My spring garden is full of life and vigour and there is plenty to take into the kitchen.
While I am not committed or patient enough to grow asparagus, I do have lots of success with broad beans - and so I should as they really are a doddle to grow. Leisurely Saturday lunches include freshly picked baby broad beans barely cooked and tossed with crispy prosciutto, shaved parmesan cheese and asparagus from our local farmers market. The beans that have grown too big for this are instead converted into a dip, where they are cooked and then mashed with mint and feta.
The peas are also looking great and almost ready for picking – this year I have them in earlier than I usually do as previously they have succumbed to mildew in late November which affects both the foliage and pods.
While I know that good gardeners rotate their crops, I have had three years of coriander growing continuously in the same raised bed and so far so good. It started with scattering one packet of seeds and from then on the coriander has just self seeded and kept on growing, meaning there are very few gaps in the year when we don’t have any – ideal with my penchant for South East Asian and Mexican cooking. The heat of summer can be a bit overwhelming for coriander whereas in spring and autumn the garden is a sea of green wavy tops. Coriander roots have a more intense flavour than the leaves so remember to add finely chopped coriander root to curry pastes, stir fries etc, and then use the leaves generously as a garnish.
Keeping the coriander company both in the garden and on the plate are lemongrass, Thai basil and Vietnamese mint. The lemongrass is potted to prevent it taking over the garden and while growth slows considerably in winter, it is now taking off again. Excess stems can be trimmed, roughly chopped and frozen, making it quick and easy to access for recipes. The Vietnamese mint is also a plant that likes to spread, but along with regular mint I let it race away beneath my blackberries and raspberry canes.
My oregano is coming away again with lots of spring growth; oregano is really the only herb I think is better in flavour dried than fresh, although the fresh leaves are attractive as a garnish or for adding colour to tomato pasta and pizza sauces.
Friday night is pizza night at ours. I have the dough mixing in the cake mixer by the time school finishes and then it is set aside to rest. As well as the various toppings, we always have pizza bread with garlic, rosemary and sea salt. For this reason my rosemary gets so well picked it barely has time to grow. Thank goodness for generous neighbours who put up with me frantically leaping into their garden, secateurs in hand constantly cutting back their rosemary.
Mostly my sage is there for its pretty blue bee attracting flowers and as an essential herb for roast chicken stuffing. Sage leaves cooked to a crisp in butter are positively delicious and can be served with potato gnocchi or with quality pasta. The only thing missing is basil which needs more heat to really take off but once it does it will be hey pesto....
By Helen Jackson