I am writing just before I leave to go on holiday to Sicily (expect a Sicilian theme next month). I have packed the hothouse with germinating seedlings and have asked friends to keep them well watered.

My first tomato seedlings are growing well in the hothouse. I have several green zebra, a most successful tomato. Its green and yellow stripes are a wonderful talking point and I always look forward to a salad of multicoloured tomatoes. An enthusiastic seed saver (thank you Barry) has given me seeds of two heirloom varieties, one called Ailsa Craig, and the other a climber called riesentraube which promises bunches of smallish rich, red fruit with a flavour resembling that of the beefsteak tomato. Exciting!

I have also germinated listada di gandia eggplant. I've grown them once before; the striped violet and white skin is very beautiful and the flesh is delicate. Interestingly enough, my sister, who has a mild allergy to purple eggplant, has no reaction to this pretty variety.

Now that spring is really with us I am enjoying pulling carrots, leeks and baby beets, both purple and golden ones. I removed the protective nets from my crates of snow peas and broad beans and they have enjoyed their new freedom and grown tall. In a week or two I shall be eating the first broad beans. The very first pick are podded and eaten dipped into a saucer of olive oil with just a grain of sea salt just as I might otherwise offer a dish of olives. I could add freshly pulled radishes to the plate too. I can never find enough space to keep up the radish supply. Thank goodness other growers at the farmers' market always have the pretty pink-tipped radishes in abundance now.

My strawberry plants have perked up, putting out new leaves and a few tentative flowers. I expect results after my holiday.

The celery is magnificent. I have grown too much of it and deliberately planted it very close together to self-blanch. I have used it lavishly in stocks and salads and have just made a lovely celery and potato soup with chicken stock. I used about three times the volume of celery to potato and sweated the chopped potato with an onion and garlic in a big lump of butter for 15 minutes before adding the sliced celery and covering the lot with the stock. As soon as the vegetables were really tender, I passed the soup through the blender and a strainer. It was a delicate pale green. As an interesting side dish I kept aside all the inner leaves, dipped them in tempura batter and fried them in a small pot in a good depth of olive oil. A trickle of walnut oil in the soup was very good, and perhaps I should have toasted a few walnuts and added them to the soup. I didn't think of it in time.

The sprouting broccolini continues to be generous. It's something of a magnet for the white cabbage moth and it's necessary to soak the shoots before cooking. Several times I've been surprised as a grass-green caterpillar has dropped to the bottom of the bowl. I've ordered some horseradish shoots but can't decide where to put them. Horseradish really needs to be contained, and I wonder if I feel like dedicating a wine barrel to them. Presumably I can grow other shallow-rooted salad plants in the same barrel.

The handsome pepino plants in my front garden just keep on growing. They're now about a metre across and my friends at the Digger's Club say they could easily double this size. They have also told me that the pepino will still thrive in semi-shade, so I think it had better be moved. After being scathing about the fruit I think I must have tried unripe ones. Once properly ripened, it is quite delicious. As with so many fruits, especially melons, a drop of lemon juice really lifts the flavour. I've eaten the last two (which incidentally stayed happily on the bush for a month after ripening), peeled and sliced, combined with a sliced banana, blood orange segments and passionfruit as an outstanding and refreshing breakfast fruit salad.

Many years ago when I first lived in France, I discovered that weekday lunches often started with simple vegetable salads, sometimes bought from the local charcuterie. Among my all-time favourites were (and still are) celeriac rémoulade; poached slender leeks, drained very well and dressed with a herb vinaigrette; and simply grated carrots. The French version of carottes râpées was dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, and had sliced or quartered hard-boiled eggs arranged around the edges of the shallow salad bowl. Sometimes I vary this classic by dressing the gratings with olive oil, lemon, a dash of rosewater and a handful of roasted unsalted pistachios.

On a more broadly garden-related note, my friends Kylie Kwong, Sean Moran and Damien Pignolet and I are plotting and planning a very special dinner we will prepare as a fundraiser for Sydney's Bondi Primary in late November. This is a once-in-a-lifetime culinary get-together and is sure to be fun. Watch this space for more details.

It is such a busy time in the garden. I must get as much as possible into the ground so that I am surprised when I return after three weeks away.
Until next time.


This article is from the October 2010 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.


For more information, visit Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation and schools program website.

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