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From the Garden: If your garden is blooming, it can sometimes be difficult to know what to cook

Too much cauliflower? There is a recipe for that, writes Michael Kelly.

Image: Michael Kelly

AFTER A COUPLE of weeks away, I return to the vegetable patch to some pretty stellar growth.

Given how gradual the growth is when you are investigating it each day, a prolonged absence produces a far more dramatic effect. I love that first walk around the veg garden after a holiday, and the excitement of seeing what’s done well.

The new potatoes are finally ready, though the earliest-sown ones got blight – this is to be expected. One of the first jobs I had undertaken when I got back was to cut down the stalks to stop the blight travelling to the tubers.

There will be no more growth in the spuds as a result but that’s okay because they’ve grown to a decent size. 

The other two rows – one early and one main crop – seem to have escaped the blight for now. So we return to the joy of new potatoes cooked with some mint and eaten with lots of good butter!

The garlic was well past needing to be lifted. I was humming and hawing about lifting it before I left for the holidays. I probably should have – most of the bulbs seem fine but there’s the odd one where the cloves have started to separate, which is a sure sign that they were left too long.

Nevertheless I’m delighted with the crop this year. They are now drying out on a wire rack in the vegetable garden.

When it comes to the onions, some have bolted. I think is down to the dry weather of the last month.

In general the onions won’t be ready to be lifted until next month, but we have been using them as needed for well over a month now. 

There’s great growth in the roots bed with carrots, parsnips and beetroot all thriving. I’m particularly pleased that I covered the carrots with bionet before I left to keep the carrot root fly at bay.

In the brassica bed, I’ve hispi cabbage, red cabbage and cauliflower – the cabbages are not ready yet, but the cauliflower are and some have even gone too far. We’re on the hunt for cauliflower recipes – hence the recipe below.

When it comes to a bit of a glut of cauliflower, don’t be hung up on traditional recipes like cauliflower cheese, which would be far too wintery for this time of the year.

The River Cottage Every Day and Ottolenghi’s Plenty book even have some raw cauliflower salad recipes, which are excellent. Ottolenghi even has a recipe that combines roasted and grated raw cauliflower, which is a marvel.

We have the first small courgettes and summer squashes but they are definitely slower and later this year. It’s nice that we’re spared the intense courgette glut phase for now.

Broad beans and peas are plentiful. In the big tunnel, the growth is unbelievable. The tomatoes, cucumbers and climbing French beans are all in full-on abundance mode. We’ve also got some celery and calabrese, which are also doing well.

All of which means the evening meals are now pretty much entirely home-grown and utterly delicious. It’s just a wonderful time of the year to be a GIYer.

The Basics – Digging in Broad Beans

Like all the legume family, broad beans are nitrogen fixers which means they take nitrogen from the air and “fix” it in the soil.

This means that they can quite literally self-fertilise the soil as they grow, so much so that it was traditional to grow nitrogen-loving brassicas in the soil the year after the legumes so they can benefit from the extra nitrogen that had been left behind.

When you dig up a broad bean plant (after it has finished producing beans), you will notice lots of tiny white nodules of nitrogen clustered in the roots. These are valuable sources of nitrogen fertilizer, so don’t waste them.

The usual advice is to leave the roots of the broad bean plant behind in the soil so the nitrogen is left behind.

However there’s also valuable nitrogen in the stem and leaves of the broad bean plant so we chop up the entire plant (into small 10cm lengths) and dig it in to the soil as a green manure.

Recipe of the Week – Piccalilli

Cauliflower needs to be harvested as soon as it’s ready (you can’t leave it in the ground or the curds start to open) and it doesn’t store particularly well once picked. So here’s a good recipe for an exotic pickle called piccalilli that will help you keep it for six months.

It also uses up some of those other “glut” vegetables like beans and courgettes.

Ingredients

  •  1 large cauliflower
  •  2 large onions, peeled and quartered and sliced finely
  • 900g mixed vegetables such as courgette, runner beans, carrots and green beans – cut them into bite-sized chunks
  •  60g salt
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 225g sugar
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 60g English mustard powder
  • 900ml pickling vinegar

Directions

Put all the vegetables in a large bowl. Dissolve the salt in 1.2 litres of water and pour this over the vegetables.

Put plate on top to keep them submerged and leave for 24 hours. Drain and rinse the next day. Bring a large pan of water to the boil – add the vegetables and blanch for two minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water.

Put flour, sugar, turmeric and mustard in a small bowl and mix in a little of the vinegar to
make a paste.

Put it in a large stainless steel saucepan along with remaining vinegar, bring to the boil and stir continuously so that no lumps appear. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minsutes. Add the vegetables to the sauce and stir well so they’re coated.

Ladle into sterilised jars and use a non-metallic lid to seal.

Allow to mature for one month before using. This recipe will make 2.3kg.

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

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