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Dublin: 4 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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From the Garden: Celeriac is fabulously durable, and is useful for all sorts of recipes

This week, Michael Kelly took advantage of a quiet period in the growing season to take stock.

Michael Kelly Grower

TIME FOR A stock take.

Though all is relatively quiet in the veg patch, 2018′s growing year still has plenty to offer. There are still some crops standing in the ground outside and in the tunnel, but it’s in the freezer and larder where the most interesting things are to be found and the ‘processing’ work of last autumn starts to pay off.

I was reminded of that this morning when I was making sandwiches for school and was able to turn a simple chicken blaa in to something a lot more interesting by opening a jar of cucumber and mustard pickle.

At the height of cucumber season last summer, when we had cucumbers coming out our ears, making a pickle seemed like a chore. But it’s now, six months later, that the work really comes in to its own.

The same applies to all those chutneys which were used to process gluts of courgettes and onions. The garlic braid is still hanging in the kitchen, and there are still maybe 10 bulbs left (though alas all the onions are long since finished).

We still have tomato sauces left in the freezer too, which we’ve been using at a rate of one or two tubs a week – but the end is in sight now.

With the flavour of fresh tomatoes stored up inside the sauce, they transform every dish they are involved in – from ribollita (see below) to soups, stews, lasagna, pizza and pasta.

Again, at the height of the tomato season last summer and autumn, we were growing immensely tired of having to process batches of tomatoes. Now, of course, I wish we had done more.

The freezer can also still be relied on for grabbing some frozen peas, french beans and broad beans, as well as celery. It’s very handy when you’re making a stock, soup or stew to have celery pre-chopped, blanched and stored in freezer bags.

I still make semi-regular trips to the veg patch to harvest produce. In the brassica section, we’ve still some brussels sprouts left, and the purple sprouting broccoli is starting to come. In the tunnel, we’ve plenty of kale, chard and perpetual spinach.

Lazily, I left the carrot crop in the ground – it has fared relatively well, but probably would have done better if lifted and stored. I still have a full 3m row of carrots left there, though they are a little munched-upon by slugs.

Beside the carrots are crops of parsnips and celeriac, both quite content to sit there until they are needed.

I’m always raving about celeriac here, and for good reason I think. It’s fabulously durable, standing in the ground all winter. It gets used in all manner of recipes in our house – stews, soups, mashed with spuds, even used instead of celery in the ribollita recipe below.

I’m also a fan of raw celeriac remoulade as a winter coleslaw substitute – just cut in to really fine strips and add a tablespoon each of natural yoghurt and mayo, and a teaspoon of English mustard, plenty of seasoning and parsley. Delish.

So, all in all I think it’s fair to report that the Hungry Gap hasn’t arrived just yet.

Things to Do This Week – Sow Potatoes in Containers

If you don’t have much space, you can still quite successfully grow potatoes in large pots or containers. The pots will need to be relatively deep – about 50-75 cm deep so the spuds have the depth of soil they need to grow.

Put a layer of compost (10cm) on the bottom of the pot and place the seed potato on it, then cover it with another 10cm layer of compost and water in. Each time the top of the leaf pops out over the soil cover it over again – you can continue with this until the pot is full.

This plays a little trick on the poor potato plant because it has to grow more stem to get out of the soil – more stem growth means more space for the potatoes to grow. If sowing them at this time of the year, cover them with fleece at night.

Alternatively, you could try growing spuds in a compost bag.

Buy a bag of compost (three bags usually cost about €15), open it carefully (don’t rip the bag), and empty out the compost. Roll the top of the bag down about half way.

Put a small layer of compost back in to the bottom of the bag and put two or three seed potatoes on top (spaced as far apart as you can). Cover them with another layer of compost. Store the remaining compost – you will need it later for earthing up.

Each time you see a shoot appearing above the soil, cover it up with more compost and unroll the bag slightly. Keep adding compost every time a shoot appears until you have used up all the compost and the bag is fully unrolled and full of compost again.

You will need to water the plants daily as there is a risk with this type of growing that the compost will dry out – make sure it doesn’t. When the plants are finished flowering, empty the bag carefully and harvest your lovely spuds.

You can spread the compost in the vegetable garden but don’t re-use it for growing spuds. You can sow early spuds under cover (ie a polytunnel or greenhouse) from now. 

If leaving the container outside, wait until mid March to sow.

Recipe of the week – Ribollita

Lately I’ve taken to leaving out the cannellini beans and using 100g of pearl barley instead.

Ingredients:

  • 2 x 400g tins cannellini beans for the soup
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1–2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, trimmed, washed and finely sliced
  • 400g tin chopped plum tomatoes
  • 800 ml vegetable stock
  • 1 sprig of rosemary and 1 sprig of thyme, tied together with string
  • 300g kale, cavolo nero or Savoy cabbage, tough stalks removed
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Drain and rinse the beans well, then mash half of them with a little cold water.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion over a medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, until softened.
  3. Add the carrots, celery and leek and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring.
  4. Now add the tomatoes with their juice, the puréed and whole beans, stock, rosemary and thyme, and simmer gently for about 1 hour.
  5. Shred the kale, cavolo nero or cabbage leaves.
  6. Add to the soup and cook for 10 minutes more.
  7. Remove the sprigs of thyme and rosemary and add some salt and pepper.

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

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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