What Australian chefs grow in their gardens
Author: Interview by Pat Nourse & Samantha Teague
Photography: Ben Dearnley (Johnstone's Kitchen Gardens), Ewen Bell (Rodney Dunn), Jason Loucas (James Viles) & Rob Palmer (Matt Moran)
Lake House, Daylesford
Planted in late winter, broad beans, the trusty and hardy earliest harbingers of spring, are a delight for gardeners and cooks both. Just when you're getting a little over root vegetables and brassicas, up pop these lovely tall stalks bearing the prettiest white and black flowers - a beautiful garnish and completely edible. My favourite way to cook them is a quick sauté with finely chopped garlic before tossing them with freshly cooked pasta. Plenty of grated parmesan and chopped fresh herbs on top, a glass of chilled white wine and it really will feel like early spring.
If you're after something different, try your hand at growing cucamelons. This fruit looks like a tiny watermelon, but tastes more like a cucumber with a citrus-like tang. Enjoy them straight up, in a salad for a burst of flavour and some crunch, or pickle them and put them in a Martini.
Du Fermier, Trentham
After the last of the frost, we always plant corn. We've tried different varieties, but the best by far is the heirloom Golden Bantam. It grows to about two metres and each plant produces two foot-long cobs. Each year we save two cobs and hang them to dry in a cool dark place for the next season's seed. This year we used corn as stakes for our climbing beans. We wait until the corn gets to a foot tall and plant a single bean next to each stalk.
I really like the idea of people growing murnong. Also known as yam daisy, murnong was an important staple of the Australian Aboriginal people but almost disappeared with the introduction of grazing animals. I'm no expert, but this past year I planted my first seedlings in August and they've taken off. I'm going to leave them alone until late autumn before attempting to harvest the tasty tubers. It's a perennial, so I'm hoping the plants will provide tubers season after season. They're delicious lightly roasted or gently simmered to tenderness. The leaves are also excellent to eat and have a slight bitterness, which I like to cut with a splash of sweet vinegar.
The Agrarian Kitchen, Lachlan
The one thing I recommend everyone plant is lovage. It's really easy to grow and, being perennial, you only need to plant it once. I call it celery on steroids; it brings a super-umami hit to just about anything. I use it in sauces for pasta and meat, and it's amazing in soups, especially vegetables and chicken. It's a soft leaf, so you can simply add it at the end. Try putting the seeds through minced beef as a burger seasoning, too.
Bar Brosé, Sydney
I'm planting horseradish, different varieties of heirloom radishes and turnips, shiso, sweet cicely, bronze fennel and anise again this year. Radishes and turnips grow quickly, are low maintenance and high yielding, and they can be planted all year round. The hot tip is not to plant them too close together. I pickle them, use them in salads or cook them in dashi butter and serve them with bread.
Chat Thai, Sydney
I have a fascination with heirloom South East Asian vegetables and herbs. Last year we started growing my favourite variety of eggplant, the Thai long green variety, which has no bitterness. Its favourite growing companion and accompaniment in a dish is basil. We grow holy basil, or grapao. A common street-stall dish is a stir-fried protein (chicken, say) with chilli, garlic and holy basil served on rice and topped with a crisp fried egg - it occupies a similar place in the Thai imagination as the meat pie in Australia.
One of my favourite crops would have to be garlic, especially purple garlic. We planted Flinders Island cloves last Easter and in November harvested the scapes. Much like pruning a tree, this bud-snip invigorates the head for a final swell before harvest two weeks later. Scapes are delectable steamed with asparagus, particularly with a roasted almond, walnut or macadamia mayonnaise. Then, when the weather and soil are dry, uproot the magnificent garlic heads, plait them if you fancy, and hang them in a dry place, comforted in the knowledge you won't be forced to buy imported garlic and may even have a few cloves left to plant next season.
Botanic Gardens Restaurant, Adelaide
I'm in love with Jerusalem artichokes. Plant the tubers towards the end of winter for an autumn harvest. They come back year after year, so choose your garden bed carefully. Roast them with olive oil, garlic and thyme, turn them into a rich velvety soup in winter or, if you're adventurous, they make killer ice-cream or even tiramisù.
Biota Dining, Bowral
I love raw peas straight from the pod. Plant them in a box or pot on your balcony. Peas like to climb, so build a small trellis using any timber you have lying around. Plant them in winter or very early spring. They like full sun and a good supply of water once a day. I love to use the young leaves on all sorts of dishes and salads. If you can wait for them to grow to maturity, pick the pea pods for a salad of raw peas, pea leaves and sheep's milk feta.
Purple sprouting broccoli. Why? It's a nice alternative to normal broccoli or broccolini and adds colour to autumn and winter plates. The flavour and textures are pretty special, too. Get the seed in the ground at the beginning of March. There's a chance, depending on where you live, that you'll get a late-autumn crop, but more than likely you'll get beautiful sprouts in early spring. I love to grill it and serve it with an anchovy and lemon butter.
Plant anything you love but find difficult to get at a reasonable price at an organic market. Grow a few different varieties of strawberry - you can never substitute the flavour and, more importantly, texture of strawberries eaten ripe off the plant, and they come back each year, which is great. Grow lots of plants, too, so you can enjoy them in abundance.