Sunday, 1 May 2016

An autumn salad from the garden

Since daylight saving has finished, suddenly the nights in the south seem to be colder and the leaves of the trees are thinking about changing colour.   My lettuce plants are under threat with a frosty night just around the corner.   Best use them while I can. The sun is shining  and that’s always the best time to eat a salad.
The last of my Freckles cos type lettuce plants
I gather my autumn salad from the garden.   I have two varieties growing an iceberg in the green house and a cos type lettuce with speckles in my garden where nearby the  Florence fennel is about to bolt. Remarkably my slow tomatoes are still ripening in the greenhouse along with the basil that is just holding on and is probably protected a little by the chickweed growing over it.
This is chickweed in flower shrouding the last of my basil, I chose some chickweed that was all leaf as these leaves are juicier than those plants putting effort into flowering.

Autumn Salad

When I make a salad I try to always add herbs, flowers, weeds and a protein of some kind.
First I tore the Iceberg leaves (while other lettuce types add colour and different textures I really enjoy the crunch of the Iceberg and next year will grow more.)
The speckled lettuce with its long leaves I put around the edge of the bowl whole.
2016-04-10 00.42.45I shaved the Florence Fennel bulb with a mandolin because the thinner you slice it the better it tastes and adds a crunch as well as a natural aniseed sweetness.

20160409_151437Now I pluck off the leaves of the thready chickweed.  I try not to include too much of the stringy stems that can be a bit chewy. Chickweed was once used like we use lettuce and contains many nutrients.  If you are interested in learning about other weeds click on this link:
The easiest and best dressing for me is a squeeze of lemon juice and avocado oil.  I decide to squeeze the lemon juice on now before I place the final toppings.  I also add a little salt and pepper. The oil I put on last.
I slice up a tomato into 8 and this adds colour to the green.
Now I cut up a sprig of basil and a little of the fennel fronds.
I used violas and petals from a dandelion as the flower element for this salad.
The protein I chose is one of my favourites the salty and soft hulomi cheese that when fried in a pan for a few minutes in avocado oil becomes crunchy on the outside. Over this I sprinkled a little avocado oil and I had a delicious salad to enjoy while I sat in the sun.
You can choose other options and combinations like replace the fennel for thinly sliced courgette, replace the tomatoes for sliced pears with lemon juice to stop them turning brown and match the pears  with cumin roasted walnuts.  All these ingredients are autumnal produce.
Autumn Salad:  lettuce, fennel bulb, tomatoes and Halloumi cheese.
When making a salad I think of sweet and tart, crunchy and soft, and colour combinations. It never ceases to amaze me how many things you can actually find in the garden to put into a salad,  especially when you are confident on what weeds and flowers you can safely add to your salad.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Slow cooked tomatoes and generous gardeners

My sister Kerry is my Little Red Riding Hood often arriving with a basket of produce from her garden and hens.
Included in Kerry’s basket were some tomatoes.  In our family I’m credited as the one who is the creative cook and my sister as a creative artist.  Kerry is reluctant to spend much time in the kitchen. Her rule is use fresh produce and make it easy and simple.  Perhaps her signature dish that’s a real family favourite is her slow cooked tomatoes with pasta.
It’s an ideal recipe for the start of autumn when tomatoes are more appetising cooked than fresh as the nights become cooler. The secret to this recipe is to cook long and slow to caramelise and intensify the tomato flavours.

Slow Roasted Tomato Pasta Sauce

There are no measurements for this sauce, make as little or as much as you want.  Red Peppers are certainly a great addition to this sauce when they are available at a good price.
Larger tomatoes cut into fat slices, smaller tomatoes in half or tiny cherry tomatoes just prick with a knife and cook whole. I love garlic so I would add one bulb of garlic by peeling off the cloves.  No need to skin the garlic. Once the sauce is cooked, I simply squeeze out the garlic puree into the tomato and discard the skins. If you cook the garlic without their skin they could burn.
Season well with salt and pepper and generously add olive oil.   You can use virgin olive oil because you are cooking these tomatoes at a low temperature.  Cook at 140ÂșC for about an hour until the tomatoes have collapsed and have begun to caramelise.
To make it more sauce like but not like a puree smash the tomatoes with a potato masher.
The two final ingredients are olives and sweet basil.
I tend to add the olives into the mix to heat through in the sauce while the pasta is cooking and only add the basil when served.
A delicious and warming dinner when added to pasta and topped with a grating of parmesan cheese.
Thanks to the generosity of Gemma who previously owned this property we have been enjoying produce from the garden all summer.
These red potatoes were heavy croppers and some of them the size of four ordinary potatoes.
Peas, coriander and the sweetest strawberries were all delights we enjoyed over December and January.
It is a true sign of a generous gardener to plant potatoes, peas courgette and tomatoes knowing you will not reap the harvest, especially when time is at a premium packing up and moving.
My tomatoes had a slow start with a cool beginning to summer and without a watering system in the glasshouse plus a few missing glass panes, I haven’t had the harvest I should have.  But they are still producing and the basil has grown well.   There is nothing quite the smell of basil and the sense of satisfaction to pick a fresh tomato off its vine.
Not sure what variety the tomatoes are – they are almost a heart shape and taste good.

