Tuesday, January 11, 2011

First Harvest

I have always had a hankering to have my own garden, but living in apartments in the inner city of Sydney with not even a balcony for the last 20 years or so, it has never really been a viable option. So, when Andrew and I moved into a house with a small garden in September last year, (still in the inner city) I was really keen to try my hand at growing the things I like to eat.

The past few months have been a big learning curve, as I discovered all about creating a basic garden - what plants like what growing conditions, what bugs like what plants and how quickly (or slowly) things grow. There have been some disasters, including sad looking coriander that just would not thrive, no matter what I did and discovering that my love for eating strawberries was matched by a whole barrage of bugs that loved them too. They would even wait until they were almost ready to eat and then scoff the lot, leaving only pale pink stalks. How very dare they!! I have conducted snail patrols at night, removing the culprits that levelled all of my oak leaf lettuce in one night's work and cursed the catterpillars that decided my capsicum leaves were super tasty. Not wanting to use nasty chemicals, I have had to employ the squash and destroy method for those critters!

Our garden beds are pretty much filled with flowers, trees and shrubs - so my herbs and vegetables have all been grown in pots/tubs. I have been amazed at how well things grow in pots and how simple they are to take care of. They also have the advantage of being easy to move around if required. At the moment, I have a few different varieties of lettuce, 6 different kinds of tomatoes (including heirloom varieties), capsicum, beetroot and chillies. In the herb department, we have continental and traditional curly leaf parsley, lemongrass, tarragon, sage, rosemary, lemon verbena, mint, 3 different kinds of basil (including Thai), dill, oregano and thyme. It has been fanatstic to just pop out the back door to pick fresh herbs whenever I want them.

Last week the first of the beetroot and tomatoes were ready to be picked, and I was ridiculously excited to see what began as tiny seedlings grow into actual vegetables! The tomatoes tasted beautiful - a world away from those awful floury things they try to sell in the supermarket. And the beetroot? Well, they are one of my very favourite vegetables, so I wanted to create a dish that showcased their beautiful earthy nature and natural sweetness - not to mention that stunning dark ruby colour.

Beetroot harvested from my garden
(and my first baby Roma tomatoes)

So, what did I do? First, I washed and trimmed the beetroot (removing the stalks/leaves) and boiled them in plain water for about 15 minutes. For the last couple of minutes of cooking, I added 8 whole, peeled eschallots. After cooking, I drained the whole lot. Then I put the eschallots in a bowl and set them aside. I put the hot beetroot in another bowl of cold water and rubbed the outside, removing the tough outside skin.

Next step, I put the beetroot and eschallots in a ceramic dish with 6 cloves garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, a tablespoon maple syrup, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, plenty of salt and pepper and 1 cup of water. I baked it all covered in foil for 50mins at about 190C. Then, I removed the foil, gave it all a stir and let it cook uncovered for another 30 minutes. I let everything cool down a little before tossing the mixture trough some baby spinach leaves and drizzling it with the juices from the pan. And this is what I ended up with...

Roasted baby beet and caramelised eschallot salad

I could not believe how meltingly soft and delicious the garlic and eschallots were, and how sweet and caramelised the beetroot turned out. I chose to use the combo as a base for a salad, but this would also make a brilliant accompaniment for red meat or game. I think that this dish was made even more special by the fact that the beetroot came right out of my very own garden. There is still more beetroot to come - I am going to let the rest of the plants grow bigger and I have 2 long garden boxes full of them. Plenty for other recipes.

As for the rest of the garden -  I've noticed that my first capsicums are coming on and the chillies are loving this hot weather. I have been picking lettuce for the last week or so and the heirloom tomatoes I planted have doubled in size in a really short time. It all seems to be working so far. I have already started thinking of other things I want to grow - it is just so much fun and so satisfying. My humble little corner of the inner city landscape is just bursting with growth and it really does bring a bit of special lush green magic into my world. As my garden has grown, I have become super aware of all the creatures that live there - (as well as the bugs that like to share my crops!!) there are bees, ladybirds, pretty spiders and butterflies - all making my garden their home. I'm just getting so much pleasure from all these living things. Yep -  I think I'm going to like this whole kitchen garden thing!


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