Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Chard and Onion Tart

Swiss/Rainbow Chard is one of those vegetables that you often see growing on allotments. It looks a little like rhubarb and is a useful winter vegetable. (The picture isn't from my allotment I'm sorry to say but mine does look a little bit like this! Picture courtesy of Hollis Gardens)

I'd never seen it sold in any supermarkets so had absolutely no idea what it tasted like. At worst, it could taste like celery which, frankly, is The Devil's Vegetable and best avoided, but hopefully it would be nicer than that. I did some online research and spoke to a few people and the consensus was 'strong spinachy flavour', so I thought, "What the heck, I'll have a go".

It's a very rewarding vegetable to grow, just stick the seed in the ground and away it goes and slugs don't seem to like it very much, which is all to the good! So now, as ever, I need to find a use for it. Off I go again to the same Greenbox Company website where I found my Homity Pie recipe mentioned in an earlier post, and they have a whole bunch of recipes for Chard.

I made this recipe below last week and thought it was just so fabulous that I'd share it with you, but with more pictures than last time, so you can see how to do each stage, and just how easy it is!!! Apologies in advance to any American readers but the quantities are in metric, however there are easy-to-find-online conversion tables available, so here we go. Some of the pics have been taken using flash, some not.

Chard and Onion Tart
Serves 2 (large portions)

3 small onions, finely sliced
A decent handful of Chard leaves
6oz shortcrust pastry (half wholemeal, half plain flour is good)
Small pot Creme Fraiche/Sour Cream
Grated fresh Parmesan
Black olives
1-2 tbsp fresh chopped Thyme or decent sprinkling dried Mixed herbs
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 200C/Gas Mark 4

Make your pastry:
The maxim to remember when making shortcrust pastry is 'half fat to flour', i.e., 6 oz flour = 3 oz butter. And I've generally found that the size of the tin you're going to use dictates how much pastry to make - "well, dur..." I hear you cry, but if you have a 6 inch diameter tin, 6 oz of pastry will fit, 7 inches = 7 oz, and so on.

I like half wholemeal half plain flour pastry, and I'm using a 6 inch fluted loose-bottomed flan tin. So, in a big bowl, weigh in 3 oz wholemeal flour, 3 oz plain flour (don't bother sifting) and add 3 oz butter.

Mix it together with your fingers, rubbing the butter through the flour with your fingertips so that it eventually resembles breadcrumbs. This can take a little while but is necessary.

Next add a very small amount of water (it's easier to add water if you've not used enough, but you can't really add more flour if you've used too much because then the fat ratio won't be enough) and, again, using your hands, mix it up until it's a dough that leaves the sides of the bowl pretty clean.

Take your flan tin and using a piece of kitchen roll, grease the tin thoroughly. Next, add the pastry to the tin. The thing about wholemeal pastry is that it's incredibly difficult to roll (unlike plain white pastry), so the easiest thing to do is just take little bits and mould it into the tin, pushing it down so it's not too thick. Again, this takes a little time but is very easy to do as the bits of pastry mush into each other very easily without leaving a join. (I know the picture's at a funny angle but I was trying not to get my shadow in it!)

Prick the base with a fork then stick the tin in the oven for about 20 mins so that it can cook through first. This means that you shouldn't get a soggy bottom (and we all know how uncomfortable that can be...) when it gets baked for the second time with the rest of the ingredients in. This is known as 'baking blind'. The sainted Delia Smith recommends also brushing the base of the flan with beaten egg to form a seal - this does work but it's a bit of a faff and isn't really necessary with this recipe. The picture shows the pastry case before being baked.

So, while that's in the oven, you need to prepare your vegetables.

Peel, halve and then very finely slice the onions. In a largish pan (I use a flat-bottomed wok), melt some butter, add the onions and the thyme/dried mixed herbs. Cook this over a low heat so that the onions don't brown and they sweeten up.

