Get the idea: Ray and Jenny’s autumn garden
We are a good combo when it comes to food — Jenny knows how to grow it and I know how to cook it, although Jenny is also a great cook. We have a moderate-sized garden which, through the year, produces plums, salad vegetables, kaffir lime leaves, fresh herbs (lemongrass, basil, rosemary, thyme, bay, sage, oregano, Vietnamese mint, mint, parsley), cherry tomatoes, rainbow chard, rocket, rhubarb, cape gooseberries (physalis), lemons and limes. We grow enough to provide great flavour accents to meals, partial relief from the eye-watering vegetable prices this year and the pleasure of picking from your own garden.
Like cooks, all good vegetable gardeners plan ahead. Having done so, and if the weather remains fine, this time of year is a good time for picking salad veges, brassicas like broccoli, beetroot, spinach, zucchini, carrots, kale, rocket and spring onions to name a few. It’s also the time for a clear out of anything that has finished, gone to seed or, unfortunately, become diseased. Give the soil a feed as well.
Once this is done you can replant a few quick-growing vegetables like lettuces, Chinese greens, radishes and green beans that will mature before it gets really cold. It is also the time for planting longer-growing things like silverbeet, brassicas, carrots, parsnips and leeks. Having a garden, however small (it could be some planters on a balcony) keeps you in touch with the natural world and gives you the pleasure of eating food you have grown.
Heat a large, dry frying pan over high heat and brown radicchio leaves and thinly lengthwise-sliced zucchini on each side. Place on a warm serving platter and top with barbecued or grilled garlicky, dried oregano-dusted, free-range chicken pieces. Sprinkle with pitted kalamata olives, capers, thinly sliced roasted red capsicum, thinly sliced chilli, extra virgin olive oil, chopped parsley and lemon wedges on the side for squeezing. Good with steamed rice.
Boil lots of 2cm-thick sliced silverbeet leaves (and rainbow chard stalks and leaves if you have it) until well wilted. Drain well, cool under cold water, squeeze dry and reserve. Heat some extra virgin olive oil over moderate heat in a large frying pan and add finely chopped onion, 1cm-diced pancetta or bacon, plenty of chopped garlic, zest of a lemon and some very finely chopped rosemary sprigs. Fry gently without burning for 10 minutes or until the onion is soft. Add the silverbeet (and chard if using) and fry gently for 10 minutes. Taste, season and serve tossed through al dente short pasta (eg penne) with plenty of parmesan.
Heat the oven to 200C. Make a frittata with lots of thinly sliced zucchini, gently browned with lots of chopped garlic, the finely diced peel of a preserved lemon and chopped fresh marjoram or oregano.
Cool and add to plenty of beaten eggs in a mixing bowl with crumbled feta, chopped parsley and thinly sliced spring onions. Clean the frying pan (it stops the frittata sticking), place over moderate heat and add some extra virgin olive oil. When hot add the zucchini mixture. When bubbles appear around the edge (don’t let it burn) place in the oven for 20 minutes or until well set and puffed up. Serve in wedges with salad.
Make a beetroot and tomato curry, a favourite in our house and loosely based on a Madhur Jaffrey recipe. Peel beetroot and cut into 3cm chunks. Place in an ovenproof casserole with an onion that has been slow fried, a large pinch of chilli flakes, a couple of tablespoons of toasted cumin seeds, chopped garlic and some finely chopped ginger. Cover with chopped canned tomatoes, cover the casserole tightly and place in a 180C oven for 1 hour. Remove, cool, taste, season and serve with plain unsweetened yoghurt (I use the Gopala brand — real yoghurt, real value), chopped coriander and warm flatbread. Also good with roast lamb.
Blanch lots of broccoli florets and sliced peeled stalks in salted water until just cooked but still crisp. Heat a frying pan over moderate heat and add extra virgin olive oil, a chopped onion, garlic, and the zest of a lemon and fry until the onion is soft. Add the reserved broccoli and fry 10 minutes, then serve with slices of haloumi fried in extra virgin olive oil over high heat until browned on each side. Serve in warm pita breads with walnut pieces and a dollop of plain unsweetened yoghurt mixed with tahini and lemon juice to taste.
Peel lots of parsnips and cut into slices lengthways, spread on a large shallow baking paper-lined ovenproof tray. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season and bake at 200C for 30 minutes or until the parsnips are crisp and browned. Serve with your favourite steak, pan-fried or barbecued, and a puree of boiled parsnips, butter cream, chopped curly parsley and freshly grated nutmeg.
A simple French country-style soup: sliced leeks and peeled agria potatoes cut into 3cm chunks and simmered in chicken stock until soft. Puree and mix with plain unsweetened yoghurt and lemon juice to taste, and season to taste. Good hot or chilled, with crusty sourdough bread.
Slice baby cos lettuces in half lengthways, brush with extra virgin olive oil, and season. Grill or barbecue until well browned, place on a warm platter cut-side up. Make a well-seasoned dressing of beaten sour cream, white wine vinegar, chopped garlic, lots of chopped mint and grated cucumber flesh that has been squeezed dry. Spoon this over the hot lettuce. Serve with barbecued or fried salmon, chicken or steak.
Core and slice brussels sprouts into 4 and slow fry with extra virgin olive oil, chopped garlic, plenty of fresh thyme sprigs, a bay leaf and some chopped peeled apple until soft and browned. Stir in a cup or two of sauerkraut, taste and season. Serve with grilled or barbecued pork chops and mashed agria potatoes.
Buy or make some meringues and dust with icing sugar. Serve with cream whipped with a little white rum and halved passionfruit for spooning over.