May the roof above us never fall in
And may we good companions beneath it never fall out.

~Irish blessing

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

String Stakes

The string supports my husband tied for the tomatoes on the deck have been fantastic. You just tie the plants as they grow, making them nice and flat so there's plenty of air flow.

They're right to the top of the window now, and look lovely from inside too.

End of Summer: Hey Pesto

The basil grown from Franchi seed has done so beautifully this summer. It's mostly planted around the base of potted tomatoes, and I've been pinching off the emerging flowerheads for a few weeks now, so I decided it was time to do some harvesting for winter storage. 

Since we have a warm, north facing courtyard it extends the season, and last year we had basil well in to May. They need a good chop though so I cut all the tall stems to about half their length.

So to prepare to freeze: Pick off all the leaves and wash and dry using a lettuce spinner.

Process with some olive oil in a food processor, so that all the chopped basil is coated in oil.

Freeze quickly in small portions. I used an ice-cube tray this time, and wrapped it in plastic. I also filled a few small freezer bags and stashed them in the side of the freezer door for when I want a slightly larger quantity.

Mmm, smells like summer.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Heat, Wind and Fire

Yes, a lot of our plants are pretty scorched after the windy 46.4 degree day we had on Saturday. I've found gardening requires resilience in the gardeners as much as the plants, and I have to pick my battles and keep some perspective when dealing with nature. After feeling a pang of disappointment at some of the losses in our garden during the weekend heat, nothing has given me more perspective than turning on the news to see the lives and homes lost due to the extreme conditions. My thoughts are with the victims and their families.

Burnt out ... the state forest in Healesville. Picture: Ellen Smith. Pictures: Victoria's killer bushfires

Friday, February 6, 2009

Summer Minestrone

This soup is so easy and is more of a master recipe you can use as a basis for whatever's in the pantry. I make it a lot in winter using things like cavolo nero (black kale) and savoy cabbage. This year hopefully I'll have some dried borlotti leftover from our own crop. In summer though...

500g of dried borlotti or cannellini beans

2 tbs olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
100g pancetta (optional), thinly sliced and then roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
1 zucchini, chopped
1 large handful of green beans, chopped in to 1cm lengths
4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 litres of either water or stock OR 1 part white wine to 3 parts water.
1 bay leaf
1 parmesan rind (Optional. I freeze them when I finish a block of parmesan for this purpose)
Small pasta such as ditalini
Grated parmesan and olive oil to serve

Soak the dried beans in cold water overnight. Rinse and drain them, and boil them in fresh water for about an hour or until tender. Set aside.

In a stockpot or large casserole, gently fry the chopped onion, pancetta, celery, carrot and garlic until soft but not brown. 

Add the chopped zucchini and green beans and cook until softened.

Add the chopped tomatoes, cook for about a minute, then add the stock or water, the bay leaf and the parmesan rind if you have one - it really does make the soup delicious! Simmer for 10 minutes, add the pasta and simmer for a further 15 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, and serve with grated parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. I like it with a drizzle of chilli oil. Yum.