episode 66 | show notes & advice
This week’s episode is championing the good life. There is still plenty of time to get edibles into your garden. Here are all the veg, herb and salad seedlings Sarah and Arthur recommend getting into the ground now to harvest for months to come.
In this episode discover
- The tastiest, most reliable tomato varieties for the home gardener
- Sarah’s top tips for easy to grow courgettes and her delicious stuffed courgette flowers recipe
- How Arthur reinvigorates pots of tired-looking mint
- Why nasturtiums are such a great multi-purpose plant, especially if gardening on a smaller scale.
- Sarah’s superfood tomato recipes plus how to make her favourite beetroot, feta and rocket salad
Episode 66 advice sheet
Tomatoes are slow growing and also really benefit from being potted on in stages before going into the garden. Grow them in a greenhouse ideally or go for a sheltered south facing site. Sarah has spent decades trialling and testing different tomatoes to find the tastiest and most reliable varieties for the home gardener. Her top recommends are:
· ‘Sungold’ – small golden yellow-orange tomatoes with the sweetest flavour. Very prolific.
· Tomato and Basil Collection – Sarah’s classic collection containing ‘Sungold’, ‘Gardener’s Delight’ and ‘Black Russian’ – a delicious, juicy blue-black-red tomato, packed full of the antioxidant anthocyanin which helps protect against Alzheimer’s. Read more about this in Sarah’s superfoods tomato article or find out more in her book Good Good Food. Basil is a fantastic companion plant for tomatoes, protecting against aphids and bringing in beneficial insect pollinators to fertilise every flower.
· ‘Micro cherry’ - Arthur’s tomato pick, which he is growing alongside another great companion plant for tomatoes, the French marigolds - Tagetes. He’ll alternate them in lovely terracotta pots en masse down a table and on a plant stand.
· Spring Salad and Stir Fry Collection
Arthur wants to grow this collection for a few reasons. Firstly, because he found out that salad sold in bags is washed in chlorine and he’d much rather eat this homegrown cut-and-come-again crop. Then, growing mustards is excellent for crop rotation, with huge anti-fungal benefits for the soil it goes into, particularly recommended if you’d had problems with blight. Finally, for as a cut foliage, he recently paired Mustard ‘Red Frills’ with violas in vases at Perch Hill and would like to do this at home.
Sarah’s top courgette tips
· A friend taught her to create wind breaks with straw bales (organic ideally) when planting courgettes. The straw can then be composted, layered between kitchen and garden waste, which is good for aerobic composting.
· Go for a multicoloured bunch – a yellow like ‘Atena Polka’, a dark green (such as ‘All Green Bush’) and a light green ‘Romanesco’ or ‘Bianca di Trieste’.
· Pick the flowers as much as the fruit. Pick the stigma off the end as it’s a little bitter. See below for a simple, delicious stuffed courgette flower recipe.
· Courgettes are super quick growing for May and June – get the seedlings now to be picking soon.
Mint for scent, ground cover, tisanes and as a cut flower
Arthur recommends mint as ground cover in the garden. Mint will romp away, bees love it and it makes a great cut flower. Sarah is doing a mint trial at Perch Hill this year, on Arthur’s request, trialling different varieties for scent, as cut flowers, to cook with and make herbal teas from.
If your potted mint is looking tired, Arthur recommends cutting it right back, tipping it out and chopping up all the spaghetti-like roots. Put all the chopped up roots back into the pot where they will re-root (a bit like bindweed) for a reinvigorated plant.
Nasturtiums are an excellent multi-purpose plant
Sarah loves a good multi-purpose plant, especially if gardening on a small scale, and nasturtiums fit the bill. They are easy to grow - plant them and, like courgettes, within weeks you will have lovely edible flowers that are also good for cutting. You can eat the flowers, buds and the baby leaves, and pickle the seedpods in vinegar like capers. Grow nasturtium seedlings down the side of gravel path, like you see at Monet’s Giverny garden, for a wonderful sea of different tones of oranges, reds – they come in so many different colours now and do well in poor soil. Nasturtiums are also a great container plant, to trail over the sides of pots or as a climber growing up hazel posts.
· Lemon verbena – Arthur recommends this wonderful, scented herb. Drought tolerant, it will be happy in a pot or a deep window box. The fresh leaves make a fantastic herbal tea.
· Beetroot seedlings – Sarah recommends planting these seedlings now so this summer you can make her favourite beetroot, rocket and feta salad.
Beetroot, rocket and feta salad
I’ve been making this delicious, straight from the garden salad for years.
