Using your garden to perfect your Christmas meal
One of the great joys of growing your own food is being able to harvest tender young veggies just hours before they’re to be served up on a platter. A few steamed new potatoes, a couple of baked baby gem or butternut squashes, a handful of sugared berries (raspberries and youngberries are delectably in fruit now) – that’s all it takes to add a Masterchef touch to your dinner table, with a few squash and nasturtium flowers as cheerful edible garnish. If you’ve no outdoor growing space, drop by an accredited garden centre and gift yourself a windowsill pot or few of culinary herbs – beautifully grown and ready for Christmas meal snipping.
What to plant
Sow seeds of short-season summer crops like spring onions and basil. All three will flourish in containers on a sunny balcony and they’ll grow even better if they’re all planted together in the same pot. The science of companion planting is a fascinating one to explore – learning how one type of veggie improves the flavour of another growing nearby, or helps attract beneficial insects (or ward off nuisances) to its different-species companions.
In the kitchen garden now
Water regularly to be sure your vegetables don’t suffer during hot and dry summer days. Spray deciduous fruit trees against fruit fly, and tomatoes and squash against leaf diseases such as blight and mildew if they’re a problem. The best disease prevention is healthy plants – try liquid fertiliser and foliar sprays as instant pick-me-up feeding options, and irrigate early in the morning, avoiding splashing the leaves. Harvest runner beans regularly to encourage more to grow, and sow more every two weeks or so to ensure a continuous harvest through the summer.
Veggie of the moment is courgette – light and delicately flavoured to blend in with an array of different taste sensations.
Mix together (all ingredients at room temperature): 400g thinly sliced courgettes, 50g grated cheese (gruyere is yum), a little garlic, fresh chopped herbs (thyme, chives), salt, pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and a ½ cup of double cream. Tip into a buttered baking dish, spread sour cream over the top (½–1 cup, depending on the diameter of the dish) and sprinkle with parmesan and paprika. Bake gently at 150°C for 45 minutes. Delicious with a leafy salad for an elegant lunch, or as a side dish to accompany a more substantial meal.