Two potato gnocchi (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Two potato gnocchi. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’m feeling a bit pleased with myself this week. I have just dug up the first couple of sweet potato plants and harvested a reasonable crop. I planted the “slips” back in early June in my unheated greenhouse, and with the wonderful summer we had this year along with plenty of watering, the plants flourished.

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Home-grown sweet potatoes, variety: Beauregard. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To be honest, the sweet potatoes did better than the regular potatoes I planted outside. I grew my favourite variety, Pink Fir, which have knobbly pink skins and a delicious flaky texture inside. I had a fair crop, but I think the lack of natural rain water did inhibit their growth.

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Final crop of Pink Fir potatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

This week’s recipe combines the two varieties to make one of my favourite Italian meals, the floury potato dumplings known as gnocchi. Adding sweet potato in the mix gives the dumplings a light golden colour, and subtle sweet flavour.

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Freshly cooked two potato gnocchi. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Choose a dry textured white potato to mix with the sweet potato, and you’ll have the perfect textured gnocchi. Because my sweet potatoes were home-grown, they were quite small in comparison to ones I can buy. To make the perfect gnocchi, you cook the potato whole, in the skin, so you may need to cut up the potatoes if they are very large to make sure both varieties cook evenly and in a reasonable time.

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Scrubbed and ready for cooking. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Once the dumplings are cooked through, I like to pop them in a heated pan with some melted dairy-free margarine and olive oil, and stir fry them for a few minutes to crisp up the outsides. The more traditional way of serving gnocchi is simply freshly boiled, seasoned, and then accompanied with the dressing of your choice – I like to dress freshly cooked gnocchi with extra virgin olive oil, some fresh basil and wild rocket leaves. I hope you enjoy the recipe.

Ingredients

Serves: 3 to 4

  • 450g same-size sweet and white potatoes, scrubbed
  • Approx. 100g gluten-free plain flour blend (I use Dove’s Farm)
  • Salt
  • 25ml good quality olive oil
  1. Put the whole potatoes, unpeeled, in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook until tender – mine took about 15 minutes. Drain well, and leave to cool for about 10 minutes until just cool enough to handle, then slip off the skins.
  2. For perfectly smooth gnocchi, process the cooked potatoes by pushing through a ricer or wide meshed metal sieve, directly on to the work top, then work in sufficient flour, along with ½ tsp salt and the olive oil to make a smooth, firm dough.

    Preparing_potatoes_for_making_gnocchi
    Cooking and ricing potatoes for gnocchi. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Leave the dough to rest for 15 minutes on the work top, then divide into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into long rolls about 2cm thick, and cut each roll into 2cm wide chunks. You should be able to make about 50 pieces in total.
  4. To achieve the distinctive shape of the dumplings, roll the potato pieces into a balls and gently press your finger into the centre of each to make an indent, then roll onto the prongs  of a fork to make the pattern. Spread out the prepared gnocchi on a clean floured tea-towel.

    How_to_shape_Italian_potato_dumplings_(gnocchi)
    Shaping gnocchi. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. To cook, bring a large pan of lightly salted water to the boil and cook the dumplings gently, in 2 batches, for 2-3 minutes until they float to the surface, then remove from the saucepan  using a slotted spoon and place them in a warm serving dish. Cover and keep warm while you prepare the remaining gnocchi in the same way. Serve immediately with your favourite accompaniment. Buon Appetito!

    Close-up_on_serving_of_freshly_cooked_home-made_two_potato_gnocchi
    Freshly cooked gnocchi with fresh basil, black pepper and wild rocket. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Runner bean fattoush (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Runner bean fattoush. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A variation on a Middle Eastern classic salad for you this week. Fattoush is served all over the Middle East in various forms, but always with toasted bread added to it. It makes a light and refreshing sharing platter as a starter or lunch, and also serves as a versatile accompaniment to barbecued and grilled food. Most usually Fattoush consists of crisp lettuce, cucumber, tomato, pepper, onion and herbs, with chunks of bread tossed into them. It is usually dressed simply with olive oil and lemon juice.

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My take on a Middle Eastern classic salad. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The good mix of sunshine and, latterly, rain this summer has produced a flourish of runner beans. Only 3 plants survived the initial “trauma” of being planted outside this year, and they were very skinny and frail for several weeks. But then suddenly they took off, and now just look at them, I have my very own giant beanstalks.

