Rocket and hazelnut pesto

We’ve had a week of outdoorsing it. I took Harry up to Malvern to collect spring water and see how the wild garlic is looking – pleased to report that it’s at its peak right now. We scooped up a few fistfuls (not so much as to cause any damage to the plants, which are innumerable in my secret foraging spot) which Matt then used as the basis for a chimmichurri sauce for steak. Whilst home, we headed to Clive’s to check out the chickens.

Wild garlic is in peak form right now

Toddler living his best life

Then this weekend we headed out to border country, Hay on Wye. I used to spend a lot of time in this part of the world and sometimes have deep, physical yearnings to be amongst the cool, damp air, mountains and green. The green of Herefordshire is something else. On Hay Bluff, sheep grazed amidst the aftermath of a recent snow storm, and as we wound our way down the mountainside to Llanthony Priory, streams broke their banks onto the road.

A view from Llanthony Priory

Which all sounds very romantic until you remember that Harry sees 11th century ruins as a potential playground, and regards country roads as BORING.

The reality of taking a small child to a heritage venue

Back to more practical matters. The allotment rules dictate that bonfires are allowed only in the months of November and March, a fact I had forgotten until a few days before the end of the month. Matt went down there in a brief gap between family commitments (Mother’s day lunches and Grampy’s 99th birthday party) armed with a blow torch (yes really) to destroy some of last year’s detritus.

Managed to sneak in a bonfire before the end of March

Meanwhile I used the brief hour of calm after Harry’s bedtime / before Matt gets home to whip up a vat of leek and potato soup for when I hosted a working lunch the following day. Soup is fine as far as it goes – easy, cheap, nutritious – but it can be dull. A spoonful of this rocket and hazelnut pesto, stirred in on serving, gives the poke that it needs. I turned to rocket as I had some in the fridge – ditto with the hazelnuts, I just happened to have some on hand – and was delighted at the results. I can’t help but think that some of the wild garlic from the previous weekend would have also been a welcome addition.

No quantities with this, you just have to use your eye and trust your tastebuds. In a food processor, blitz together a few handfuls of rocket, a handful of basil or Greek basil, a small clove of garlic, a chunk of parmesan, handful of hazelnuts, small pinch of salt, small squeeze of lemon with a trickle of the best olive oil. Keep blitzing until smooth, taste, then adjust your seasoning as you fancy. Keeps in the fridge for several days.

Rocket and hazelnut pesto

Also this week:

Growing: Started off rocket, dill and violas. The dahlias that I potted up a few weeks back are starting to sprout.

Eating & Cooking: Leek & potato soup with extra chard for vitamins, wild garlic chimmichurri, beautiful canale bought from the market at Hay on Wye

Plum compote

On Wednesday I found myself at the side of an industrial building in the Shire, doing a deal. The substance in question was plums; the dealer was a dear old school friend Chappers. Chappers’ trademark is her Landie. You hear it before you see it. It suits her.

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Chappers handing over the goods

 

When the offer of a bag of free fruit comes along, you NEVER turn it down. These plums were pilfered by Chappers’ from her Mum’s orchard in Castlemorton, which by now will be laden with soft purple fruit. These home-grown plums are a bit different to the ones in the shops, much smaller, very difficult to stone, nectar-scented, and simultaneously sweet as you like whilst acidic enough to induce face-pulling. They would have been great for chutney, but really, who eats that much chutney? So compote it is.

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Coated in sugar

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Simmer down with a vanilla pod

I optimistically attempted to stone these before cooking, but gave up after about 5; it would have taken a whole day to stone the lot. So I just cooked them up and once cold, fished out the stones with my fingers. It came out quite tart so I put in more icing sugar at the end to balance the flavours. One carrier-bag of fruit produced about three pints of compote. It’s gloriously gloopy and unashamedly richly purple.

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Bagged up for freezing

There are endless possibilities for this…use as the base of a Bakewell tart, mix with custard for a fool, eat with yoghurt for breakfast, add cinnamon and five spice for a Chinese sauce, and so on.

I made trifle. Soak sponge with sherry, layer up with the compote, then top with home-made creamy vanilla custard and whipped cream. Any pudding that requires two different types (and cartons) of cream can’t be bad.

Passata

On Saturday my folks turned up with a box of tomatoes, about 15 black peppers (more on those another day), a strimmer, and plenty of jibes about general laziness in the allotment. The jibes stopped when they went down there and saw the general epic-ness that is now our veg patch. The cosmos are better than my mother’s! Though I am still looking after my tomatoes incorrectly (they need thinning) and must get rid of the perennial weeds (*cough* fat chance). I should add here my mother is to gardening what Mary Berry is to cherry cake.

Whilst Dad wandered off to talk Worcestershire to unsuspecting Brummies, I wondered what to do with those tomatoes. To me, the tomato glut marks the turn from summer to autumn. It’s time to get preserving. Which means one thing: passata.

Same technique as every year: slice in half around their equators, roast for about an hour, push through a sieve, and that’s it. I freeze mine ready for chillies, bolognese, ragu, stews, and so on.

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About half of what I was given. Each of these is the size of a navel orange.

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Halved, drizzled with oil, ready for roasting.

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An hour and a bit later…

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An hour or so later – passata!

 

This year’s passata is great stuff – rich and thick, not too watery.

Speaking of autumn, last night’s dinner was short beef rib braised in red wine and herbs, served with roasted new potatoes, roasted onions and allotment veg (greens, beans etc). To follow, damson crumble. What could be more autumnal than that?

This evening I dutifully thinned out the Grange Hill tomatoes, did another harvest of beans, Eton tomatoes and lettuce. Pulled out the last of the summer lettuce, now crisp from heat. Had to hack off a sunflower head that had been strangled by the straggling borlotti shoots, as together they were making a wind barrier that was threatening to bring the whole lot down. Then dodging a torrential downpour, started off the autumn lettuce ready for planting out in a few weeks time.