Thank you Gemma.
Kerry’s gave me a Cat spirit who will protect Gertrude my glasshouse..unfortunately this cat spirit doesn’t scare white butterfly caterpillars that have eaten my kale.
Kerry has just opened ‘Seven’ a cute retro apartment in her cottage garden in MacAndrew Bay, Dunedin, and is listed on Airbnb. A great place to stay if you are ever visiting Dunedin. You too will experience the Red Riding Hood delivery of a basket of produce.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Gaucho Sauce (Chimichurri - Herby Salsa)

It's been months since I last wrote a posting...I've been just too busy with our change of lifestyle.  In December we left Ponsonby for Portobello. Not only did we move from one end of New Zealand to the other, we moved from inner city living to 50 acres (20 hectares)
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We love our bush clad piece of paradise on the edge of Portobello village, only 25 minutes drive out of Dunedin
It's always good to look into your pantry and come up with a meal without having to go shopping.  While packing up in Auckland a timely Radio NZ National interview with Grace Rameriz gave me recipes that allowed  me to utilise the cans of beans and rice I had squirrelled away in my pantry .
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Grace promoting her colourful new cookbook "La Latina - A Cook's Journey Through Latin America" explained the cuisine of Latin America is all about big, fresh flavours - simplicity with not all the countries using chillies.
The Chimichurri herby salsa especially sparked my interest.  This sauce is linked to the gauchos (cowboys) of Argentina. 
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Gauchos would cook over a wood fire with little more than salt and a few herbs to season their meat.  There are many variations to this recipe in Argentina so it's a sauce you can treat as a base and add to or use however you like.
Traditionally Chimichurri Salsa is used to add flavour and freshness to proteins (chicken, beef, fish, pork) without overpowering them but I've also used it to add an extra zing to simple flavoured vegetables like boiled new potatoes or aubergine and zucchini.


Gaucho Sauce (Chimichurri Salsa)


  • 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1⁄2 cup very finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp fresh oregano finely chopped or 1 tbsp dried oregano, lightly crushed
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped and smashed with rock salt
  • 1⁄2 tsp red chilli flakes
  • 1⁄4 cup white vinegar (I prefer apple cider vinegar)
First of all I crush the garlic cloves in a little rock salt and this is the best way to make the garlic into a paste.  Best done with a mortar and pestle...but then I often just use the blade of a knife to finely cut and then squash the garlic into the salt.
You can use whatever combination of herbs you like.  With lamb I tend to use a mix of parsley and mint instead of the marjoram. Finely chop the herbs and then crush a little to extract the oils.  Often dried oregano is used but I tend to use fresh.
You can also add ground cumin if you want that earthy flavour. Dried chillies or fresh add a punch.  
Then simply stir in the oil and vinegar (twice the measure to the vinegar).Ideally let it sit for at least 30 minutes before using so that flavours will develop.
Our young gauchos Beau (left) and Alex (right) would probably prefer tomato sauce. So you can enjoy the chilli element and serve in a jug so that everyone can add just the amount of herby salsa they want. I have made it without the chilli and its still delicious.

I call it Gaucho Sauce because its memorable and evokes working and living outdoors.  It's more of a sauce consistency than the chunky salsas we recognise in New Zealand, but then salsa in Spanish does mean sauce. Add some chopped tomatoes or peppers and it will be more chunky.  
Peter and I have been spending long days working outside and having Gaucho Sauce on hand that can keep in the fridge for up to 5 days makes a simple meal a little bit special.