Serves 4 (as a main course)
- 4 medium sized beetroot
- 8 good handfuls of rocket leaves, (or mix rocket, mizuna, mustard, baby chard, baby kale, water or landcress)
- 2 palmfuls of fresh mint leaves (ideally but not essential). They add a nice fresh bite.
- 200g feta cheese
For the dressing
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- Flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper
Leaving their skins on, simmer or roast the beetroot until really tender (20-30 min, depending on size). Let them cool slightly and rub off the skins. I do them just in my fingers.
Cut into chunks and allow to cool completely. Meanwhile, combine all the dressing ingredients. Then dry your salad leaves gently but well.
Put all but the salad leaves in a bowl, reserving a sprinkling of mint. Pour over the dressing and toss well.
Scatter a base of dried, mixed leaves over the serving plates, then top with the beetroot, feta mix. Scatter a few torn mint leaves over the top and eat.
You can also serve this in a large shallow bowl in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves.
Stuffed courgette flowers with honey
This recipe might look tricky, but is, in fact, perfectly easy. The Cretan combination of the mild goat's cheese with the runny honey is wonderful.
- 16 courgette flowers
- 100g pine nuts or 150g fresh/frozen peas
- 150g cream cheese
- 150g goat's cheese, crumbly or soft (any that will mix in the the cream cheese)
- Salt and black pepper
- Small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Light olive oil, for frying
- Runny honey, to serve
For the batter
- 225gg plain flour
- 2 eggs
- Salt and black pepper
- 375ml cold lager
First make the tempura batter. Sift the flour into a bowl with the salt and pepper and make a dip in the centre. Add the eggs and, with a balloon whisk, mix in the cold lager to make the batter the thickness of double cream that is not too smooth. Keep this in the fridge until you need it.
Shake the courgette flowers to dislodge any ants or earwigs that might be hidden inside, and remove the stigma from the centre. If you have mini courgettes with the flowers, slit them lengthways two-thirds of the way up the fruit (this allows the heat to penetrate the courgette flesh).
Toast the pine nuts or cook the peas in plenty of salted boiling water for 3 minutes. In a mixing bowl, combine the pine nuts or peas with the cheeses, salt, pepper, thyme and olive oil.
Using your fingers, gently part the flower petals, leaving one finger inside to keep them open. Carefully stuff each flower with 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture, sealing the pointed end by giving it a little twist.
Fill a deep saucepan with enough oil to reach about one-third of the way up the side, and have a lid or splash-guard on standby to prevent the oil splitting too much after you add each batch. Heat the oil until it reaches about 190c, or until a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds.
Coat your stuffed flowers with batter and shallow-fry them - just 3 or 4 at a time - until they're crisp and golden (you'll need to turn them while they're cooking). Drain on kitchen paper.
Put 2 flowers per person on individual plates, drizzle with the honey and add a scattering of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Tomato tart with poppy seed pastry recipe
One of the best summer tarts, with delicious extra nuttiness from the poppy seeds, sharpness from the tomatoes a good contrast to the creamy cheese.
For the pastry
- 140g plain flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 50g poppy seeds, toasted
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 100g butter
- 1 - 1½ tablespoons milk
For the filling
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tins tomatoes (or 1kg fresh)
- ½ teaspoon caster sugar
- Dash of red wine vinegar
- 4 - 6 basil leaves
- 200g soft goat’s cheese
First make the pastry. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, add the toasted poppy seeds and sugar, then rub in the butter by hand until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Alternatively, pulse in a food processor. Add the milk, just enough to bring the pastry together into a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for an hour or so.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4 and heat a baking sheet until searing hot.
Line a 28cm loose-bottomed tart tin with the pastry, leaving the excess draped over the sides in case it shrinks. Prick the bottom of the pastry case with a fork, line with greaseproof paper or foil and weigh this down with baking beans or rice.
Place on the baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove the baking beans and paper and bake the case for another 5 minutes. Take out of the oven and trim off the excess pastry. Keep the oven on and reheat the baking sheet.
While the tart case is cooking, sweat the onions in butter until soft. Add the tomatoes, sugar, vinegar and let the mixture bubble away until thick and reduced.
Crumble the cheese onto pastry case, scatter over basil leaves and cover with the tomato mixture.
Bake for 25 minutes at 200˚C.
Serve with a crispy green salad topped with petals.
For a fabulous instant gazpacho, like health in a bowl.
· 500g tomatoes
· 1 baby cucumber (Sarah likes ‘La Diva’)
· 1 red pepper (optional)
· 2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
· 1 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
· Salt and pepper
Blitz the whole thing with a wand whizzer, or put the mixture into a food processor and process, until it becomes quite smooth.
Season, chill and serve very cold, with a few fresh chives or ice cubes.