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Come rain, come shine, I have plenty of beans on the vine. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

My fattoush recipe combines the salad ingredients I have growing in the garden at the moment – cucumber, tomatoes and runner beans. For the herb, I used salad burnet which has a refreshing cucumber taste; coriander, mint and parsley are most usually added.

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Freshly picked runner beans, cucumber and salad burnet. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Instead of onion, I used fresh chives, and for extra crunch, I chopped up some whole almonds and sprinkled them on top. After toasting the bread, I seasoned it with salt, pepper and tangy sumac powder for extra zing.

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Toasted gluten-free pittas with olive oil and sumac. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Ingredients

Serves: 4

  • 175g runner beans
  • 1 Romaine or Little Gem lettuce
  • 150g cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small cucumber
  • A small bunch fresh chives (or use 3 chopped spring onions, or finely chop half a small red onion)
  • A few sprigs salad burnet (or coriander, parsley and/or mint)
  • 2 large gluten-free pitta breads
  • Good quality olive oil
  • Sumac powder
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 50g whole almonds, roughly chopped
  • Fresh lemon
  1. Trim the beans – I like to peel the sides with a vegetable peeler, and then nip of the tops. Cut into chunks. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and cook the beans for 3-4 minutes until lightly cooked. Drain well and rinse in cold running water to cool. Drain well.

    TRimming_and_chopping_home-grown_runner_beans
    Preparing fresh runner beans. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. Tear or shred the lettuce and place in a large serving bowl. Halve the tomatoes, and thickly slice the cucumber. Toss into the lettuce along with the cooked beans. Snip the chives into pieces with scissors and strip the leaves from the salad burnet or other fresh herbs. Mix into the salad.
  3. Toast the pitta breads. Brush with oil and sprinkle with sumac and season to taste. Tear into chunky pieces and toss into the salad. Sprinkle with almonds. Serve the salad with olive oil and wedges of lemon to squeeze over.

    Runner_bean_fattoush_salad_close-up
    Close-up on fattoush. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Warm tomato, sage and caper bruschetta (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Warm tomato, sage and caper bruschetta. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I have never been able to pick home-grown tomatoes this early before. Usually, my tomatoes don’t ripen until at least September, and I’m always left wondering whether I will be making pots-loads of green tomato chutney. This year, the tomatoes are ripening at least one month ahead, and I am delighted 🙂

I planted 8 different varieties this year in the greenhouse, and all are doing very well. I’m going to be eating a lot of tomatoes this year!

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Early August tomato harvest. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I enjoy eating tomatoes raw, simply sliced, sprinkled with a little seasoning, and a pinch of sugar to bring out the sweetness, and topped with a few fresh basil leaves.

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A colourful variety of tomatoes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

However, I do cook with them occasionally, and my recipe this week is for a lightly cooked tomato dish which I put on top of gluten-free ciabatta-style bread to eat as a light lunch or quick supper snack. The topping also makes a great sauce to serve over pasta or roast veg. The tomatoes are flavoured with fresh sage, garlic and capers, and for a tangy sweetness, I’ve added a little white balsamic vinegar.

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Rosella tomatoes, fresh sage, and Flamingo tomatoes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To enjoy all the flavours of the recipe, leave the mix to cool slightly before serving rather than eating it too hot or fresh out of the saucepan.

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Bruschetta ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 225g small tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • A few leaves fresh sage
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. capers
  • 1 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 slices of freshly toasted bread
  1. Put the tomatoes, sage, garlic, capers and vinegar in a small saucepan. Season to taste and heat gently until simmering. Cover with a lid, turn down the heat to low and cook the tomatoes very gently for 10 minutes, until soft. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes.

    Tomatoes_capers_fresh_sage_and_gluten-free_ciabatta_bread
    Bruschetta ingredients and preparation. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  2. To serve, discard the sage leaves. Drizzle freshly toasted bread with olive oil and spoon over the tomato topping. Garnish with fresh sage.

