Broccoli – like apple trees for giants.

Like it’s Brassica cousin kale, the bright colour in broccoli lets us know it’s filled with free radical fighting goodness.  Free radicals are not just a folk band based in Surrey England, they are very nasty little guys which is obvious if you have a powerful microscope and can see them up close.

 

Let’s just agree broccoli is good for you.  It helps to regulate blood pressure with its high amounts of magnesium and calcium, plus ample amounts of potassium help optimise your brain function – making me wonder why the term “Broccoli Brains” never really took off.

Growing broccoli can be amazing simple or equally frustrating depending on the season.  As seasoned gardeners know, life in our patch is seldom perfect.  Broccoli grows wonderfully quickly in warm weather and uses its water repellent leaves to direct every sprinkle of rain to its roots.  However, those warm days and nights also bring out white butterflies, who love to lay eggs on broccoli plants.  These eggs turn into green caterpillars which judging by their colour are probably also filled with free-radical fighting goodness.  Having accidentally eaten a few in my time I can confirm they test will test the gag reflex of Mick Dundee and are best removed before cooking…

Having seen the pest issues with broccoli when I’ve been growing it, I’d really recommend it’s one vegetable you only purchase organically – especially in summer.

My personal growing strategy it to grow all year around, but cover the crops from late spring through to late autumn with an appropriate barrier draped over hoops.

Otherwise you can spray using an organic based spray (or make your own by steeping crushed garlic in water overnight and straining into a spray bottle).  Other less toxic controls include Dipel power which is mixed with water and sprayed onto the foliage.  It’s an internal bacterial poison for caterpillars and will kill them in a few days of spraying.  This will need to be repeated for follow up infestations.

Soil preparation

LIke the rest of the brassica family, broccoli is quite a heavy feeder so make sure you choose rich, well draining soil which has been enriched with composted manure.  Sprinkle some pelletised manure over the surface after planting seedlings and water in well.  Liquid feed weekly with worm juice or a high nitrogen seaweed product.

Varieties

I like the readily available ‘green dragon’ as it produces side shoots which are perfect for stir-fries.  It also gives you more reward for a plant that takes several months to produce over winter.  This year I’m going to try some purple sprouting broccoli which seems quite popular in the UK but less so here.  It looks amazing.

How to eat it.

My late autumn planted crop is producing beautiful heads now, so I’ve been trying to include it in a few different dishes.  I’ve also starting eating it raw with dip or pesto – just avoid the lower stems as they can be a bit stringy (use them for cooking).

Spanish broccoli and potato Tortilla

This is a great way to use left overs and I think the spanish idea of adding potatoes takes it to a place where frittatas fear to tread.

 

Cook in a heavy based pan with a generous lug of olive oil.  I use a cast iron pan so I can finish the tortilla in the oven.  NB: if you’re using raw potatoes, finely dice and add now too.

Gently cook the onion for a few minutes and then add your broccoli (one head of florets)  It’s best to pre-steam the broccoli or blanch it.  Even better would be using left overs from the day before.

Pop on lid to keep the moisture in and keep cooking on gentle heat.  I also add a splash of water if things are looking dry.  NB: If your broccoli isn’t pre-cooked this will take a lot longer.

I had some left over baked potatoes so I diced these and added them once the broccoli stems yielded to a sharp knife NB: you can use raw spuds, just dice them finely and add them with the onion at the start.  Just make sure they’re cooked – crunchy potatoes will ruin your day!

With a fork beat 6 or so eggs (depending on your pan size really) season and grate in a good handful of parmesan cheese

Making sure all the other ingredients are cooked, pour in your egg mixture

Let it cook on the bottom for another five or so minutes

Place the whole pan into a medium (180 C) oven for about 15 minutes to finish cooking.  Don’t do this if you’re pan has any plastic components on it!  And remember the handle is very hot – use an oven mitt!  

Alternatively you can flip the tortilla onto a plate (just make sure the top is not too runny first) flip it onto another plate and back in the pan so the former top is now in the bottom of the pan.  Well I’m confused but this guy makes it look pretty easy.

 

Unbeatable Beetroot!

Varieties and growing tips.

Two varieties that grow well in our cooler climate include Bulls Blood and Boltardy.  If you’re not one to usually grow from seed, try beetroot.  It’s a good vegetable to start with as the seeds are large and germination is quite reliable.  Several varieties are also available in a seed tape product helping you to get the spacing spot on.

Beetroot likes a pH of about 6.5.  Any higher than 7.0 and the soil alkalinity starts to prevent the uptake of boron which is essential for the edible root development.  Caution also needs to be taken with soils too high in nitrogen as you’ll end up with wonderful leafy growth but small beets!  Please don’t think this all has to be a complicated process, as once your garden is established it just becomes part of the natural flow.  Simply plant beetroot after a heavy feeding crop such as cabbage, lettuce or asian greens.  This way those previous crops will have taken up large amounts of the nitrogen in the soil.  Simply add some well rotted compost and water once established with a seaweed based liquid fertiliser.  If you’re starting in fresh soil, avoid adding large amounts of high nitrogen fertiliser such as poultry manures (especially pigeon) instead favouring compost, worm juice and liquid seaweed products.

