Recently it has become apparent that most of the meals I eat are vegetable orientated. There are two reasons for this; firstly I have a cornucopia of vegetables in my garden at present and each one needs celebrating in its own way and secondly meat is so expensive.
I can go into Sainsbury’s and pick up four chicken breasts for £6. Not the extra special ones, not the organic ones, just the standard ones. My alternative is to go to the farmer’s market and pick up two whole chickens for £10. These are free range chickens and I would still get four chicken breasts but I would also get four drumsticks, four wings, four thighs and two carcasses for making beautiful stock with. It’s a no brainer really.
Back to the vegetables. I have had rather a successful year vegetable wise if I do say so myself. There have been ups and downs, will it survive, will it die and all sorts. My only failure this year was a complete lack of enthusiasm from the celeriac I planted. It has done absolutely diddly squat so I planted some leeks on top instead and they’re a roaring success. To celebrate all that had grown I made something out of one of everything from the garden.
First and foremost comes the pulling out, up and sometimes sideways of the vegetables. I find parsnips the most challenging to extract, they just won’t come out without a little persuasion from the garden fork. The beetroot just seem to fall out as soon as you look at them. I think the varying and sometimes even rude or comical shapes of the vegetables adds to their charm.
So for this vegetable feast I used: four parsnips, six carrots, seven beetroot, one leek, one courgette (I picked two but it would have been too many) and a whole host of tomatoes. Along with this and which I hadn’t grown were some potatoes, some onions and what seemed like a wheel of cheese.
One of my favourite ways of having tomatoes is roasting them. You can use up some dodgy looking ones and no one will ever know. Halve the tomatoes and lay them seed side up on a baking tray – as above. Drizzle over some olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper and some thyme. Roast in a hot oven (220C) until soft, squidgy and brown at the edges. This is a wonderful way of preparing tomatoes as they make their own juice while cooking.
To use up a few carrots and make something deliciously different, grate five or six carrots into a bowl and grate in an onion. Add an egg, a handful of grated cheese, a tablespoon of flour and some cumin or chilli if you have it hanging around. It will look a little dry so add little drops of double cream until it’s sort of like rice pudding. Form these into little patties, heat up a little butter and olive oil and drop them in. It is essential you leave them long enough to form a crust otherwise it might be a complete disaster when you come to flip them over. Fry on both sides until beautifully golden brown.
I have grown courgettes for the longest time of all the vegetables I grow. I love this recipe with raw courgette or cooked. Make a dressing in a bowl of three parts olive oil (as nice as you can get) and one part lemon. Sprinkle in a little salt and pepper and some chopped basil. If you don’t have basil parsley would work just as well. Slice the courgette thinly, slice it slightly thinner if you want to eat it raw. If you go for the raw option then just chuck the slices into the dressing and it’s done. Otherwise place the courgettes into a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for 30 minutes for some of the water to drip out. You can then fry the courgettes in a pan or on a griddle with a little olive oil. Mix the dressing with the courgette slices while still warm.
Growing beetroot means that at some point it needs to be cooked and this comes with a certain amount of danger. I know at some point, somewhere, something will turn pink. It might be me, it might be the worktop, the floor and anything in between. In order to minimise all risk and unwanted fuchsia, I boil the beetroot. I leave about four to six inches of the leaves on as it makes them easier to handle when cooked. Don’t peel. It’s hard to say how long to boil them for but they should easily take the point of a knife. Drain and leave to cool. If sufficiently boiled, the skins and stalks should fall off in your hands. This is one of my favourite things to do in the kitchen as it is so satisfying. I swear I only grow beetroot so I can peel it like this. Dress the cooked beetroot simply with salt, pepper, a little walnut oil and some balsamic vinegar.
This is a little variation of mash potato and I could eat a bowlful on its own every night and end up with a huge smile on my face. Fry some leeks in an oven proof pan in a little butter or oil. Put some left over mash potatoes (or newly created ones) on top of the leeks and cover with grated cheese. Put in the oven until the cheese is all melted and stringy.
Parsnips can sometimes be ignored I feel. This parsnip gratin is a great way to celebrate the humble parsnip. Slice four parsnips very thinly along with a small onion. Layer the parsnips and onions in a tray ending with a layer of parsnips. In between each layer add a little seasoning and some thyme or rosemary if you want. Pour over some vegetable stock until it’s about halfway up the tray and bake in an oven around 200C. Cover with foil for the first 25 to 30 minutes, test the parsnip to see if it’s soft and then return to the oven for 10 or so minutes for the cheese to crisp up.
This was a wonderful meal as there was something for everyone. We all grabbed a plate and shovelled on as much or as little as we wanted. It was lovely to share food together and everyone was happy. All these amazing vegetables were ready at the same time to be enjoyed and made into anything you’d want them to be.