Fill a largish saucepan with water and set it to boil. Wash your chard, the separate the fleshy leaves from the stalk by tearing them off. Chop the stalks into smallish pieces, then roughly chop the leaves. These are the chard leaves I used which, yes, I did grow myself, thank you for asking!

And these are the stalks once the leaves have been removed.

In this picture, the stalks have been chopped up (top right of chopping board) and the leaves are in the process of being chopped up.

When the pan of water is boiling, drop in the chopped stalks and boil them for a couple of minutes - this is because they're thicker than the leaves and need cooking first. Then drop in the rest of the chopped leaves and boil for no more than a minute. This is known as 'blanching'.

Drain the chard into a sieve or colander, run cold water over them to stop the cooking, then squeeze as much water out as you can. I use the back of a wooden spoon. You don't want the mixture to be very wet when it goes into the pastry case.

Then add the cooked chard into the onion & herb mixture in the large pan/wok. You may find that the chard has sort of clumped together into lumps, so now's the time to separate it out to get a more cohesive mix. Heat it all together thoroughly and season with a little salt (you shouldn't need much, the parmesan is salty and I use Lurpak Slightly Salted Spreadable Butter in my pastry, but it's up to you) and freshly ground black pepper.

By now the pastry case should have cooked so spread the chard & onion mixture onto the pastry and push down a little bit to make sure it gets into all the edges.

Add the chopped black olives - I used Black Greek Kalamata Olives from a jar but you can use what you like.

Grate fresh Parmesan over the top. Please, people, don't use the ready-grated stuff that smells like socks - treat yourself to a small piece of the real stuff, it's nutty and sweet and just delicious! You can also add it to any recipe that calls for grated cheese as it's so flavourful.

Now you add your creme fraiche/sour cream. The recipe I used actually says, "a few spoonfuls" but I had half a tub to use up so I did go a bit menkle with it. You might even want to cover the entire top which would, frankly, be fabulous if a little rich (although you could use the half fat stuff instead...). Just drop some spoonfuls on and spread it around a bit.

Then put it back in the oven (I'd put it on a baking sheet/tray as well, just in case there's any leakage although, if the mixture's not too wet, this shouldn't happen, but better safe than sorry...) and leave it there for 15 to 20 mins or so. This will basically just heat it through and melt the parmesan, and it looks like this when taken out.

I serve this with a very simple salad of just lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes but it would go brilliantly with a cold rice or pasta salad, or something fruity with couscous. The flavours are fantastic - the chard definitely tastes like spinach but it doesn't shrivel down to the nothing when you cook it and also doesn't leave that weird furry after-effect on your teeth like spinach does. The olives give a deep tang, the onion and herb mix is sweetly oniony and, err, herby(!) and the parmesan makes it all cheesy. The creme fraiche/sour cream cuts through the lot, and if you serve this with lettuce you won't need any mayonnaise!


Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Aww, shucks.......

It's always good to know that someone out there in the real world enjoys reading what you write and I got up this morning to discover that I'd been 'proximaded' by a woman who blogs under the name of PreTzel in Iowa, USA!

Basically the translation more or less says, "This blog invests and believes, the proximity. [meaning, that blogging makes us 'close' -being close through proxy]. They all are charmed with the blogs, where in the majority of its aims are to show the marvels and to do friendship; there are persons who are not interested when we give them a prize, and then they help to cut these bows; do we want that they are cut, or that they propagate? Then let’s try to give more attention to them! So with this prize we must deliver it to 8 bloggers that in turn must make the same thing and put this text.” Isn't that great? Okay, it's just a bit of fun really and gets passed on to other bloggers (a bit like - but more fun than - one of those round robin letters - 'send this letter on within 48 hours or your central heating will start to smell of fish', you know, that sort of thing) but it's nice to be even a little bit appreciated. So thank you very much, PreTzel.

