It’s been a frustrating and confusing spring. The daytime temperatures have barely been in double figures, there have been strong winds and heavy rains. Usually at this time of the year, gardens are crying out for moisture. This year, we also need warmth. My greenhouse is filling up with tomato and bean plants we daren’t plant outside just yet. The pots are waiting in the sunniest corner of the station garden, but we’ve learned from the miserable state of the dwarf beans planted in mid April, that early planting doesn’t always pay off.
However, we have been harvesting spring greens. Our chard and cavalo nero, planted in August and overwintered, have become star ingredients in soups. The frisee lettuce is a bit of an acquired taste, but it’s a hardy leaf and doesn’t attract the slugs. It’s a great feeling popping out to pick greens just before lunch. The leaves don’t require much cooking – just either steaming lightly with a knob of butter, a tiny drop of water at the bottom of the pan on a very low heat, or adding at the last moment to hot stocks.
For a great ‘hot and sour’ style soup, I use vegetable stock or miso, into which you plunge mushrooms, chopped spring onions and noodles. Then add a bit of rice vinegar and chili oil to taste. Just before you serve, add chopped leaves. It takes 5 minutes.
Frisee lettuce, with a bitter after-taste, is wonderful as a salad base to which you can add ingredients such as walnuts, bacon pieces or shavings of parmesan. A hearty French dressing, made with balsamic vinegar, mustard and garlic (add some honey to balance the flavours), is essential, together with fresh black pepper.
It’s getting on for lunchtime, so I’ll be out to see what greens there are in the garden. Just a thought: one of the tips from the Southern Water web site on saving water is to wash vegetables in a bowl of water rather than under a running tap. I never thought of it before, but we waste a lot of water through rinsing. I’m trying to rinse off soil from lettuces with water from the water butt, followed by washing in the sink with the plug in.
It feels counter-intuitive since the weather has been so wet recently, but our region is still in drought.