Some years ago I co-owned a vegetable box delivery with a local organic grower. One of my responsibilities was to select the produce for the weekly boxes. Most of the year this was a breeze with a large variety available, but come spring this task wasn’t so easy.
Fortunately, there were plenty of greens such as lettuce, spinach, silverbeet and the first asparagus shoots. Plus the occasional spring surprise such as bunches of baby leeks, carrots and beetroot. These were a welcome addition to add variety to the boxes.
Another of my weekly duties was to put together a garden newsletter, including a recipe using a selection of produce from the box. I loved coming up with new recipes, and found cooking with the seasons created a new appreciation for nature’s gentle rhythm.
In essence it simplifies meals, taking the focus away from protein being the heart of the meal and lets the vegetables lead. Instead of thinking, for example, I will cook chicken for dinner, my thoughts start with what I am harvesting from the garden, or picked up at the Farmers’ Market this week.
At the moment it is leeks, finally having bulked up with the warmer weather after a winter of many frosts. They are sweet and perfect for caramelising. This is a variation on a recipe I once wrote to slip into the vegetable boxes.
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CARAMELISED LEEK & GOATS CHEESE TART
- ½ cup freshly cracked walnuts
- 1 cup white flour
- ¼ cup wholemeal flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 100 g cold butter cut in cubes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon yoghurt or fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large leek or 4 small leeks cut into 1cm rounds
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup cream
- salt and freshly cracked pepper
- 50 g soft goat cheese or feta crumbled
- Handful of fresh thyme or rosemary chopped
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Generously grease a 30 x 10cm loose-bottomed tin or 25cm round tart dish.
Place the walnuts and ¼ cup flour in a food processor and blend until the walnuts are finely ground. Add the remaining flour and salt and combine. Add chopped butter and pulse into breadcrumb-like texture. Pour in the olive oil and yoghurt/lemon juice and mix briefly until crumbly and the mixture holds together when pressed. Tip into the tin and press to evenly cover the base and sides. Cover and place in the fridge for 20 minutes while preparing the filling. This rests the pastry and prevents shrinkage during cooking.
Heat the second measure of olive oil in a frying pan. Arrange the leek rounds in a single layer and cook until golden on both sides. Tip onto a plate to cool a little. Whisk together the eggs and cream, and season generously.
Blind bake the crust – prick the base evenly with a fork. Line with baking paper and fill with ceramic pastry weights or dried beans. Place in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes then remove the paper and weights/beans and bake for a further 8-10 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and arrange the caramelised leeks evenly in the base. Dot with goat cheese or feta, scatter with herbs, and pour over the custard. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the custard is just set. Cool on a rack and serve warm or cold.
In the Garden: Spring
Spring is a busy time in the garden. I have cleared the winter brassica going to seed and prepared the garden beds for summer produce. Tomato seedlings, mostly grown from my own saved seeds (Black Krim & Isle of Capri bring favs) have been planted out into the glasshouse last weekend. I also planted 4 zucchini seedlings and crossing fingers *and toes* that we don’t get a frost in the next few weeks. I know it is a bit early but they were bursting out of their punnets.
The last month has been a delight in the garden with all the spring blossoms. With a beehive now in the garden there is much buzzing activity and a quick check today of fruit set has been positive. I have a feeling we will have a busy few summer months of preserving ahead. I must say it has been very dry, and unless we get some rain soon I will have to start watering regularly – I can’t remember ever doing this in October before.
Harvesting: asparagus (!)/ lettuce / kohlrabi / leeks / parsley / coriander / snow peas / broad beans just starting / lisbon lemons / oranges
Growing: silverbeet / fennel / red + onions / garlic (while managing a small amount of rust) / more kohlrabi (we all love it so much) / tomatoes / zucchini / peas / strawberries
Garden Tasks: weed and mulch the berry patch / plant potatoes into a new bed with specifically built walls to layer mulch as the plants grow / tend to summer seedlings – cucumber, beans, pumpkin/squash – to plant out after Labour Day / regularly spray garlic with seaweed and EM dilution / plant more bee-friendly flowers / work compost and horse manure into summer garden beds / mulch to keep in moisture / and weeding – at least the drier weather means they aren’t taking over as they often do in spring.