Broad beans and artichokes

Our broad beans may have been late this year but now they’ve started we can hardly keep up with them – which is a nice problem to have!

broad beans

I picked a large bag full this morning and used about half of them to make an old favourite of mine, adding them to artichoke hearts cooked in olive oil and white wine with fresh oregano.  Sadly, the artichokes had to be bought in the market this morning.  Our plants suffered so badly in the cold weather in February that, although some of them are recovering now, I don’t think we’ll get much of a crop – if any – this year.

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I quartered the artichoke hearts, rubbing the cut sides with lemon and removing the choke. Put them in a pan with a deep layer of olive oil, a glass of white wine, some salt and some chopped garlic and fresh oregano leaves and simmered for 35 minutes.  Then I added the podded (but not peeled – I never peel the individual broad beans!) beans and simmered for another five minutes.  Allow to cool and serve at room temperature with crusty bread as a first course or tapa.

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As I was about to post this I noticed that Chica Andaluza, who also has a good crop of broad beans at the moment, had posted a delicious-sounding recipe for asparagus with broad beans and mushrooms – so that’s another dish I’m going to try as our glut continues.

A bouquet of artichokes

With our own artichoke plants in the garden only just recovering from the cold weather in February, and some perhaps not having survived at all, our artichokes will be late this year, if we get any at all.  I couldn’t resist a bouquet of small ones in the market yesterday:

bouquet of artichokes

I was inspired by a piece on spring recipes by Ruth Rogers in the Observer on Sunday that included a recipe for artichokes baked in foil with thyme.  Of course, I made a couple of changes to the recipe: first, our thyme is just beginning to grow again and I didn’t want to pick too much of it so I used mint instead.  I cut the outside leaves off the artichokes and peeled the stems, then put half a fresh garlic clove and some mint leaves into the heart of each one.  These are too small to need the choke removing, but with bigger ones you would have to cut the choke out.

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The other change I made to the recipe was to wrap the artichokes in greaseproof paper rather than foil.  When you cut artichokes you have to rub the cut edges with lemon juice or, as I did, put the whole artichoke into a bowl of lemon juice mixed with water.  I’ve found that when lemon juice touches aluminium foil the acid makes holes in it, so I decided to use paper instead.  I put each artichoke on a piece of paper big enough to wrap it in, ground some salt and pepper and poured some olive oil over it, then wrapped it up like a parcel, twisting the ends to seal them, a bit like a Xmas cracker.  I put the parcels in an oven dish and baked them for about 50 minutes (longer than Ruth Rogers recommends, but this may be because my oven is unreliable). 

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They made a very tasty first course, with all the flavour sealed in but still with the leaves browning a little, and a good alternative to baking them in an open dish.

Two ways of frying artichokes

Yesterday’s bouquet of artichokes made their contributions to two meals.  For supper last night I used the two smallest artichokes, removed the outer leaves and sliced the hearts and stems quite finely – about 3 mm – and shallow fried them in olive oil.  This is a dish I first had in a restaurant in Figueres in Catalunya and it’s so simple, all the slices need is a little salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.  In the restaurant they were served on their own, covering a large plate, as a first course.  We often eat them with other tapas, as we did last night.

sliced artichokes

I deep-fried the three largest artichokes for lunch today.  I removed the outer leaves and peeled the stem then quartered them and put them in a bowl with the juice of a lemon diluted with water so that they wouldn’t go brown while I was preparing them. 

preparing artichokes

These small artichokes have no choke, but if you used larger ones you would have to remove the choke. I drained the quarters, dried them with kitchen paper, dipped them in a beaten egg and then in flour.  I heated some olive oil and fried them in two batches until they were golden brown and the flesh was cooked.  That’s all!  They were delicious.  It’s the first time I’ve cooked them like this and I’ll certainly be doing it again.

deep-fried artichokes

The artichokes were a real treat at the end of a morning spent collecting goat manure for the garden from the farm at Mas Rolland, where the first kids of the season are being born and soon there will be goats’ cheese for sale again after the winter break.  It’s hard work, but always a pleasure to drive up through the hills.  It was cloudy on the way and the landscape looked a bit grey, but the sun came out as we returned home.

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And then there was all that lovely manure for the garden.  We’ll need at least one more trip before we have enough to spread over the vegetable beds, but this is a good start.

goat manure

An early bouquet

artichoke bouquet

Today wasn’t the first time this year I’ve seen artichokes from Provence in the market – they’re available all through the winter here – but it was the first time I’ve seen a bouquet of five small ones like this for 1.80 euro.  So I bought them and I think this evening or tomorrow I’ll try quartering them, dipping them in beaten egg and then flour and deep frying them.  It will be the first time I’ve cooked them this way.