The beetroot seeds themselves can lead to some confusion as they are actually a cluster of seeds all stuck together (kind of).  What you’ll find is that you’ll get several seedlings growing in the spot where you diligently only planted one seed.  Treat this as a gift from nature and when big enough to pinch with your finger, remove the weaker seedlings (leaving the most vigorous) and use them as a micro green in the kitchen.  If this backyard Darwinism isn’t your cup of tea, you can try replanting – but it’s very difficult not to damage the very fine taproot while they’re so young.  Nature can be cruel folks.

As the beetroot grow you’ll see the root become more visible.  This is actually pretty handy as you can see how big your beetroot are growing, so fight the urge to hill soil around them as you would with leeks etc.  Leaves can also be picked on younger beetroot and added to salads.  Just take a few from each plant as you don’t want to slow the growth by removing the plants’ energy source!

Beyond tinned beetroot (sigh)

While traveling in Eastern Europe a decade ago I was amazed at how much beetroot was used in local cuisines.  At Polish bar mleczny (direct translation is ‘milk bars’ – but more accurately described as vegetarian cafeterias) salads made from boiled grated beetroot and beetroot soup were staples.

The latter in Poland is called barszcz and I was reliably informed by a local that Polish ‘borscht’ recipes came from the Ukraine not Russia.  You know I’d never buy a Polish-made car, but I’m pretty sure no-one makes better soup.  The idea of sweating a few onions, adding some chopped beetroot and stock and creating a soup in an hour would be laughed at.  Even seemingly vegetarian soups such as barszcz start with pork of some sort, creating the stock in situ.  Always made the day before consuming there is plenty of time for flavour to develop depth.

Beetroot is also fantastic when simply grated raw.  I first tried this at Wholefoods Cafe in Geelong back in the 1990s where they added it as a standard to their salad sandwiches and awesome tofu burgers.  The Poles also make a cooked and grated beetroot condiment which when mixed with horseradish becomes “cwikla z chrzanem” – check out how to do that below.  It also goes wonderfully with the pierogi I made a little while back when discussing potatoes.

 

Another recipe that we collectively remain indebted to Stephanie Alexander for is chocolate and beetroot muffins.  I’ve modified the recipe slightly using olive oil instead of vegetable oil for nutritional reasons without noticing the taste coming through at all.  I mean chocolate and beetroot – what hope did the olive oil have?

Chocolate and Beetroot Muffins

60g organic butter, softened

1 large beetroot, peeled and grated (250g net)  A food processor makes this a whole lot easier

175g Plain Flour

1 tps baking powder

2 tbs organic cocoa

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup local olive oil

1/4 castor sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar (well packed)

12 squares dark chocolate or milk with minimum 30% cocoa

Method

1.    Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease a 12 hole muffin tray.

2.    Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

3.    Lightly mix the eggs and milk together and set aside.

4.    In a bowl or mixer process the butter, oil and 2 types of sugar until nice and creamy. Gradually add the milk and egg mixture and process until combined.

5.    Add the wet batter to the flour mix and fold together. Stir in the beetroot, until well combined.

6.    Spoon the mixture evenly into the holes and press a square of chocolate well into the centre each muffin.

Cooking time is about 20minutes depending on your oven type.  The tops should be springy but the centre will remain a lot more moist than normal muffins due to the beetroot, so be careful not to mistake this for them being underdone.

Amazing Parsley

I’m less inclined to believe that one (especially as I’m a bloke) however legend has it that parsley will ‘strongly affect men’s sexual powers’.  Maybe if these guys had gone for parsley instead of olive wreaths, they wouldn’t be described as the coxless four.

 

 

I’ll continue onto some other less controversial facts about parsley…

It’s super high in potassium with over 700mg per 100grams of leaves.  This combined with the herb’s high iron, copper and manganese content means it’s great for building healthy blood.  Parsley is also quite high in vitamin C and as with citrus fruits, our leafy green friend is at its best in winter, right when we need it.  I also found references to parsley being infused and applied to puffy eyes and even steeped into red or white wine with some other choice ingredients to produce ‘heart wine’ – great for any cardiac problems!  Parsley is from the same family that we find celery, carrots, dill and fennel – the easiest way to tell is to see their flowers forming and seeds.

‘Tis the season.

My summer basil is a distant memory, and despite growing in a vertical garden against a north facing wall, this year’s winter has all but defeated my coriander.  On the other hand I look at my parsley.  I remember Bill Mollison describing an ’embarrassment of parsley’ in one of his early Permaculture videos.  Yes, I have an “embarrassment” of parsley and what a nice feeling it is.  Parsley is biennial meaning it generally lasts for two years after which it will go to flower and produce a stack of seed.  You can simply let this seed fall in your garden beds and there’s a good chance new plants will pop up.  Alternatively if planting seed deliberately, be prepared to wait a while as the seedlings are renowned for long germination.

Varieties

Whether I’m cringing over memories of curly parsley from my childhood or not, I now only grow the flat leaf or ‘Italian’ variety of parsley (Petroselinum crispum .var. neapolitanum).   It’s hardy, vigorous and produces wonderfully tender flat leaves that are also easier to handle on a chopping board.