Trouble is, I don't read eight other bloggers (at least not yet) but I'll pass on the award to those that I do read:

First of all, Ali the Frog's Blog - we first met up at www.allotments-uk.com and have since got chatting offline. Ali's always very interesting to read and people come from miles around to admire her scarecrows!

Then there's Omegamom - K and I met first many years ago on another (now defunct) forum called ONNA, and then we actually met face to face in 1999 when The Husband, The Mother and The Stepfather and I went on holiday to Arizona where K happened to live at the time. She's now in Alaska and is a frighteningly smart lady living in a breathtaking landscape. You want to know about American politics and especially about the American view of all the financial shenanigans? She's your gal! Plus she adopted a baby girl from China several years ago so if that tickles your fancy, head on over! And she has chickens! I'll stop using exclamation marks now....

Stringbean Cheryl's blog deserves a mention, although it needs updating more frequently!!!!! (Okay, I lied about the exclamation marks...)

Finally there's one I've just started reading - Locks Park Farm, stories from a small organic farm in Devon. Just check out the photographs *sigh*. This is the life I would like to lead (apart from the slaughter of the farm animals - I don't think I could do that) - perhaps in my next lifetime...

Anyway, that's it for now, I'm off out to sow Aquadulce Broad Beans because the weather is just beautiful right now so I'll leave you with some pictures other than from the allotment for a change:

This is the view of my back garden as it current is - yes, I'm aware there's a small plastic greenhouse right in the middle of the picture, 'mkay?

This was taken last week when I was out riding in the stunning countryside near Dorking, Surrey. I ride out from the Sariah Arabians stables and there are over 6000 acres of forestry commission land surrounding Leith Hill Tower that are threaded through with hundreds of miles of bridlepaths and footpaths and it's a gorgeous place to ride. That's not me, by the way (obviously I'm taking the picture), that's my good friend Annie riding a lovely Anglo-Arab mare called Shalom - you can see the temperature's dropping because you can see Shalom's breath in the picture.

This was also taken, from horseback, last week. We were under the trees where it was dark but there was a gap where we could see the sun shining on the leaves of the beech tree making them golden and orange, with the stunning blue sky behind, and I just had to take the picture!

And, finally, putting on my archaeologist's hat again, a couple of weeks ago The Husband and I decided to have a pootle down to the South Coast for the day and I suggested we visited The Trundle on the way. The Trundle is a Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure that has a Bronze Age burial mound on the top and Iron Age Hillfort earthworks surrounding it, so there's been activity there for thousands of years. It's directly opposite Goodwood Racecourse and the views are indescribably beautiful. This was taken from the top of the hill (you can just see the earthworks cutting through the very bottom left hand corner of the photo), facing (sort of) north west. Don't forget you can click on every picture in this and all previous posts to make them bigger, and I'd recommend it in this picture, which I'm currently using as a screensaver. It's a perfect example of timeless English countryside.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Homity Pie!

When I was working at the University of Surrey in the last century, I used to really enjoy the meals provided by the vegetarian restaurant. They were very influenced by 'Cranks', a famous vegetarian/wholefood restaurant chain which, more or less, closed down sometime in the 90s (I believe one restaurant is left in the West Country) but they produced some great recipe books. Anyway, I believe the Homity Pie that I used to love at the University is a Cranks recipe and, due to the glut of potatoes I've had from my allotment, I decided to have a go at making it, and this is the result - big success!

Obviously it was a whole pie before I took the picture but it was only after we'd eaten half of it that I wondered if anyone else would be interested in seeing it, and so my rampant egotism took over and demanded that I take a couple of pictures!

Here's the recipe, courtesy of http://colouritgreen.wordpress.com/2008/07/14/homity-pie/

homity pie

1 batch of half wholemeal pastry

2 lbs new potatoes, washed.