La Sainte-Catherine

One of the many sayings and planting rules often quoted to us by gardeners here applies to today: À la SainteCatherine, tout bois prend racine – on St Catherine’s day (25 November) all wood takes root, in other words, it’s the day for planting trees.  One of our friends and gardening neighbours has promised us an off-shoot from his hazelnut tree but by the time I got to the garden, rather late in the morning after having to spend a few hours at my desk first, he had already dug the hole for the apricot tree he was going to plant and had gone home.  I dug the hole for our hazel tree so that it will be ready next time we see him, probably over the weekend, when we can transfer the sapling from his garden to ours.

Now that the clouds have gone and we have some real autumn sunlight, it’s not too late to see some of the colours of the different varieties of vine leaves in their small parcelles, forming a sea in the wide valley just north of the village.  This morning the air was wonderfully clear and the remaining colours bright:

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nov vines 1

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I took these photos from almost exactly the same position as I took those on my post on 8 October so you can see the difference in the vineyards from six weeks ago when the vines were still green.

In the garden, the broad beans that I sowed two weeks ago have all germinated so there is a nice double row of small plants coming up.  It’s a good feeling, to have the first crop of spring on its way.  It suggests that winter will pass, and the sunshine in the garden today was so warm I could almost have believed it was spring.  We cut bamboo leaves from the high plants bordering the garden to protect the beans from possible frost over the next couple of months.

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There are broad bean plants under there, somewhere!

Another hopeful sign for next spring is the healthy new growth on the artichoke plants.  They always die down completely during summer when it’s so dry and it’s always encouraging to see the strong leaves coming up again after the rain in the autumn.

artichoke

We got home at lunchtime, very hungry and with nothing prepared so I made a very quick pasta alla carbonara, with fusilli rather than spaghetti because it has a shorter cooking time.  I fried some lardons (small pieces of bacon), beat an egg into the remains of a pot of crème fraïche, added some grated Cantal cheese, chopped garlic and a lot of ground black pepper and stirred it all into the cooked pasta.  Then garnished it with some parsley I’d just picked in the garden.  It was all ready within about 15 minutes and, of course, it was just what we needed after a morning’s work!

carbonara

>Mid-May in the garden

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With 70 tomato plants, 30 peppers, 4 cucumbers and 16 aubergines put out in their beds in the garden, we’re getting through the summer planting.  There are still courgettes, pumpkins (several varieties) and butternut squash plants waiting, and growing bigger every day, on the balconies.

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The Kolaska pepper plants, planted out between the cucumbers (out of shot) and the chard and haricot beans.
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A row of Turkish pink tomato plants, grown from seeds sent to me by beste in Normandy, next to a row of ungrafted aubergine plants.
 
IMGP9787 Marseillais pepper plants (some of the few plants we’ve bought this year), then a row of ungrafted aubergines, then a row of grafted aubergines. IMGP9789
Roma tomatoes (left), Languedocian plants, growing very vigorously and starting to flower (centre), on on the right of the picture a mixed row of Coeur de Boeuf, Andes and Ananas.

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At last the first sowing of haricot beans (sowed at the end of March) are flowering.  The second sowing are almost catching up,

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The Greek sweetcorn, grown from seeds sent to me by gaiashope are doing well and I’m hoping they’ll be well established by the time the free water from the stream runs out.  Last year, gaiashope says, she watered them only 10 times in the whole summer, so they’re very drought resistant.  On the right are 4 small artichokes I picked this morning, and put straight into a bowl of water to get out the earwigs which seem to like them (although they don’t eat them).

>Present and future flavours

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We’ve had only five artichokes so far this year and there are a few more to come before the weather gets too dry for them and the plants die back over the summer.  Today we picked three small ones and some broad beans and I cooked them together with sweet onions also from the garden.  Artichokes and broad beans do seem to go very well together and I posted a recipe a couple of years ago which was my version of a dish we’d eaten in a Greek restaurant in London.  There’s another version using dill, posted yesterday on the French-language blog En Direct d’Athènes.  Today, when I’d cooked the artichokes, beans, onions and a few garlic cloves in olive oil and white wine, I let them cool and then served them as a first course with some finely chopped fresh garlic, Greek oregano leaves, ground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.  There’s nothing like the flavour of your own artichokes eaten on the day they were picked.

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And for the future …

The little caper seedlings which I entrusted to our neighbour José to look after while we were away look fine although they’re growing very slowly.  I expected that, though.  We’ve grown them from seeds sent to me by Michelle at From Seed to Table in California.  She’s an expert caper grower and you can see her plants and some of this year’s buds here.  I think it will be a while before we can expect to harvest any buds, but it will be worth the wait and I’m very excited about growing them from seed.