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    Bruschetta, ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Fresh raspberry jellies (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Fresh raspberry jellies. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s peak raspberry season here in central Scotland, and the juicy red fruits are coming thick and fast. I have bags of berries in the freezer already for jam making later on in the year, but right now, I’m enjoying them cooked in a compote with rhubarb on my breakfast granola and as an occasional treat in a fruity dessert. Fresh_Scottish_raspberries_growing_on_bushes

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Ripe and ready for picking, home-grown Glen Ample raspberries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

My recipe this week takes me back to my childhood. We often had jelly for dessert as kids. Using fresh fruit takes a bit of effort but the flavour can’t be beaten. The variety of raspberries I grow are called Glen Ample. They are ideal for cooking because they are very juicy and flavoursome, but they do lack sweetness when eaten fresh. You may need to alter the amount of sugar and water in the recipe if you have a different variety.

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Freshly picked and ready for cooking. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To set jellies, I use the Dr Oetker product ‘Vege-Gel’, which is a gelling powder made from Carrageenan. It gives a lovely silky, smooth soft texture. You’ll need to alter the preparation instructions if you prefer to use another setting agent.

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Free-from home-made raspberry jelly. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To finish the jellies off, I made a free-from white ‘chocolate’ and coconut ganache to top the jellies for an extra special indulgence. Use dark chocolate if you prefer something less sweet.

Makes: 4

Ingredients

  • 450g fresh raspberries
  • 100g caster sugar (or amount to taste)
  • 6.5g sachet Vege-Gel (Dr Oetker)
  • 100g free-from white ‘chocolate’
  • 50g dairy-free coconut milk yogurt
  • Fresh raspberries and raspberry leaves to decorate
  1. Rinse the raspberries and shake off the excess water. Put in a saucepan with the sugar and 75ml water. Heat gently, stirring occasionally and carefully, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes without stirring. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Place a nylon sieve over a heatproof jug and strain the raspberry mixture through. Leave to cool completely then discard the pulp. Try to avoid squeezing the raspberry mixture in the sieve as this will make the jelly cloudy.
  3. Pour 200ml cold water into a bowl and sprinkle over the Vege-Gel powder. Whisk until completely dissolved. Pour into a saucepan and add the raspberry juice. Heat the mixture to boiling point and then leave to cool for about 30 minutes. As the liquid cools, the mixture begins to set, so keep an eye on it to avoid it setting completely in the saucepan.

    Preparation_steps_for_making_vegan_jelly
    Making vegan raspberry jelly. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. Divide the mixture between tumblers or heatproof glasses – the glasses need to be at least 150ml capacity. Leave to cool completely, then chill for an hour until firm.

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    Making free-from white chocolate ganache. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. For the topping, melt the free-from chocolate in a small heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then stir in the yogurt. Spoon on top of each jelly and return to the fridge for a further hour to set. Decorate, serve and enjoy 🙂

    Single_serving_of_vegan_fresh_raspberry_jelly
    Free-from fresh raspberry jelly with white ‘chocolate’ ganache-style topping. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Rhubarb and almond jalousie (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Iced and sliced, rhubarb and almond jalousie. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I pulled my first stems of rhubarb at the weekend. The 3 crowns I re-planted back in the Autumn are doing well in their new patch (watched over by 2 stone rabbits), and it is looking likely that there will be plenty more stems before the summer is over.

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My first harvest of home-grown rhubarb. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To celebrate my first harvest, I have a simple rhubarb recipe to share this week. It’s a pastry classic, and gets its name from a slatted louvre window because it has thin slits cut across its top which give a glimpse of the filling inside. I’ve combined the tartness of the fresh rhubarb with the sweet, richness of marzipan, but I realise this is an ingredient not to everyone’s taste, so if you’re not a marzipan fan, simply leave it out altogether or make a thick vanilla custard instead and spread this across the pastry instead.

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Iced and ready to serve. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I gave a recipe for a Gluten-free rough puff pastry (with dairy-free & vegan variation) on my blog last year which you can use for this recipe, but if you don’t have time to make your own, SillyYak make a very good gluten-free, vegan-friendly pastry. Alternatively, for wheat eaters, roll out ready-made traditional puff pastry thinly and instead.

Serve this delicious pastry warm as a dessert with custard or leave to go cold and enjoy a slice as a pastry with a cup of coffee.

