Wednesday, 30 April 2008

More artichokes ... and tapas

We've had two trips over the border this month - to Andalucia, and to Navarra and the Basque country - and we've come back with lots of food ideas ... and some food: cheeses from the Basque country, cured sausages, olive oils from Andalucia, red wine from Navarra and so on. I'll be writing more about all of these soon, but meanwhile we've come back to some good things too so here are some tastes from this week in Gabian.

The garden is very overgrown with weeds, so we'll be doing a lot of work there over the next few days, weeding and planting out tomato, pepper, aubergine and courgette plants. The artichokes are growing and I picked a couple more small ones when we got back. I used them to make a very simple dish which I ate in Figueres, Catalunya, a year or so ago: use small artichokes which do not need to have the choke removed. Cut off the outer leaves and peel the stalk, slice them downwards in thin cross-sections, about 2 mm, sprinkle them with lemon juice as you cut the slices so that they do not go brown, then sauté them in olive oil for a few minutes until the heart and stalk soften and the ends of the leaves start to crisp a bit. Arrange on a plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper. It's a simple but delicious tapas or first course.

We had a sage bush which had grown rather woody so this spring we pruned it back quite drastically and now there is lots of new growth. We picked some of these leaves for Lo Jardinièr to make another simple tapas dish: Wash and dry some large sage leaves. Prepare a batter using chickpea flour, salt and water, mixed to the consistency of single cream. Dip the sage leaves in the batter then fry in olive oil for a few minutes.

This morning in the market in Gabian I was thrilled to see some of this season's fresh garlic. It looks so beautiful it almost seems a shame to eat it.

In the garden this afternoon a lizard was enjoying the heat of the sun on a terracotta sculpture.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


These irises were hard to photograph in the wind today. These are in our garden, but growing wild when we found them in the undergrowth and they're coming out all along the roadsides and by the side of the vineyards now too. The purple ones seem to come first, following by the white-flowered ones. They must have been planted at the edges of the vineyards, but they seem to naturalise and spread and enjoy the dry climate.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

First artichoke

Today I cut the first artichoke of the year, the bigger one in this picture. This should encourage the smaller ones around it to grow. One small artichoke isn't much between two people! So I made a dish we once ate as a first course in a Greek restaurant in London:

Artichoke with broad beans

artichokes - preferably at least one per person

broad beans

1 sweet onion, sliced thinly

1 garlic clove, sliced thinly

3 tablespoons of tomato passata


lemon juice

olive oil

white wine

salt and pepper

Cut the outer leaves off the artichokes and remove any choke - if the artichokes are small like this one there won't be any choke. You can either leave the artichoke hearts whole or quarter them. Simmer these with the peeled stalks in a mix of olive oil and a little white wine until they are tender. Meanwhile simmer the broad beans in water (for just a couple of minutes if they are young fresh ones like I picked today) and sauté the onion and garlic in a little olive oil. Mix all the ingredients together, including the oregano, tomato, salt and pepper, and serve warm or cold.

After the rain the garden is very green and it's hard to imagine that in a couple of month's time it will all be dry, except where we water, and will stay like that till September. I sowed haricot beans, the first sowing of the season. I've bought some snail pellets which claim not to harm animals and to be usable in an organic garden. Last year the snails ate my haricot bean plants as soon as they had two leaves, so I'll be watching them carefully this year and I'll use the pellets if necessary. I don't mind if the snails take the odd bite of a leaf, I'm willing to share, but I don't want them taking the whole plant! I'd welcome any suggestions about how to deter them.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Spanish souvenirs

There was a bit of rain while we were away, and our neighbour had done some watering for us, so the garden looked quite luxuriant when we got back - unfortunately a lot of the new growth was weeds! But we found peas and broad beans ready to pick, the last of the winter cabbages and the chard which just seems to go on and on.

We ate wonderful food in Spain and brought back lots of recipe ideas to make at home. Here are a couple of dishes we've made already with vegetables from our garden, the simplest first.

Peas in their pods

In a tapas bar in Murcia we found a bowl of peas in their pods for customers to help themselves to. At home we picked our first peas and ate them straight from the pods - a memory from my childhood when we used to do this in my grandmother's garden. Much better than cooking them.

Cured ham with broad beans

I simmered our first small broad beans for just a couple of minutes and lightly sautéed in a little olive oil some diced jambon de la montagne (bought in the local shop and the nearest equivalent to Serrano ham). I mixed the two together and added salt, ground black pepper and chopped thyme - it was as delicious as it was in Granada!

these broad bean flowers turned into 15-20 cm pods while we were away

Morcilla de verano - summer morcilla

I ordered this in the tapas bar in Murcia and was surprised to find it was a vegetable dish. It was chopped aubergine and onion simmered in olive oil until the two vegetables almost melted into each other, with herbs and pine nuts. At home I made it with oregano from the garden and currants (because I'd run out of pine nuts - the currants gave a slightly sweeter flavour and worked well), served with lightly toasted bread. I used a bought aubergine, but I'm looking forward to making it again with our own aubergines in the summer.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Travelling south

The tulips are out ....

and the climbing rose ....

and the apricot tree is covered with tiny fruits.

We're taking a short break further south, in Andalucia, before returning to sow haricot beans and plant out the tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and courgettes - my favourite season in the garden.