December 2009


It’s bloody freezing outside. The snow melted and froze into ice, and then it snowed on top of the ice, which melted a bit, and now it’s freezing outside. Not good. Time then, for a little ray of sunshine.

But before that, some outstanding business to wrap up. Last week saw the inaugural Drooling Vegetable competition, and my underlings are still picking through the postbag. Some heroic suggestions, along with some truly awful gags from Mal, and a discovery that in the States the swede is known as Rutabaga.

The winner, though, is Amy, for her identification of a whole page of swede recipes, and in particular the Indian Spiced Swede Cakes.  Hurrah!

Anyway, back to the sunshine. Back at the beginning of October I had a day off and took myself off to Chelsea Physic Garden. I’d read about it for ages but never quite managed to visit.

It’s a little garden square just over the road from the Thames, founded in 1673, and dedicated to growing medicinal herbs and plants. It’s also only open four days a week, nowhere near a tube station and ringed by traffic wardens. Unsurprisingly, when you finally get there you’ll find it’s quite quiet.

It’s £8 to get in, which when you cost it up as a price per square metre of garden probably makes it the most expensive garden in Britain. It’s also full of posh old people. I know! Posh people in Chelsea! I was gobsmacked!

You do get a handset with your admission, which has a commentary narrated by John Snow, but most importantly, it has a very nice café, staffed by some more posh people, and selling a range of very tasty cakes.

Now you may have noticed that this is a gardening blog, and we’ve got this far into a post about a garden, and there’s nothing mentioned about the…um…actual garden. Well, truth be told I didn’t find it that inspiring. Yes, the setting was beautiful, the beds were packed full of plants and the labels suggested they were all hugely important or extremely rare, but as a visual spectacle (shallow, shallow me) it didn’t really do it for me.

Still, nice cakes. And full of posh people.

On the ipod while adjusting the monocle: Pulp / Common People.  I said pretend you’ve got no money. She just laughed and said “well how are we going to get into the garden then?”

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After almost ten months of blogging I feel I need to do something new, something different to keep you, my adorable public, happy and interested.

I fear that weekly ramblings about vegetables are just not enough to keep you demanding blogophiles still clicking. So here it it, the inaugural Drooling Vegetable Competition!

I am sneakily attempting to combine this with this week’s gardening dilemma. Well, I say this week, but in truth it’s a poser that I’ve faced for longer than I care to remember: how do you make a Swede interesting?

I’m sure that on far more stimulating blogs than mine, that question should be the first half of a very dirty joke involving Scandinavians, but I’m afraid you, dear reader, will have to take it at face value. You see, each year I plant the seeds, grow the veg and then, about this time of year when there’s bugger all else growing in the garden, I start to get really, really, REALLY bored of mashed swede.

Yes, the butter livens it up, I agree, a heavy hand with the pepper can add a bit of zip, but really, there must be more to the vegetable than a saucepan of hot water and a nob of butter. Buggered if I know what, though. Try as I might I can’t find anything more inspirational to do with the things.

So, this year’s competition: send in your swede recipes and prove that the vegetable is worth it’s place in the kitchen. It’s got to be more creative than lobbing it in a stew with whatever else is still standing on the allotment or mashing it and dumping it next to the proper stuff on your plate. Put your creativity to the test! Humble me with your dazzling culinary genius! Make me eat my swede-bashing words!

Answers underneath this post please, and the winner will receive a wonderful mystery prize, delivered just in time for Christmas….

On the ipod while awaiting a tidal wave of Swede-ish recipes: Abba / Winner takes it all. Abba? Swede? Geddit?!?!?!?

It’s grim out there. A rainy, windswept tundra. There’s not a lot growing on the allotment at the moment, and what’s more it’s months before I even get to plant most of my next crops, let alone eat them.

Dare I say it, I’m even starting to get a little bored of parsnips for tea. Luckily all is not lost, for in the corner of the plot, standing tall, is a plucky little survivor.

Feast your eyes on my Cavolo Nero, a tough and perky Italian cabbage. It’s related to good old British curly kale but it’s somehow showier, a bit flash. A touch more extrovert. Whereas the humble British cabbage gets on with growing in a sensible, modest and compact ball of leaves, this gaudy braggard puffs out its leaves in a boastful show of frippery and egotism.

Like I say, Italian.

Still, it tastes delicious. Before I give you the recipe below, modesty compels me to add a little caveat. The pasta sauce is undeniably mouth-watering, but it is essentially a base of garlic, cream and parmesan with some cabbage added. Quite frankly you could add my youngest son’s underpants to a base of garlic, cream and parmesan and I’d still eat it.

And one last thing: make sure you check carefully inside those adorably frilly leaves. I make this pasta dish for one ever since Mrs Drooling found a cutsey little caterpillar curled up inside a mouthful of her serving last year.

Cavolo Nero pasta

Serves two

A large bunch of cavolo nero leaves, thick stalks removed

200ml single cream or crème fraiche

A large handful of grated parmesan

Two cloves of garlic

Small green caterpillar (optional)

Cook your pasta. While it is cooking fry the chopped garlic in a little olive oil. After a couple of minutes add the chopped cavolo nero. It will wilt in a few minutes. Add the cream and let it bubble gently until the pasta is ready.

Drain the pasta, saving a couple of tablespoons of water, and mix the pasta, sauce, cheese together. It can get a bit claggy, so use the cooking water from the pasta to loosen it until you get just the right consistency for your tastebuds.

On the ipod while cooking: Verdi / La donna e mobile. Flighty? Don’t get me started: she wouldn’t even eat a caterpillar!