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It seems like Christmas was only yesterday! But then, lot’s about our shift into spring feels slow or late. Perhaps it’s the weather, it’s been unusually cold. A far cry from springs of late, where the sun shone for what seemed like months. I read the cooler temperatures will really help the orchard fruits, and if the apple, pear and cherry blossom are anything to go by, it’ll be a heavy harvest for sure.
In my vegetable garden the pace of life has been unhurried, as is the way. I haven’t been as busy as I might have been, were it warmer. I’ve resisted the temptation to sow too many seeds, despite the gravitational pull from my old wooden seed box, I’ve held back, it’s just not warm enough. That said, I have been scattering my winter salad mix about the place for ages, and it’s done really well. We’ve had salad throughout the winter months. Rocket, mizuna, mustard and various other peppery leaves have brought a little verve to all sorts of dishes. We’ve had dozens of winter lettuce too. They’re a butter head variety, and full of flavour. They need a good wash before eating, as the slugs and snails seem to like to lurk with their folds of their leaves, but they make the perfect partner to the orientals.
I have, I’m pleased to say, successfully germinated all my tomato seedlings (inside) save one or two for the snails. I’ve gone for a large dark brandy wine variety, for slicing and sprinkling with salt, then trickling with Olive oil. And to nestle in between those, half a dozen Gardeners delight plants, for their sweetness. Once all the salads cleared out of the greenhouse beds, the tomatoes will be big enough to plant out. They thrived last year, so I have my fingers crossed they will again.
In November I planted out all my young broad bean plants. They’re in flower now and looking extremely healthy, well set and proud. I’m pleased about this, as I love broad beans. A few days ago I was pottering about the raised beds when I caught the scent of their flowers drifting by in the breeze. I had no idea how floral they are. They have a really beautiful aroma.
If you’re growing broad beans this year, I’ve included a rather delicious recipe for them below.
Spending time in the garden in spring gives me a window into a world in which nature happily dominates. We are perched on the edge of a large swathe of woodland, which runs both east and west along the Jurassic coast. From the green house I get to see common buzzards, perched lazily in the trees, peregrines soaring high above on rising thermals and all sorts of garden birds going about their business in the way they do. A few weeks ago, I was doing something or other in the greenhouse when I was startled by an awful screeching, from just behind the garden fence. It was a black bird and it had been caught by a sparrow hawk. It was really quite spectacular to see something so natural play out right in front of me. As soon as the hawk sensed me, it upped and left, the black bird still fast in its talons.
This week I’ve begun sowing my seed potatoes, and I cant wait to start digging them up again, in a few months time. I’ve gone with Charlotte, a trusted variety for all sorts of reasons. I haven’t quite finished putting them all in the ground, but I will, by the weekend. I hope!
Grilled squid with broad beans, mint, lemon & agretti
If you don’t have a ridged grill pan for this recipe, use a heavy-based frying pan instead. The trick in either case is to get the pan really, really hot, so the squid cooks quickly and retains its soft, tender texture. Agretti, sometimes known as monk’s beard, is a popular Italian vegetable. It’s a frondy member of the samphire family, and although it has a slight salinity, its flavour is close to that of spinach. You can eat young shoots raw in salads, but as the shoots get bigger, they benefit from blanching (just like broad beans). Mint, chives and a little parsley are lovely herbs to use for this recipe, if you have them to hand.
4 small or 2 medium squid (about 400g/14oz in total), cleaned
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
250g (9oz) small broad beans, shelled
1 small bunch of agretti (about 60g/21⁄4oz; optional)
1 small knob of butter
1 small garlic clove, peeled and grated or finely chopped
1⁄2 small handful of mint leaves, finely ribboned
1⁄2 small bunch of chives, finely chopped
A few stems of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
Lemon, for squeezing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Use a sharp knife to cut the tubular body of each squid down its length, so it completely opens up. Then, use a blunt knife to score the inside, in a cross-hatch pattern. If you’re using larger squid, cut each body into two or three pieces. Put the scored squid in a bowl along with the wings and tentacles (you might want to halve these) and season it all with salt and pepper. Trickle over 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and tumble everything together.
Heat a large, ridged griddle pan over a very high heat and bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Once the griddle pan is madly hot, add the squid. Cook for around 45–60 seconds on each side. Remove the squid from the griddle and transfer to a plate.
Add the beans and agretti to the pan of boiling water and cook for 1–3 minutes, depending on the size and age of the broad beans. (Larger, older beans might benefit from skinning once cooked.) Drain the broad beans and agretti and set aside.
Add the butter to the drained cooking pan, with the remaining olive oil and the garlic. Let the garlic sizzle over a low heat for 30 seconds, then return the agretti and beans to the pan, stirring them through the garlic butter. Remove from the heat and stir through half each of the mint, chives and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
Arrange the beans and agretti over two warm plates, top each with the grilled squid and then with the remaining herbs. Finish each with a squeeze of lemon juice.