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Sustainable Life: Earth’s bounty in the Kitchen Garden

Mia Swainson

Harvesting from the earth is messy.

There’s dirt under my nails, on my clothes and in my harvest basket. What bounty will I find in the soil? Such suspense. Will the garlic bulbs beneath those stalks be large, round and delicious, or have they rotted in this year’s spring rain? The moment of truth for crops that are grown below the ground like beetroots, carrots, radishes and garlic can be so exciting. In a moment your hopes or fears are realised. Now you can see the results of all of your watering, weeding and loving.

Root crops give a true taste of your backyard terroir. I love beetroot or carrots roasted and tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and feta cheese. Great in a summer salad and colourful as a winter side dish. Potatoes, the ultimate in hide-and-seek harvesting, simply taste different when they’re straight from your garden. They’re stronger in flavour and smoother texture – amazing! Right now it’s time to “hide” seed potatoes – ready for playing “seek” in late summer or early autumn.

My kitchen garden cooking is simple. I like to enjoy the unique taste that’s been created by earth in my garden. I cook so that I can share this taste with friends and family under a glorious summer sky. Here are three favourites, for root crops that are ready to harvest right now.

Roast beetroot salad

Firstly, a confession. This is the first year that I’ve successfully grown beetroot in my garden. Possibly it’s because this is the first year that I’ve grown it from seedlings. Apparently beetroot grows just fine from seed too.

For a good crop of beetroot, keep it well watered. You might also like to plant successive crops, every 3-4 weeks, for a continual harvest. This is something that I’m working on… now that I’ve actually managed to produce beets that are good enough to eat.

So, now for the salad. Scrub about 10 beets, chop them into wedges and pop them into a roasting pan. This will probably fill a whole pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Roast on 180 degrees for about 40 minutes – until the beets are well cooked and the edges are starting to caramelise.

Meanwhile, prepare the other salad ingredients. You’ll need about 2 cups of cooked lentils – either from a can or cooked at home, one third of a cup of toasted sunflower seeds and 4 cups of baby spinach. To make the dressing, combine the juice of a lemon, 1 tsp of Dijon mustard, one-third of a cup of olive oil, one quarter of a cup of chopped tarragon, salt and cracked black pepper.

Assemble the salad by placing the baby spinach on a serving platter, arranging the roast beetroot on top. Combine the lentils and toasted sunflower seeds, then place them on top of the roast beetroot. Drizzle the dressing before serving, then lightly toss the salad.

The lentils and sunflower seeds compliment the beetroot, giving this salad a real earthy flavour. Tarragon in the dressing gives the salad a lift and a zing.

Roast garlic and pumpkin tarts

Garlic is one of the most economical crops to grow at home. Chemical free, Australian garlic can be as much as $30.00/ kilo, or about $4 per bulb.

Growing garlic takes a bit of garden love. You push single cloves into richly prepared soil, shoot facing up, in about April – then watch, water and weed for seven months until late November or December when the garlic tops die off and the bulb is ready for harvest. After you’ve pulled up the bulbs, let them dry off for a day in the sun, then it’s time to chop off the roots, clean off the outer layer of garlic ‘skin’ and dirt and plait your garlic. Plaited garlic in your kitchen. So French. So chic.

But. Not every bulb I grow at home has big cloves of garlic and the small cloves are fiddly to peal. So, I like to roast the small bulbs when they’re whole and squeeze out the roasted flesh to use in salads or dips. Chopping the end off the bulb before you roast it makes squeezing out individual cloves super easy.

Put four small bulbs of garlic along with about 250g of 2cm diced pumpkin into a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a medium oven for about 40 minutes.   Meanwhile, grease the moulds and create the tart bases for 12 small tarts. I used an old-fashioned muffin tin for my tarts. You could make your own short crust pastry or buy some from the store. Combine six free range eggs and 250g of ricotta. Season, if desired.

Then, put the tarts together by spooning the egg and ricotta mixture into short crust pastry bases. Gently squeeze at least two small cloves of garlic into each tart. Then place at least two pumpkin pieces into each tart. Finally, crumble a little feta cheese onto each tart and push it down, so that it sinks into the tarts.

Radish, Asparagus and Avocado rice paper rolls

Radishes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. They’re excellent for first time gardeners because they grow easily from seed, germinate quickly and are ready for harvest about four weeks after you’ve planted them – quick!

Don’t leave them in the ground for too long. If they’ve been in too long, they get super spicy and the skin splits.

Rice paper rolls are perfect for summer. Fresh, light and, if you choose, spicy. Here’s the simple version – good for weeknights of lunches.

You’ll need rice papers from the shop. To cook them, dip them in boiling water (mind your fingers), lay the ‘cooked’ rice paper out on a clean tea towel. Add your filling to the middle of the rice paper, not too much as you’ll need to fold it over and roll it up.

So, the filling.

Blanched asparagus (slice it in half lengthways), sliced avocado, thinly sliced radishes, thinly sliced carrots and cucumber, coriander leaves, mint leaves and crushed, roasted peanuts. Serve with sweet chilli and soy dipping sauces.

Simple. Delicious.

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

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