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 300g fresh rhubarb
  • 40g caster or vanilla sugar
  • 325g gluten-free, vegan puff pastry (such as Silly Yak)
  • 125g natural marzipan, coarsely grated
  • A little dairy-free milk, optional
  • 50g icing sugar
  • A few drops almond extract
  • A few toasted flaked almonds
  1. Trim the rhubarb and cut into short, even-thickness lengths. Place in a frying pan, sprinkle over the sugar and heat gently until steaming. Cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes until tender. Leave to cool completely. Cooking rhubarb this way means you will have little juice which is important in this recipe in order to keep the pastry crisp.
  2. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan oven, gas 7). Line a large flat baking tray with baking parchment. Divide the pastry into 2 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of pastry to make a rectangle 28 x 15cm.
  3. Sprinkle over the marzipan, leaving about 2cm pastry showing all round the edge, and spread the rhubarb on top. Brush the pastry edge with water or little dairy-free milk if preferred.

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    Preparing the bottom layer of the jalousie. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. Roll the other piece of pastry to a rectangle slightly larger than the bottom piece and carefully lay the pastry on top. Press down the edges well to seal them together and slice off any ragged pastry to neaten the edge.
  5. Using a sharp knife, cut thin slashes through the top of the pastry to make the slatted effect. Carefully transfer the pastry to the baking tray, brush with dairy-free milk if liked and bake for about 30 minutes until browned. Leave on the tray to cool for 30 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool further.

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    Finishing and baking the jalousie. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  6. To decorate, sieve the icing sugar into a small bowl and mix in a few drops of almond extract and about 2 teasp warm water to make a smooth, drizzling icing. Use a teaspoon to drip the icing all over the top of the warm or cold pastry and then scatter with almonds. Transfer to a serving plate or board to slice and serve.
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    Freshly drizzle-iced jalousie, sprinkled with toasted flaked almonds. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    Slice_of_rubarb_and_almond_jalousie_ready_to_eat
    An iced slice, ready to eat. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

 

August in a Scottish garden

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August flower border with Ox-eye daisies. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Since the end of last month, it has felt like summer has left us here in central Scotland. There have even been a couple of chilly nights when it’s felt like Autumn is on the way. Whilst there has been some warm sunshine, the blue sky days have been peppered with heavy rain showers, and the poor plants, flowers and shrubs have been taking a battering.

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Soft pink Astilbe. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

This baby pink-coloured Astilbe reminds me of candy-floss. The tiny, soft flowers bunch together to give a fluffy-looking display which seems to bounce back even after the heaviest of showers. Just as pink and delicate-looking (and able to withstand the rain!) are the Japanese anemones which grow in a cluster at the base of one of the trees in the back garden. I also have a white variety but this year, the pinks are well ahead of the whites.

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Pale pink Japanese anemones. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

On the opposite flowerbed to the anemones is where the wispy Scabious grow. I tie the wiry floral stems in loose bunches, supported with canes, to keep them from falling over and splaying all over the place. The blooms form small white globes, tinged with pale blue-lilac petals; they are so pretty, and the bees love them!

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Wispy Scabious blooms. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

There are lots of flamboyant red and mauve poppies growing alongside the fruit bushes at the moment, but sadly, each one is only surviving no longer than a single day. These beauties are just too fragile to withstand the heavy rain drops. I managed to enjoy this one for a few hours this week, but sadly the next morning, all the petals had fallen.

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Rain splattered mauve poppy. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’m glad of some longer lasting colour in the garden from my ever-faithful Hydrangeas. All the bushes are in flower now and they will continue to bloom for several weeks, subtly changing colour as time goes on. At the moment, the colours are soft and muted, but as Autumn draws nearer, the petals will deepen in colour and become more intense.

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Fresh in bloom, assorted Hydrangeas. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To finish my garden round-up for this month, the greenhouse is pretty colourful at the moment as well. I’ve been picking cucumbers and tomatoes for a few days now, and it looks like I am going to have plenty of produce for the weeks to come. So, until next month, I bid you: happy gardening!