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Some of the Italian and Croatian caper seedlings we’ve managed to grow.  Soon we shall have to cut down one of each pair to allow the other to grow.  Caper plants are very sensitive to root disturbance, according to Michelle, so you can’t just pull one out or try to transplant both.  At the moment they are still in small pots and we keep them at the house on a balcony which gets the morning sun but not the hot afternoon sun, which might dry them out too much.  When they are bigger we’ll transplant them to large terracotta plants and put them in the garden, and maybe try growing one in a wall which is their natural habitat.  By that stage they will thrive in full sun.

>Artichokes at last!

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I thought we weren’t going to get any at all this year, the plants were so badly affected by the cold weather in late winter/early spring, but today I picked these two small ones.  As you can see in the photo (bottom right) they have no choke, so I just cut them in half and cooked them in olive oil and white wine, with some whole sweet onions.

Four photos of two tiny artichokes may seem a bit excessive, but I’m so pleased the plants have survived and these may be the only ones we get this year!

>Update after the rain

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We’ve had several more days of rain so the garden is well watered, but we could do with some sunshine now to encourage the plants to grow.

A nice surprise

DSC03533 Our artichoke plants were all badly affected by the cold weather we had in March, which came just as the plants were beginning to grow again after the freezing temperatures we had in January.  This time last year we were picking artichokes, but this year I was afraid we weren’t going to get any at all.  So I was very pleased today to see that two small artichokes had appeared – after all, I didn’t want to have to rename the blog!

And olives ….

well, flower buds at least – our little Lucque tree is covered in buds.

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We’ve been preparing the beds for the pepper plants and deciding how we’re going to fit them all in.  We have about 40 plants altogether, not counting chilli peppers, as this year we’ve managed to get almost all of them to grow well.  We’ll probably plant them out tomorrow and I’ll take some photos then.

Replacing the beans the birds had eaten

DSC03538 So many of our haricot and alubia bean plants had failed to appear or been eaten by birds that I germinated some in seed trays in the house.  Today we planted them out in the gaps, with some Planeta climbing mangetout beans as well.  I made a string of ‘bunting’ with strips of a plastic bag which I hope will deter the birds.

Roses and a butterfly on the wild thyme

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There’s borage growing as a weed among the roses, but I think it looks good there.
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Asparagus

The wild asparagus is almost over now but yesterday we bought some cultivated asparagus from a stall in a fair in the village.  It hadn’t come far, just 5 km from a nearby village, and it was delicious.  We had some of it with a vinaigrette dressing and crusty Aveyronnais bread, and also made an asparagus and goats’ cheese tart.

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>Market day / Le jour du marché

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As usual we went to the market this morning.  This is what we bought – and it’s not all to eat today, of course!  / Comme d’habitude on est allé au marché ce matin.  On a acheté:

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Sheeps’ cheese from Lacaune, strawberries from Fouzilhon, sausage from Lacaune, mackerel from Valras-plage, morcillas from Spain, onions, aubergines, lemons, .  /  Fromage de brebis de Lacaune, des fraises de Fouzilhon, la saucisse fraiche de Lacaune, des mackeraux de Valras-plage, morcillas de l’Espagne, ognions, aubergines, citrons.

Cherries

We’ve picked cherries from the tree in the garden of some friends – they’ve gone away and told us we can pick them.  For the second year running this tree has a huge crop.  We picked about 10 kilos and hardly touched the total.  I’ve bottled some in Armagnac – 6 jars which should be ready to eat in a few months’ time.  Here they are served after the dessert with the coffee.  Lo Jardinièr has made jam.  And we’ve eaten them fresh, of course.

Nous avons ramasser les cerises dans le jardin de nos amis qui sont partis.  J’ai mis quelques uns à l’Armagnac – 6 bocaux qui seront prêts à manger dans quelques mois.  Lo Jardinièr a fait de la confiture.  Et nous les avons mangé fraiches.

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watering_1_1 The weather has turned dry, sunny and hot so we’re having to water the garden every day. Luckily there is still plenty of water in the stream. / Il fait chaud donc on doit arroser le jardin chaque jour.  Heureusement il y a beaucoup d’eau dans le ruisseau.

Another way of cooking artichokes / Une autre façon de cuire les artichauts

The barbecue was alight at lunchtime today to cook the mackerel, so I tried cooking the artichokes on it.  I took off most of the outer leaves and cut them in half, brushed them with olive oil and put them on the grill with some slices of aubergine.  They tasted very good.  / J’ai essayé de cuire des artichauts sur la grillade.  J’ai enlevé la plupart des feuilles externes et je les ai coupé en deux.  J’ai mis de l’huile d’olive et je les ai mis sur la grillade avec des tranches d’aubergine.  Le gout était très bon.

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