One of the things I absolutely love about the raised beds at the moment – apart from the fact that they are showering us with glorious, fresh, organic leaves for our salads and spinach-based recipes – is the beautiful array of colours they have produced:
As a sometime artist, I know very well that there is more than just the colour green: it has many different hues, from light and fresh, as in the salad leaves, to deep and rich, in the spinach “Medania”, partially hidden by dill fronds. Contrasting with red ribs of beetroot leaves, or interspersed with bronze-coloured salad, these multi-toned greens bring the bed alive with jewel-like plants. There is even silvery-green withering to dusty grey in the sage bush, sickly but still alive, barely visible at top left.
Today opened with wintry showers, leaving the dill heavy with drops of rain:
Later on, I shall be out again to gather Swiss chard or pak choi, to make one of our favourite pasta dishes: penne mixed with gently softened leaves and chopped black olives, flavoured with tons of nutmeg and drizzled with olive oil. It’s a treat of a supper! Of course, you can use spinach if you prefer, but it happens that our spinach has been outpaced by the chard.
A few days ago I tried cooking some of the chard stalks and leaves with sweet potato cubes, following a recipe in “Healing Foods”* from Neal’s Yard. Flavoured with lemony coriander seeds and a dash of chilli, it proved an amazing combination. And very healthy: Chard is bursting with vitamin K and anti-oxidant carotenoids. Sweet potatoes are termed a “superfood” by the writers, being full of vitamin C and beta-carotene, and useful in regulating levels of blood sugar. Needless to say, both are packed with fibre.
Sweet potatoes are among my top-favourite vegetables, and in 2014 I thought I had worked out exactly how to grow them. We planted a few pieces of potato, already sprouting, and watched the plant grow like topsy.
Eventually, by November 2014, we harvested enough tubers for two or three meals. It was like prospecting for gold and hitting the jackpot!
Creamy and delicately flavoured these home-grown organic sweet potatoes were the best I have ever tasted. Nothing better than to slow-casserole them with pumpkin and sweetcorn, according to Sophie Grigson’s recipe, using a mixture of dry-fried spices to bring out their flavours. In truth, if I had to choose one book of veggie dishes, Grigson’s “100 Vegetarian Feasts”* would be at the top of my list.
But last year, disaster struck with the crop. I planted another set – unwisely, against my usual practice, in the same place as the in the previous year – and the result was total failure. An impressive network of roots, and not a tuber in sight.
The frustration was terrible. Lesson learned. Never take anything for granted when growing your own food!
* Healing Foods – Eat your way to a healther life. Neal’s Yard, published by Dorling Kindersley, 2013.
* 100 Vegetarian Feasts by Sophie Grigson, My kitchen table series, published by Random House Group.