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In the greenhouse, cucumber and Tigerella tomatoes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

 

New season courgettes + recipe for courgette and thyme fritters (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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My first vegetable harvest of 2017: home-grown courgettes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The mild spring weather and fine, early summer days has brought on my greenhouse vegetables a treat this year. It looks like I’m in for another bumper crop of courgettes. I thought I’d try to grow a new variety, and decided on this round, globe courgette called Tricolour. I only raised 4 plants from seed, so it is completely by chance that I’ve ended up with 2 yellow and 2 dark green vegetable plants. The third colour is pale green, and, I guess, is to be saved for next year.

Providing you give them plenty of water, I think growing courgette plants offers little challenge to the gardener, and for a modicum of effort, you are usually rewarded with plenty of produce. I have mine growing in grow-bags; the roots don’t stretch very deep so it is an ideal way to grow them if space is limited.

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My grow-bag courgettes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Here’s an easy recipe for a courgette starter or vegetable accompaniment. Chives or rosemary work well in the batter instead of thyme, if you prefer. If you’re not dairy-free, add a couple of tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan cheese to the batter for extra flavour. The batter goes with any vegetable that’s suitable for deep-frying such as rings of onion, baby leeks, spring onions, sliced mushrooms, strips of pepper and carrot, sliced aubergine, etc.

Courgette and thyme fritters – serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 400g courgettes
  • 65g self-raising gluten-free flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 40g cornflour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teasp freshly chopped thyme leaves + extra for serving
  • 90ml soda water
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
  1. Wash and pat dry the courgettes. Trim away the ends and cut into thin slices, approx. ½ cm thick. Arrange in layers in a wide, shallow dish, sprinkling lightly with 25g of the flour as you go. Make sure both sides of each slice have a light coating of flour.
  2. For the batter, mix the rest of the flour with the cornflour in  bowl and season. Stir in the chopped thyme leaves. Using a small whisk, gradually blend in the soda water. Heat the oil for deep-frying to 180°C.
  3. Carefully pour the batter over the courgette slices, lifting them up so that the batter seeps right through to the bottom of the dish – the slices don’t have to be completely covered in batter (this is a very light, crispy batter that cooks better when used sparingly) but make sure there is a little on each slice. Tongs are useful for lifting individual slices.
  4. Cook the slices in the hot oil, in  4 batches, for 4-5 minutes, turning occasionally, until crisp and lightly golden. Drain well and keep warm whilst cooking the remaining slices. Serve as soon after cooking as possible, sprinkled with more fresh thyme and some crushed sea salt flakes.
    Freshly_cooked_courgette_fritters_in_a_thyme_flavoured_batter
    Courgette and thyme fritters. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    For more recipes using courgettes see my previous posts Home-grown courgettes with chive butter (gluten-free) and Yellow courgette and lemon cake (gluten-free, dairy-free)

 

Homegrown strawberries – tips and recipe ideas

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Homegrown Scottish strawberries Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It feels like summer is here now that my strawberries are ripening. The aroma of sweet berries fills the air every time I open the greenhouse door. I have been growing strawberries in my unheated greenhouse for several years. The soil is free draining and the plants have plenty of room to spread.  Apart from an occasional feed, and plenty of water, I leave them alone to get on with the business of berry production.

Strawberries are best eaten fresh. They don’t freeze well as a fruit by themselves, but you can purée them and then serve as a sauce. The fresh purée makes excellent ice cream and sorbet too. I sometimes pop a few in with a fruit compote with other berries, but on the whole, I don’t cook them other than to make jam.

One of the best ways I’ve found to preserve them, is to dry slices in a dehydrator; this way you can enjoy them once the season is over. The perfume of drying strawberries is divine. If you have a dehydrator, slice the berries and brush them with a little lemon juice to help preserve the colour. 500g prepared strawberries, spread over 3 tiers in a dehydrator, will take between 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours at 70°C/158F. This amount yields about 65g. Sealed completely in an air-tight jar, and stored in a dark, dry cupboard, they will keep for several months. The dried slices add a splash of colour and a fragrant, fruity flavour to any bowl of cereal – especially good with Coconut granola (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) – and they make a pretty, natural cake decoration too.

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Drying fresh strawberry slices. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Granola with home-dried strawberry slices. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

All round the garden borders, the wild strawberries are also beginning to turn colour. Whilst they are much more time-consuming to pick, they have a more perfumed flavour and make a lovely addition to a fruit salad. Leave them to ripen fully for the sweetest flavour, and eat them as soon after picking as possible – they really don’t keep well. I have a battle with the birds every year to get to them before they do! The plants are prolific spreaders, but give good ground cover and make a pretty display when in flower.

