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parsnips gone to seed

After the heat wave of last week, today is cool and wet.  We had over two inches of rain yesterday and the garden, orchard, geese, ducks, fish, yabbies, wildlife, dams, tanks – everything is loving it.  (Well, the chooks not so much. My chooks are so phobic about water that when I tried to mist them with the hose set to a really fine spray last week to keep them cool, they just stood miserably out in the sun till I turned the hose off).

It’s a perfect planting day. The ground is wet and Bom says that here in northern NSW we can expect under 30°C and patchy rain for the next week.

I’ve planted another round of carrots and beets and spring onions, using my usual system.  There were a lot of casualties to the heat wave out of the last lot, so it’s good to fill the gap.  Succession planting small amounts every month, rather than using up all your garden space in one big planting, is a good insurance strategy.

It’s a too early yet for onions and garlic, but I’ve planted the first round of parsnips for the season.  I had left a couple in the garden to go to seed (that’s the picture), and they reckon it’s the right time to plant seed. Parsnips are from the umbelliferae  family, and like the rest of that family their flowers are good for attracting predatory insects like tachinid flies, assassin bugs, lacewings and parasitic wasps.  So letting a few flower and seed is a pest control insurance payment, and you get free fresh seed as a byproduct.

By standard gardening calendars it’s a bit early for parsnips – they take four months to mature, and they are best harvested after the first frost.  We can’t expect a frost until well into June.  But I’ve learned to trust that plants know what they are doing. Parsnips hold in the ground well so if we get bad conditions for planting next month, we’ll still be eating them in June. And we eat a lot of parsnips.  To my taste they make better mash than potatoes, and they are wonderful in a tray of roast vegetables, which is one of my all-time favourite dinners.

I use the same system for parsnips as for carrots – raised in the shadehouse four or five to a pot, then planted out as a group, potting soil and all with minimal disturbance to the roots.  I find they transplant fine like that, and it saves having to spend a month trying to keep them constantly moist in the garden while they germinate and establish.  And it allows me to put little clumps of them spread around the garden.  They grow taller than you would think, much taller than carrots, so they go towards the southern side of a bed.

If I get some time this afternoon, I’ll also pot up next year’s strawberries The chooks are due to move on to the bed they are in next, and they need a fresh start anyhow.

And I have about 20 seedling Mango trees in the shadehouse, that have been waiting for enough rain to plant.  I think they might be a good fire retardant species, so I’m planting them all along the edge of the fire trail downhill from the house.

And, most important of all, I need a sanity day getting my hands in dirt!

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I thought I might have left these a bit too long. I found them in a bed that the chooks are about to go into, lost and forgotten parsnips. They would be about nine months old, and in a few weeks they will want to go to seed.  But I harvested them in time and they were smooth and sweet and very delicious, Just the big one on its own was enough for a main meal for two of us that turned into one of the best Tuesday Night Vego Challenge recipes of the year.

Once they’re established, parsnips are amazingly hardy and productive.  The hard part is getting them going. I germinate them the same way I germinate carrots – in the shadehouse in little leaf pots.  You need fresh seed, and you need to keep them moist for quite a long time till they come up.  I love parsnips, and I can get them most of the year, but the best ones are the ones harvested in winter, which are the ones planted in late spring – the absolute hardest time to keep things moist for weeks while they decide to germinate.

Once they’re established though, they cope with even the hot dry of summer and the frosts of winter and yield a lot of food for the space they take.

Parsnips make the most amazing mash – very low GI, low calorie, but smooth and luscious and much sweeter than potato mash.  And full of soluble and insoluble fibre and lots of vitamins and minerals.

The Recipe:

Start with the mushroom and onion gravy.

You need a big, heavy bottomed fry pan, or if you are making this for more than a couple of people, a big wok.

Finely slice one onion per person and 150 grams of mushrooms per person.  It will look like a lot, but it reduces right down.

Melt a knob of butter and a swig of a sweet, mild flavoured oil.  I prefer macadamia or peanut oil for this – olive oil has its own flavour. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook on high, stirring, for a few minutes.  Add about half a teaspoon per person of finely chopped fresh thyme and a pinch of salt.  Then turn the heat right down and continue cooking for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Move on to the parsnip mash:

Peel one normal sized parsnip per person and chop into smallish pieces.

Pressure cook for 5 minutes or simmer for 15 till the parsnip is quite soft when poked with a fork.

Blend the parsnip in a food processor or with a stick blender, along with a little knob of butter, a pinch of salt, and, if needed, a little milk or a little of its own cooking water, till it is very smooth.

Assembling:

You want the parsnip mash to be served warm, so assemble everything else before you blend it.

I lightly steamed some peas and snow peas to have with it – a bit of crunch is good.