2 large onions, halved and sliced

1 wet garlic, chopped

140ml pot of soured cream

2 tbsp of butter

lots of grated cheddar cheese - about 6 oz

Cut the potatoes into cubes and cook in salted water until only just cooked. Drain and set aside. Roll out the pastry and line a greased flan dish, I use an 8" one that is fairly deep. Blind bake in the oven at 160C whilst dealing with the onions. Cook the onions and garlic in the butter gently for about 10 minutes. Now mix the onion, garlic and butter mixture with the potatoes. Then add the soured cream and most of the cheese (leaving some for the top). Pack into the pastry case and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Cook at 160C until browned (30 minutes or so)

It's really simplicity itself and unbelievably yummy! I'd be tempted to cut the potatoes into really quite small cubes, think perhaps slightly larger than dice cubes. This made enough for four substantial meals, which we ate with coleslaw and Moroccan Couscous salad. I should warn you that it's very 'ballasty' though - wholemeal pastry (even if it's only half wholemeal flour) is very dense so the thinner you can get the pastry the better. Don't bother to roll the pastry out because it just falls apart, just grab a handful and push and mould it into the flan tin.


Monday, 13 October 2008

My first ever home-grown cabbage

Check it out - my first ever home-grown cabbage! I can't quite believe that I grew this from seed, and now we're going to eat it!! I'm planning on making Homity Pie tonight with coleslaw and salady stuff, and this red cabbage will go into the coleslaw.

And then I cut it open - I was expecting, oh, I dunno, wormy holes, small maggots, a completely hollow centre, anything other than what I got which was, quite frankly, breathtakingly perfect. The inside of a red cabbage is nothing short of beautiful - the colours, the wavy design, the fact that it's just so tightly packed. I had to rush off with the two halves in my hands to show The Husband what I'd found and to boast that I'd grown this fantastic thing from a single, tiny seed! I was thrilled that he found it just as gobsmacking as I did, and wasn't just saying something nice to please me. Honestly, sometimes the fact that I can eat what I've grown just blows me away! And it chuffs me up no end when I show people my tights-in-the-garage-full-of-onions or my potatoes in their storage bags and they say, "wow, looks just like what you'd buy in a shop!" and that's just it - we all forget that we can grow the stuff that we buy in the supermarket and it'll taste better, be fresher and, quite often, look exactly the same. Ooh, I'm feeling quite evangelical now - or it might just be the 4 glasses of good red wine I've drunk this evening...

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Pictures, as promised

Further to yesterday's post, and as it is SUCH a beautiful day today, I dragged The Husband away from his comfy chair to come and take some photos at the plopment, so here they be (you can click on each picture to make it larger - and I apologise for the fact that I can't work out how to reduce the gap on the page between each section of pic & text...):

This is the existing brassica bed to which I've just added a few more red cabbage, spring cabbage and a dozen sprouting broccoli seedlings. They've been in a couple of days now and the pigeons haven't discovered them yet, so I'm hopeful that I won't need to put up netting.

This is the carrot bed. There are about 100 carrots in there. With a bit of luck I might actually get some that are proper carrot shaped rather than something that would amuse Esther Rantzen...

This is how the Dwarf Curly Kale is currently looking - lush and green, I think you'll agree!

These are my Brussel Sprouts - I really am quite inordinately proud of just how well my brassicas have done, never having grown any of them before. Perhaps they just really like the soil and the conditions are right for them....

This is how the herb bed is looking. As I said in yesterday's posting, the Coriander and French Sorrel have both gone beserk. The Coriander plant turned into a bush that had to be staked and even then still fell over - it goes all the way out to the right hand edge of the picture. Underneath it is the French Sorrel which has also gone a bit mental. [You'll notice I've discovered how to label things on the pictures - classy, huh?]

This is where I've planted up the 200 onion sets and garlic cloves. Not very clear I know, but you can just make out at least one of the 3.5 rows. The birds had only pulled one of the garlic cloves out, which I was relieved about as I didn't relish having to replant them all again - the backs of my legs are still stiff from planting them the first time!