Parsley in the kitchen

I have to warn you, if you want to get the best out of the culinary value of parsley, you’ll have to look beyond our Anglo-Australian history.  My childhood memories of parsley were as an awkward accompaniment to fish and chips if the local pub was feeling fancy, or if Grandma was in an adventurous mood it would be chopped finely and added to a béchamel/white sauce.  As a general rule you can use it in place of basil and it deserves to be the hero of simple oil based pasta sauces where it goes so well with chilli and a good quality hard cheese.  Today I made parsley pesto, and while I love basil pesto I reckon this “picked and prepped within an hour” dish is superior to any Italian made imported pesto.

Parsley Pesto

2 cups of loosely packed fresh parsley, washed and dried well (pat dry with tea towel or use a salad spinner)

3/4 cup walnuts (I used some local, sweet beauties from Bannockburn)

1/2 cup finely grated parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano if possible)

1 clove roughly chopped garlic (it will be chopped further by the food processor)

Good local extra virgin olive oil – cold pressed (sorry didn’t measure this, just drizzle it in slowly but probably about 3/4 cup)

sea salt to taste

Process the walnuts first, then the parsley and roughly chopped garlic.  You may have to keep stopping the processor to push the ingredients down the wall of the processor bowl and back onto the blades.

Once you’re sure the parsley is well chopped and the ingredients are mixed together, drizzle in your olive oil while the processor is mixing.  Add the oil slowly and in batches, mixing in between.

Place your finished mix into a bowl and add the grated parmesan.  Add salt as necessary making sure it’s really fine (I crush my Malden sea salt in a mortar with a pestle)

As with basil pesto this goes great with pasta, as a dip, spooned on top of poached eggs and as an accompaniment to grilled meat/fish etc.

Another way to take full advantage of large volumes of parsley is by making the middle eastern salad tabbouleh or tabouli.  Apart from tomatoes (and burghal) all the ingredients to this salad are available locally right now.

Here’s a you tube recipe which seems pretty good if you can get passed the North American pronunciation of herbs and oregano!

All hail King Kale!

Well you can grow it in your very own garden at home – it’s called Kale and one cupful can do all the above plus more!

 

Maybe it was really kale in that tin?

Where’s it from?

Kale is a Mediterranean member of the brassica or cabbage family which dates back a couple of thousand years.  In fact it was a staple vegetable of the time as it proved frost hardy and could survive

much harsher winters than it’s origins would suggest.  In the Netherlands it’s known as ‘farmers’ cabbage’ with the main variety we see called Cavolo nero or ‘black cabbage’.  The dark blue and green leaves

are the first hint to the health inducing carotenoids contained within.  My fiance knew about kale before I did, as she used to be a florist and some varieties are stunningly ornamental.

 

How do you grow it?   

Like other cabbages, Kale is a hero winter vegetable that can be sown in Autumn and harvested a few months later.  Alternatively sowing established seedlings around now (early July) will ensure your enjoying

Kale well into spring.  I don’t bother growing it during the hot summer months as the white butterflies are too numerous to compete with, plus the leaves are sweeter when grown in the cooler seasons.  As with

cabbages, prepare the soil in advance with lots of compost and/or rotted manure.  They are heavy nitrogen feeders so top dressing with pigeon manure and liquid feeding during their growth will ensure success.

Pick the older outer leaves first (as you would with silverbeet) to keep the plant producing again and again.

 

Eating Kale

Kale is a little tougher than it’s cabbage cousins but don’ let this put you off.  I first learned of Kale from Stephanie Alexander as she described it as being the original addition to minestrone soup.  So it can be

cooked long and slow and still hold its shape and texture which is a bonus in many dishes.  It can be boiled (apparently if you drink the liquid afterwards you will, in fact live forever) or sautéed with butter or

olive oil and of course garlic.  Young leaves are great raw and will ensure you get all of the vitamin C as described above.  I find it to be a great addition to simple oil based pasta dishes that need something to cut through other rich flavours, where spinach simply doesn’t make the grade.  Same goes for risotto.  Below is  a recipe for Kale Chips and while I can’t guarantee they’ll take the place of your beloved salt and vinegar varieties,

they do feel a lot more grown up and taste awesome.

 

Ingredients

A good salad spinner full of tender young Kale leaves (use the rest for other dishes as they’ll be chewy rather than chippy!)

Olive oil, ghee, coconut oil or whatever you use for healthy frying

Sea salt or Murray River flaked salt

Method

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees using a fan setting if available

Soak the picked leaves in water to remove any bugs (especially in home grown or organically purchased)

Cut the leaves of the kale away from the stems and then chop into bite sized pieces

Spin in a salad spinner really well a couple of times (until it’s well and truly dizzy!)

 

Place in a clean dry bowl and drizzle with olive or your favourite oil

 

Mix thoroughly and place onto a baking tray (don’t sprinkle with salt just yet as it will bring out moisture and make the chips soggy)

Place in the pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes checking they are crispy but not brown or still floppy

 

Sprinkle with salt and or sesame seeds and enjoy!