To the onions and mushrooms, add some plain wholemeal flour and stir it through to coat.  For two people, I used a tablespoon of flour. If you are making four serves, you will need more flour, but less than double – probably two scant tablespoons.

Add, for each serve, a dessertspoon of Worcestershire sauce, then add water.  You will need about half a cup per person, but add it bit by bit till you get the right consistency. It should thicken up almost immediately to a nice thick gravy consistency.

Make a ring of mash on each plate and fill the centre with onion and mushroom gravy.  Garnish with peas and snow peas and serve.

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My all time, very favourite, can’t be beaten dinner is a plate of roast root vegetables.  On their own. Little crispy caramelised bits on the edges and each individual vegetable a star in its own right. With home grown, very fresh vegetables it’s amazing.  But even with bought vegetables it’s pretty good.

It really should be done long and slow in a hot wood oven.  But this half-hour midweek version is nearly as good, and it meets the rules of the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge.

The Recipe:

It’s not as easy as it might sound to get perfect roast vegetables fast. It’s all in cutting things small and the right size in relation to each other, having the pan hot before you put them in, not crowding the pan too much, and keeping the moisture level down.

Put the oven on high to heat up with a big heavy roasting pan in it.  You want a hot oven and a hot pan.

While the pan is heating up, put a swig of olive oil in a big bowl.  Peel and cut some pumpkin and/or sweet potato into medium-small chunks,  and some onions into quarters or eighths, depending on how big they are.  If you leave the root end on the onions, they will fan out a bit but hold together. Toss in the olive oil, and quickly, so as not to let the heat out, put into the roasting pan in the oven.

Now put a pressure cooker with a very little bit of water on to heat up. (You can use a pot and steamer – it will just take 5 minutes longer.)

While it is heating, scrub, peel if you need to, and chop some carrots, parsnips and beetroot.   You need them fairly small with a big surface area.  I chop them lengthways rather than into chunks – small carrots into quarters, parsnips into 10 cm lengths then into eighths, and beetroot into quarters or eighths depending on how big they are. You could add some turnips or swedes too, or celeriac. If parsnips aren’t a regular for you, now is the time to try them. Parsnips this time of year are very delicious.

Cook for just a minute or two in a pressure cooker or about 5 minutes in a steamer. You are looking to just heat them all the way through, not actually cook them.

While they are steaming, add to the olive oil in the bowl:

For each person:

  • half a teaspoon of fresh thyme finely chopped
  • half a teaspoon of fresh rosemary finely chopped
  • two cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • a teaspoon of lemon zest
  • good pinch of salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

You want enough herby oil to coat the vegetables.

Drain the vegetables well and allow the steam to evaporate off, then toss in the herby garlicy oil.

Quickly, so as not to let the heat out, add the vegetables to the pumpkin and onions in the baking tray, giving them a bit of a toss to turn.

Bake for 20 minutes on high.

While they are baking, make the caper mayo, for which you need an egg, lemon juice, capers, and a neutral oil like grapeseed oil.  I use my Two Minute Mayonnaise recipe, but leave out the mustard and garlic and put in extra capers – about 3 teaspoons of them.  If you have a sweet tooth, you could add just a touch of honey. This will make more mayo than you need, but it keeps in the fridge for a week or so and you’ll find plenty of uses for it.

Serve the vegetables with mayo on the side.

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low GI Roast veg

This is one of my all time favourite meals, deceptively simple:  Roast Vegetables as Themselves. It is low carb, which is good for dinner time, specially if you are watching weight, and it can be adapted to whatever vegetables are fresh, local, and in season.

Chop and peel a variety of vegetables into small-chunky pieces. You need to chop them to a size where they all cook in the same time, but the average would be a bit smaller than your typical roast dinner veg size.  So as not to overdo it on the oil, pour a little olive oil on your hands and massage the vegetables in the baking tray. Roast for 20 minutes or so in a hot oven, tossing half way through. Near the end, sprinkle with crumbled low-fat fetta cheese.

It really needs nothing else. Don’t be tempted to overelaborate or serve as a side dish. It’s really worth just appreciating vegetables as themselves.

Right now, using what I have in the garden, I have parsnips, carrots, baby beets, and red onions, all chopped smallish, and capsicum, eggplants, zucchini, egg tomatoes, and pumpkin chopped larger. I chop the eggplants first, salt them, and let them sit for just a few minutes while I chop the rest, then rinse, pat dry and add.  If you leave the base on the onions and halve or quarter them (depending on size) they will hold together. I also throw in some whole peeled cloves of fresh garlic and sprinkle with chopped fresh oregano and lemon thyme.

It’s simple, fast, cheap, and if you use  fresh vegetables in season, amazingly good.

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