish to speak too soon, but the manure seems to have given them just the boost they needed. Might get back down there and get some more to sprinkle around in a week or two.
The rocket in the old patch has returned from the death and is now green, thick and healthy and the rocket in the new patch has sprouted from seed. They things are the cutest ever! They are a little fuzzball of green and they already taste quite bitey, so I'll be excited to see how they taste as they mature.
The french radish have also germinated, is there anything better than watching seeds pop through the soil??  Both the radish and the rocket will need thinning out at some stage. Found a good recipe in French Ties that I will post later- apparently you serve fresh radishes with homemade butter and really good salt, and they are tres amaze. Shall try it out and let you know.
The first of the garlic went in last week- and there have already been 7 shoots! Woo hoo! I'm hoping that the rest are just a little slower, because I think I planted about 30 last week, and another 30 today. Why have those guys managed to leap through the soil while the others haven't. I'll have to keep checking up and if they haven't germinated in a week or two, maybe pull them out and replace them? I'm not really sure about garlic planting, except I do know that you should only plant good quality, organic Aussie garlic to avoid introducing foreign diseases into the soil. Also, don't bother planting the white Chinese garlic, because it has been bleached and won't germinate anyway. Nutritionally, bleaching is also a problem. This article was written in 2005 and there has been a big change in the local garlic market i.e. Australian garlic is much more readily available and sought after, but it does make some good points.

Dad keeps buying different versions of lettuce against my wishes. We have 7 rows of different lettuce varities including the four rows of rocket. It's actually getting a little bit ridiculous especially since my valuable space could be used to be planting vegies in time for winter. I've explained that I like my potager to have neat little pretty rows, but he doesn't seem to take this in. He will then come out and say 'you'd better get those lettuces in'. Indeed Old Man. I've threatened to let the seedlings die, but he knows this is empty because I really couldn't let the little things go to the dark side, but seriously mate, there IS NOT ANY MORE SPACE FOR LETTUCE: of any variety.

The snow peas and peas are doing a bit better since they've been doused in the good stuff and they are now heartily climbing up the frame. Peas are tedious but delightful and I'm hoping that they will be plentiful and that someone else has to shell them.

Also, a while ago I sprinkled some old dry cannellini beans through the patch when it was empty. It's supposed to give a nitrogen hit, becoming a form of green manure. Those guys are now sprouting up everywhere and wrecking my rows! I'm considering seeing if I can get a new plot somewhere to grow crops that need a bit more space like the beans. In our front garden, we have three tiers of gardens, but they are dedicated solely to non edible crops. 

I can imagine my Gran (she used to own at this house before we did) turning in her grave at the thought of me ripping out some perennials to plant some pumpkin - however, if she could smell the pumpkin soup cooking at the end of the day, she might just let me get away with it. I'll have to do some negotiating. Maybe Dad can have all his lettuces out the front.

I was so happy with the Big E plant the other day (because it produced three good fruit after a season of bugsy bitten stuff), until I found it had played a trademark trick. Upon closer inspection of the plants, the little buggers had weaseled their way in underneath the leaves at the top. I marched out to the patch, and even though there were nine fruit on it (all bug riddled), decided it had to go the way of the Big Z. Compost bin. Almost to spite me, there were actually three good fruit I found afterwards, and I used those to make a delightful Caponata (recipe below); the only legacy of the Big E plant. Hopefully the kale and other neighbours can thrive now that Big E is not invading their space. Eek. What am I thinking?! I shouldn't speak ill of the dead. Thanks for the memories. RIP Big E.

Whilst I've been concentrating on patch one and two, the herb garden has been a little unloved. I've vowed to get to it this week. At the markets on the weekend,  I bought some more interesting herbs to inspire me, from my friend the 'rank joke' gardening man. Keep in mind that we are in The Sticks, so the choices are limited, heaven forbid something should be TOO interesting. Apple mint, French tarragon, chocolate mint and lemon thyme (ohh la la how Exotic! ha ha ha) are now making an appearance amongst the regulars, and when I'm finished pulling out all the weeds and overgrown grass, it will be looking a treat.

Luckily, after I became mud monster, I did find time to get stuck into some perfect rainy day activities including making some green tomato pickles (my friends grow the tomatoes and I will be doing a post on their garden soon!!) and making some of my (almost) famous pumpkin soup for dinner. Delightful, even if I do say so myself.

 I won't be giving out the recipe for the pickles because it is a closely guarded family secret and I'm entering them into the show. Did I mention the entry fee is 50c? So CUTE!! I am thinking seriously about going into pickle and preserve production, so you may get to taste some yet.

Thanks to the Big E, the caponata recipe was really good. The flesh was firm and so fresh, I was a bit sad to have pulled it out after eating this. 

Caponata is a regular at ours, and I've made heaps of different versions, but went with this on the weekend as I'm a fan of the no capsicum or celery approach (extra olives and capers please). I served with a dukkah crusted, butterflied leg of lamb and some spiced yoghurt dressing which was cooked up on our wood fired bbq, adding a seriously smoky flavour. Yum. Perfect day before the rain dish.

I might add that all the ingredients in the Caponata except the capers are home grown (the eggplant,oregano, parsley and onion) or locally grown (olives and tomatoes), which makes it even mores spesh.

Jamie Oliver's Caponata

• olive oil
• 2 nice large purple aubergines, cut into large chunks
• 1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
• a small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and stalks finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed, soaked and drained
• a handful of green olives, stones removed
• 2–3 tablespoons best-quality herb vinegar
• 5 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
optional: 2 tablespoons slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Get yourself a large pan, pour in a couple of lugs of olive oil, and place on the heat. Add your aubergine chunks and oregano, season with a little salt and toss around so the aubergine is evenly coated by the oil. Cook on a high heat for around 4 or 5 minutes, giving the pan a shake every now and then. (Depending on the size of your pan you may need to cook the aubergine in batches.) When the aubergines are nice and golden on each side, add the onion, garlic and parsley stalks and continue cooking for another couple of minutes. Feel free to add a little more oil to the pan if you feel it's getting too dry. Throw in the drained capers and the olives and drizzle over the herb vinegar. When all the vinegar has evaporated, add the tomatoes and simmer for around 15 minutes or until tender. Taste before serving and season if you need to with salt, pepper and a little more vinegar. Drizzle with some good olive oil and serve sprinkled with the chopped parsley leaves and the almonds if you like.

Jamie's notes:
 This is a fantastic dish from southern Italy that's eaten as a warm vegetable side dish or a cold antipasto. Sicilians are proud that it's made with produce from their island. All the different methods of making it are more or less the same – the things that make it stand out and be special are the quality of the aubergines, tomatoes and vinegar. Always try to get hold of nice firm aubergines with very few seeds – have a look down in your local market to see if you can find different colours. You could even ask your veg boy to cut one open so you can check it out. Don't be tempted to cut the aubergine chunks too small or they will take on so much oil that they will become heavy. If this happens you don't get to admire the lovely creamy flavour and texture. I've eaten caponata that's been swimming in olive oil, but I much prefer mine to be less oily.

1 fabulous comments:

Marina@Picnic at Marina said...

I prefer less oily caponata too. Looks like you've made a perfect meal!

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