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Alpine strawberries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Strawberry serving suggestions

  • Fresh strawberries go well with smoked salmon, Parma or Serrano ham, and peppery leaves like rocket or watercress. They are also delicious with slices of ripe avocado.
  • Spread almond nut butter over warm toasted bread and top with lightly mashed strawberries and a little sugar for an indulgent toast topper.
  • Add finely chopped tarragon, lavender syrup, rosewater or passion fruit juice to a bowl of strawberries to enhance the floral flavour of the fresh berries.
  • For very sweet strawberries, halve and sprinkle with fruit or balsamic vinegar and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with goat’s cheese as a starter with salad ingredients.

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    Strawberry and goat’s cheese salad with sweet berry vinegar. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  • If you have sufficient wild strawberries, fold them into whipped cream with a little dessert wine and strawberry jam for a topping or filling for meringues.
  • For a special fruit salad, mix halved strawberries with chopped mint and sugar, then toss in some lime juice, dry white wine or crème de cassis.
  • Mash strawberries with vanilla sugar and fold into soft cheese to spread over pancakes.
  • Pop a handful of wild strawberries into white balsamic vinegar to make a sweetly scented berry dressing for fruit or leaf salads later on in the year.

 

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Last year’s wild strawberry vinegar. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Garden Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

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New season garden sorrel. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I have more books on the subject of herbs and spices than on any other. I love growing my own herbs and experimenting with new flavours. It’s lovely to see that my herb garden is coming back to life again, now that the days are getting lighter and the sun is slowly warming up.

One of the best culinary friends from the herb garden is garden sorrel. A hardy perennial – I’ve noticed that even in the depths of a Scottish winter, there are always a few leaves poking their way through the earth – it is easy to grow and is very versatile. Related to spinach and the wild, leafy plant, Dock, garden sorrel is a real favourite with cooks and chefs alike.

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Freshly picked sorrel leaves. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Spring is the time to start picking a few leaves here and there – the more you pick, the more the plant will regenerate, and you’ll have a succession of young leaves right through until autumn. At this time of year, the new leaves are juicy and fresh tasting. Larger leaves have more of the classic, astringent lemony flavour associated with the herb. As the season progresses, tougher, red flowering stems will form with clusters of tiny red flowers at the end, and a few of the leaves will become very large. Whilst the flowering stem should be cut down,  the large leaves, which are too coarse to eat, make perfect wrappings for tenderising meat and flavouring fish during cooking.

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Baby sorrel and larger sorrel leaves. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

If you fancy growing your own, buy some seed now and get sowing. You may also find potted clumps at the garden centre. Garden sorrel likes rich, moist soil, and the sun or semi-shade. And that’s about it; it will look after itself. If you want a supply for winter, either cover the clump with a cloche, or split the roots in autumn and pot some up – I usually keep a pot in my unheated greenhouse over the winter months to tide me over until the next spring.

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New season sorrel in my herb garden. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Garden sorrel serving suggestions and tips

  • Sorrel is best picked as required. Treat like spinach if you do need to store it: place in a plastic bag and keep in the fridge for a couple of days maximum. It can be frozen successfully, but loses its flavour if dried.
  • Because of the acid content, sorrel is affected by cast iron cookware and will discolour. Use a stainless steel knife blade for cutting, and only shred just before using to avoid discolouration and flavour loss.

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    Garden sorrel preparation. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  • Young garden sorrel leaves are delicious mixed with other green salad leaves and soft-leaved herbs; they add a tangy lemony flavour to the plate, and reduce the need for vinegar or lemon juice in a salad dressing.
  • Used by the Greeks and Romans as an aid to digestion, garden sorrel is the perfect accompaniment to rich foods such as soft cheese (especially goat’s and sheep’s cheeses), oily fish, lamb and pork.