This is where the fruit is going to be planted, when all the bushes, etc., arrive. Two blueberry bushes are already in but they're hard to make out in the picture. I need to get more black plastic to cover the rest of the ground....

So then, a shot of the bottom half of the plopment, taken from beside the future fruit bed.

And a view taken the other way, from the shed looking up the plopment.

And finally, an action shot of me! Taken by The Husband pretending to be a papparazzo hiding behind the raspberry canes!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Damn - October already?

Oh, hey, look I KNOW I've not done an update since the beginning of September and I KNOW there's no pictures with this one but that's just the way it goes sometimes, doesn't it?!? I promise I'll take the camera next time (probably later on this week) and just take a whole bunch of pix.

First things first - just how mental is this weather? Just after I last posted it got cold, then we definitely did have an Indian Summer for about a coupla weeks which was most welcome, then it got a bit colder, and now it's raining but unseasonably warm!! Every time I go to the plopment I have to take a change of clothes because I don't know if it'll stay the same from one hour to the next....

Right then, to business. With the help of The Husband, we've managed to clear the beds that S dug while she was working the plot which meant, rather sadly I suppose, that I've had to dig out the 2 rhubarb plants she put in (mostly because I don't think I'm going to be growing rhubarb and, if I did, it wouldn't be where she'd planted them) and about a gazillion self-replicating strawberry plants (I AM going to be having a strawberry bed but, again, not where she'd put them and probably a different variety), so I'm starting with a clean slate. Also we took out about 10 pounds of Desiree potatoes! We ate the bigger ones but I have to say that I'm about to chuck out the little fiddly ones that are left because not only are we eating hers, but also all the ones that I planted, so we're swimming in spuds!

The top half of the plot is going to be mostly dedicated to fruit so, to this end, we've planted two different varieties of Blueberry bush - 'Jersey' and 'Duke' - one is early fruiting, the other later, and I have a 'Patriot' on order. I've no idea what acidity the soil is so we just played it safe, got 2 smallish (40 litre) bags of ericaceous compost, dug big holes, filled them with the compost then stuck a blueberry bush in each, watered them in and are hoping for the best.

I have many other things on order - 3 Blackcurrant bushes (Wellington XXX), 2 Gooseberry bushes (Langley Gage), 2 Raspberry varieties (Autumn Bliss and Glen Prosen), Strawberries (Aromel), and 1 dwarf Cherry tree (Maynard). I'm also looking into apples and pears but they need to be on very dwarfing root stock and we've not decided what varieties we want yet. I've decided against Redcurrants because we don't eat them now so god knows what we'd do with a bushfull of them.

Yesterday, while it was dry, I took the opportunity of planting 200 overwintering onion sets, consisting of 100 'Swift', 50 red 'Electric', and 50 yellow 'Shenshyu' varieties. I also put in cloves of Solent White and some other kind of garlic whose name I've forgotten.

Last week I cleared the Sweetcorn (as they've now finished) and weeded where the French Beans were (leaving their roots in the ground as they fix nitrogen into the soil) and put in 6 red cabbage, 4 spring cabbage and 12 sprouting broccoli seedlings for brassica fartiness next Spring. We've been eating the Curly Kale (in a fabulous pasta dish which includes bacon, anchovies and chilli, topped with grated fresh parmesan - yum!), and we've had one meal with the Brussels Sprouts, so it's all coming good. Although I do need to find a recipe that uses Chard - any ideas?

My coriander has gone beserk and I'm planning on doing something with the seeds, and the Sorrels are also clambering all over the place - think I'm going to have to thin them for next year. The peppers have done their darndest but none of them turned red. Oh well, I want to grow Chillies next year anyway so may have to rig up some kind of glass frame to go against the shed, into which peppers could go as well.

I think that's is for the time being. I'll put up piccies in the next few days...