Sunday, October 25, 2009

Out of hibernation, into a Spring stew

The coming of Spring has roused Hope Farm out of hibernation and we've been watching the artichokes blossom outside our bedroom window. It's a reassuring reminder that Summer is on its way. Also, that it's time to get back into the garden.

Artichokes seem to me a luxury of the season. Perhaps because they're a flower, or maybe because of their complex flavour. Thing is though, they're a bugger to prepare.

But they're worth the trouble and once you have a method, it's not that bad.

Here's what I do:
  1. Submerge the flowers in a sink full of cold water with a couple of lemon halves (I juice the lemons - and use the juice in the recipe below - and chuck the skins in the water). The lemon will stop the exposed artichoke flesh browning and the water bath will coax the bugs from their homes amongst the petals, so I wear gloves for this!
  2. Pull off the external petals until they are no longer coarse and green, but white and smooth.
  3. Chop the top off the flower at the indent and the stem off just below the base.
  4. Using a small paring knife, trim off the outside of the stalk and around the base, exposing the white flesh.
  5. Then use a teaspoon to scoop out the choke, making sure you remove the little white hairs. (You can cut the artichoke in half as I have done to get a better view).
  6. Keep the trimmed artichokes in the lemon water until you're ready to use them.
Good old reliable Stephanie Alexander had just the recipe to make the most of the first artichokes and carrots of the season Al presented to me. This stew actually turned out far more delicious than I had anticipated and made for a wonderful lunch the next day.

In the last part of the cooking, I panicked, thinking that it might not be substantial enough to feed a hungry, post-gardening Al, so I threw in a handful of penne and a splash more water. It wasn't really necessary, but it allowed us to have leftovers for lunch. I think it would also work well to add a handful of dried, soaked beans at the beginning. You can't go too far wrong with slow cooked, home grown vegies flavoured with garlic, olive oil and fresh herbs - a statisfying reward for a hard day's Spring cleaning.

Artichoke Stew
(Adapted from Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion)

5-6 artichokes, trimmed and quartered (halved if small)
5 small carrots, peeled and halved lengthways
6 small onions, peeled and halved
3 potatoes, washed and quartered
3 cloves garlic, peeled
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock
1 tbs flour
A few sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
Juice of one lemon
2 tbs chopped dill
Grated parmesan
Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-based pot. Add all the vegetables, thyme and bay leaves and fry for a few minutes, stirring to coat in the oil and slightly brown.

In a small bowl, mix a little of the stock with the flour to form a smooth paste. Then add the flour mixture into the rest of the stock. Add the stock to the vegetables and stir to combine. The vegetables should be almost or just covered by the liquid, if not, add a little more water. Season with salt and pepper.

Place a sheet of greased baking paper over the vegetables, put the lid on and leave the pot to simmer on low heat for about 45 minutes, or until the vegies are tender. (At this point you could also add some dried, soaked beans or pasta, if you do, just add some extra water).

Remove the lid, increase the heat and boil to reduce the liquid to a sauce, checking for seasoning as you go.

Top with parmesan and dill and serve with crusty bread.

From the garden: artichokes, carrots, lemon, thyme, dill

Dark, damp soil.

Victoria has had some rain. The farmers are happy, their crops are going well, as are ours. The inner northern suburbs of Melbourne never get the rain of the eastern suburbs, but what we have had has made a noticeable difference.

Carrots, Beetroot and Silverbeet in a raised bed.

In our time living here and growing our own food we have never had even close to average rainfall, so we didn't actully know what difference a little of the wet stuff makes. The garden has taken off giving us plenty of food (and weeds).

Golden acre mini cabbages in a raised bed.

One of my favorite additions to our back garden has been the nasturtiums, I bought an Alaska seed mix and love the way they wind around the raised beds.

The trailing habit of Nasturtiums.

producing abundant bright flowers that attract lots of bees and add a nice touch of pepper to a salad.

Nasturtium flowers.

Another delight this time of the year brings is the Globe Artichoke harvest. Globe artichokes are a member of the thistle family, the edible part is the base of the unopened flower and about 10cm of the stem just below.

Green Globe Artichokes

Every year we look forward to the first artichokes and then fifteen minutes into their fiddly preparation we start looking forward to the end of the artichoke season. It is worth it though when you get them on a plate.

The Brassicas have done well with a drop of rain and a weak Seaweed, Comfrey, Wormjuice etc. tea kicks them along nicely.

Green Calabrese forming heads with splashes of Seaweed tea.

Remember when harvesting members of the Brassica family to lift the entire root from the ground to prevent build up of soil pathogens such as the Brassica disease, Clubroot.

Cabbage root.

The summer veg seedlings are also coming along nicely. I have four different kinds of Tomato; Roma, Tommy Toe, Tigerella and Grosse Lisse. As well as Black Beauty Eggplant, California Wonder Capsicum and Jalapeno Chilli. The general rule here in Melbourne is to plant your Tomatoes out not before Melbourne cup day, so they are currently enjoying the protection of a plastic sunhouse.

Tomato seedlings.

The nicest part of this lifestyle is to feel the seasons, and to come back around to Spring after a Winter hibernation feels great. Our Summer harvest is planned and the work we put in only a few months ago is giving us a bountiful, healthy, organic Spring feast.

Basketful of Spring goodness.