Monday, July 19, 2010

Eating the Winter garden

My mum’s garden is the source of all things tomato during summer. But during the winter months (and the cold that I am only just starting to come to terms with) she grows the softest, sweetest spinaches and chards, harvesting only a few leaves at a time, hence allowing each plant to continue to produce and grow. Bok choi too, and little green cabbages the size of a fist.

Cruciferous vegetables (chards and spinaches and cabbages) have a reputation for bitterness, but these leaves, straight from earth to plate in a matter of hours, are sweet and full of flavour. Not at all bitter or dull or watery. Thinly sliced and then very briefly sautéed in just a hint of olive oil, the leaves resembled a pile of seaweed or wet grass, deeply green with hints of purple and red. Just brimming with iron and vitamins and an overwhelming sense of freshness and vitality so lacking during the winter months.

Yesterday was icy cold, and I desperately needed the whimsy imparted to my day by two tiny brassicae: a minature Romanesco broccoli and a little purple cauliflower. These were a spur of the moment purchase at the market – it’s hard to resist the impulse buy when the merchandise is so utterly charming. And healthy. Nestled into a tangle of sautéed home-grown greens, accompanied by Brussels sprouts, these little steamed flower heads were delightful to look at and delicious to boot.

These was nothing particularly fancy about the meal. Finished off with a light grating of parmesan cheese and finely chopped curly parsley (the very essence of green - also from my mum’s garden), the whole thing was wholesome and fresh. There was a healthful goodness that the rich braises and roasts of winter sometimes hide. And yet there was a rightness, an earthy crispness that settled this very simple meal firmly in Winter’s heart.

All in all, a perfect Sunday supper.

An Edible Winter garden: sautéing and steaming

Sautéing is a method of cooking in which food is cooked super-fast, super-hot and all-at-once (in a little oil or butter). It’s a brilliant way of sealing in nutrients, as the food is cooked quickly, and nothing leaches out into water. It’s important not to overload the pan with too much stuff, as this reduces the heat, and therefore extends the cooking time. Because it is so quick, it can make more sense to split the amount you have to cook into two or three batches.

Sautéed winters greens

For one person: 2 cups shredded raw winter greens. As fresh as you can get. 1 tbsp olive oil.

Heat olive oil to very high in a large pan or wok. Add greens. Shake the pan or toss with tongs until cooked. This will take about two minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Steamed tiny brassica

1 whole miniature cauliflower or ¼ cauliflower

Fill a large saucepan with about 2 inches of water. Place a microwave-proof breakfast bowl in the saucepan, so that the water comes two thirds up the sides. Place the cauliflower in the bowl. Cover the saucepan with a lid and bring to the boil. Cook for about five minutes, until the cauliflower is tender (will yield to a skewer). Carefully remove the cauliflower from the bowl, sprinkle with sea-salt and pepper to taste.

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