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    Patties of minced pork and pancetta mixed with salt, pepper, garlic, freshly chopped chives and shredded garden sorrel. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  • Garden sorrel is commonly used in egg dishes. Try adding to pancake batter, or a quiche filling; stir into scrambled eggs, or add as an ingredient to an omelette fines herbes. Pep up an egg mayonnaise sandwich filling by adding a few fresh leaves – much zingier than mustard and cress!
  • Add some chopped leaves to soft butter or margarine along with some black pepper and a little salt. Melt over hot grilled fish, barbecued chicken or steaks. See my recipe for chive butter if you fancy making some  Homegrown courgettes with chive butter (gluten-free)
  • As well as all the culinary uses, sorrel leaves are rich in potassium and the vitamins A, B1 and C.

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    Broad, arrow-shaped leaf of garden sorrel. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Rhubarb ruminations and recipe ideas

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Spring rhubarb. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

At last, my forced rhubarb was ready to pick this week! Now I feel the season of Spring has begun. Long before all other fruits in the garden are even formed,  forced rhubarb gives us a flavour of all the sweet delights yet to come.

To me, rhubarb is associated with fond memories of my childhood. My grandparents used to grow “forests” of the thick, leafy stems in the summer – no summer holiday was complete without one of Grannie’s rhubarb crumbles.

If you fancy having a go at growing your own, now is the best time of year to buy yourself a  rhubarb plant (or “crown”) and get it in the ground ready for next year.

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My first rhubarb harvest of 2017. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Rhubarb grows best in an open site, ideally in the sun, but it will grow anywhere. It likes a good mulching and needs plenty of soil depth as the roots, once established, run deep. Give it a good feed once in a while and it will do well. It is very easy to grow and a single plant will provide a good yield for a small family. Rhubarb is really a vegetable, but most of us regard it as a fruit because we serve it mostly for pudding. Only the stalks are edible – the leaves are high in oxalic acid and are, subsequently, very toxic.

Hold yourself back and avoid picking any stems in the first year of planting a new crown. In the second year, pull a few stems, leaving about half of the plant untouched. Once a plant is established – after 3 years – you can pick as many stems as you want. A rhubarb plant can be “forced” at this age, ready for an early crop in spring. You can buy special rhubarb forcers – very tall, slim, terracotta pots – which go over the crown in late winter. These are very expensive; I use the tallest pot I have and this works fine – as you can see in the image above. Although the pot covering doesn’t produce really long stems, they are good enough for me. I’ve put the pot back over the crown again, ready for the next batch of stems to grow – usually the plant produces four good batches of stems before I leave it to recover and rejuvenate for next year.

I have 3 rhubarb plants in the garden now. Each year, I rotate a plant for forcing, and the other 2 are left for summer eating rhubarb, and for freezing. Here are a few tips and ideas for cooking and serving rhubarb:

  • High in acidity, there are a few flavours that help temper the tartness of rhubarb: ginger, cinnamon, orange rind and juice, coconut, banana, angelica and liquorice.
  • Trim the leaves from spring rhubarb and discard, then rinse the stems well and slice off the base. Cut into 3cm pieces for really quick cooking, but leave in longer pieces for gentle poaching and using to top tarts or desserts. Spring rhubarb takes barely 4-5 minutes to cook. I usually place the pieces in a frying pan and sprinkle with sugar and add 1 – 2 tablespoons of water. Once it begins to steam, cover with a lid and cook gently.

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    Preparing spring rhubarb. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  • For a tangy sweet and sour sauce, cook rhubarb in a little water with sufficient sugar to make it edible, then add a dash of raspberry or balsamic vinegar. Served cold, it goes well with roast duck, smoked mackerel or pan-fried herring.
  • A favourite simple dessert of mine is to mix mashed banana, coconut (non-dairy) yogurt and vanilla extract together and layer in glasses with poached, vanilla sugar-sweetened rhubarb. It is absolute deliciousness guaranteed!

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    Rhubarb, banana and coconut pots. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  • For an easy pastry, bake-off a sheet of (gluten-free) puff pastry and allow to cool, then top with thick (dairy-free) custard and lightly poached stems of sweetened rhubarb. Always a winning combination…..rhubarb and custard.
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    Rhubarb and custard tart. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    I have posted a couple of other rhubarb recipes in my blog over the months, here are the links Rhubarb, raspberry and custard crump (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan) and Rhubarb and custard ice lollies (gluten-free)

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    Tender pink stems of forced rhubarb. Image: Kathryn Hawkins