Yearly Archives: 2011

A Handful Of Peppers

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As the year draws to an end, we’re taking the last of the crops from the greenhouse – in this case, a few sweet peppers.

This year has been pretty poor all around (a combination of lousy weather and badly timed sowing on my part) but it’s nice to have something sweet and tasty to end on.

Of course, now we’re into autumn proper, there’s an absolute ton of clearing and composting to do both in the garden and over on the allotment. Not to mention all the autumn pruning that I need to be doing – once I’ve found all the information about what should be getting pruned and when! At least now we’ve had a full year on the allotment and I’ve been able to see just what everything is; last year part of my problem was that I only had half an idea of what each of the plants were, so I didn’t have the confidence to prune the correctly.

Roll on next year.

Pretty Purple Pak Choi

Our growing year has mostly been dismal this year. This year when we’ve added a large allotment to our small kitchen garden, giving us lots of extra growing space.

The irony of ending up with less produce than any other year for a decade is not lost on me.

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However, we have had a few small successes to offset the failures, including this pretty purple pak choi. We bought the seeds at BBC Gardener’s World Live and planted them a few weeks later.

We used them in summer salads to add colour and flavour.

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Here, we’ve mixed them with little gem (also from the garden), Capricorn goats cheese, a very mild and creamy goats cheese, probably ideal for those who don’t like stronger, goatier ones, and with Unearthed’s Chorizo de Leon, a fabulous smoked chorizo sausage from Spain. The dressing was a ready-made Maille one we picked up in France.

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The beauty of home grown salads is that you can combine them with so many different ingredients to create hugely varied and satisfying meals.

My Beautiful Fruit Tart with Blackberries, Golden Raspberries, Bananas and Chocolate

The yellow raspberries I harvested from the allotment recently were so beautiful I wanted to make something pretty enough to do them justice. Having filled a couple of tubs with blackberries too, a fruit tart seemed an ideal way of putting both to good use.

I’ve peered through the windows of countless patisseries, admiring the artful creations – fruit oh so neatly arranged over crème pâtissière, in little pastry cases. I’ve eaten a fair few too. But until now, I’ve never remotely considered making my own.

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A quick Google revealed thousands of recipes, but I liked the quick and easy nature of a James Martin recipe for French fruit tart, which I used as a starting point.

Blackberry, Golden Raspberry, Banana and Chocolate Fruit Tart

Adapted from a James Martin recipe

Ingredients
packet ready-rolled puff pastry (approximately 400 grams)
1 egg, beaten
50 grams dark chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
170 ml double cream
170 ml fresh custard
small punnet blackberries
small punnet raspberries
1 banana, halved lengthwise and then thinly sliced
4 tablespoons plum jelly (I used some I’d made a week or so earlier, from allotment plums)

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Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200 C.
  • Divide the ready rolled puff pastry according to the size and number of tarts you want to make. I divided my sheet into two.
  • Lay the puff pastry rectangles on a baking tray covered with either a silicon baking mat or baking paper.
  • Using a sharp knife, score a frame around the edge, making sure you don’t cut the pastry all the way through and prick the base of the tart (excluding the border) with a fork.

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  • Brush the border with a wash of beaten egg.

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  • Bake the pastry until golden brown and crisp (20-25 minutes).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

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  • Once cooled, gently press the centre of the pastry down to leave a raised frame around the edge.

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  • Melt the chocolate using short bursts of 10-20 seconds in a microwave, or using the traditional bain marie technique.
  • Brush the melted chocolate over the bottom of the pastry. Be delicate as a heavy hand will cause layers of the pastry to come loose and shift.

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  • Leave to the side to allow the chocolate to set.
  • In the meantime, mix the vanilla extract into the double cream and whip to stiff peaks. Fold the custard into the whipped cream.

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  • Spoon and spread the cream mixture over the pastry base.

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  • Arrange the fruit on top as you like.

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  • Heat the plum jelly and, using a pastry brush, glaze the fruit generously but gently.

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  • Allow the tart to set before serving.

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The tart was magnificent, if I do say so myself, and by far the prettiest thing I’ve made, even though I know it looks messy next to the work of skilled patisserie makers, amateur and professional alike.

I was particularly happy with the invisible chocolate layer which added both a thin layer of solid bite and a lovely flavour too.

And the plum jelly worked better than I could have hoped for as a thick, protective and glossy glaze.

I was a little too free-handed when adding the custard (hence the amounts above). I’d adjust the ratios slightly back in favour of the whipped double cream, to give a slightly stiffer texture to the finished cream filling. It tasted fabulous but was a touch runnier than ideal.

Other than that, I can’t wait to make these again with whatever berries and fruits I have to hand.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes

It’s been a long time coming, but we have a pretty decent crop of tomatoes coming out of the greenhouse finally. The plants have been fairly heavy with fruit for what seems like months, but they are finally ripening up despite the virtual absence of sunlight throughout August.

This is just one small (very badly photographed – sorry!) bowl; there’s another bowlful in the kitchen and lots more on the plants. The outside tomatoes are similarly collapsing under the weight of fruit, but those are all resolutely green. I can only hope for a long, sunny September to try and ripen them all up before the frosts arrive!

The plants themselves are a chaotic, sprawling mess. Every year I promise myself that I’m going to trim and prune them, that I will dutifully tie up every truss and keep the plants tamed and supported, and then at about this time every year I walk into the greenhouse to find it bursting to the seem with foliage, with branches bent down to the floor with tomatoes in varying stages of decay. I am not, as anyone will tell you, a naturally tidy person but next year, I promise, I’ll take more care of my tomatoes.

That said, despite my neglect I have a few huge bowls of tomatoes to enjoy!