In My Kitchen, March 2018

Perhaps the title of this post should read ‘In My Kitchen Garden’ as this season’s harvest dominates the show and tell. March sees the tables and benches laden with baskets full of apples, pears, quince, figs, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplants, lettuce, basil, Thai herbs, and an occasional potato. The garden is wild and I can no longer tame all that rampant life without ending up on the table of the osteopath. The time for clearing and seeding will soon announce itself. I can already sense a crispness in the air. Today, the second morning of Autumn, the overnight temperature dropped to a chilly 10ºc: I pull on some warm socks before the day’s heat sets in. A morning cup of tea, followed by a rummage through the seed box is an auspicious start to the new season.

Sleeping Buddha and tomatoes

The sleeping Buddha was installed in my kitchen window after I was stung by a European wasp last week. These lovely Roma tomatoes enjoy an extra lazy day in the glazed northern sun. From now on, Buddha will remind me to search for smuggled insect terrorists. Did that wasp stare through the windows and gaze longingly at my produce laden table, then sneak in when the wire door was ajar?

Odd tomato varieties

This year we inadvertently grew some rather odd tomato varieties. Some are large and flavoursome but aren’t so prolific. They are grown for show. I bought the seedlings from an Italian man who labelled them simply as ‘red’. It’s rather nice though to completely cover a slice of bread with one large disc of tomato, the jewelled translucent seed and ridged pattern simply blessed with a grind of salt. It must be the perfect breakfast. The Russian tomatoes are lacking in flavour and I won’t bother with these again. They are too big and tend to rot on the vine before ripening. Next year I’ll stick to my favourites, the varieties that are well suited to my micro-climate;  Rouge de Marmande, the best of tomato flavours, Roma, or similar egg-shaped tomatoes which are good keepers, Green Zebra and the large acid free yellows which continue fruiting well into late Autumn, a literal pomodoro, along with a few self-sown large cherry varieties.

Over the last few years, I’ve gathered many old baskets which tend to clutter the verandahs during the colder months. They come to life during February and March when they are filled repeatedly. The long kitchen table is covered with baskets full of colour as they await sorting, freezing, cooking, preserving or giving away.

Jonathon apples- our earliest variety. More varieties to come. Lace produce bag in foreground made by Celia: thank you lovely friend.
Marcella Hazan’s apple and rum cake. One kilo of Jonathon apples dispatched.

It’s always a challenge to find more uses for zucchini. One way of eating a kilo without noticing is to make Indian Zucchini Bhaji. Grate them, mix with onion slices, then add to a thick and gently spiced Besan and rice flour batter, then deep fry them like fritters. Serve with chutney and yoghurt.

Zucchini Bhaji and mild mango chutney.
Fettuccine with grilled zucchini and pesto.

I am still being challenged by the cucumber plague and now give most of them away. Come and help yourselves.

Cucumbers, Hazlenuts, Buerre Bosc Pears.

Everyone and his dog has been waiting for the arrival of my figs. That day came yesterday. I have a few hundred slowly ripening and pick a small basketful when perfectly ripe. Green on the outside, but soft and purple within, they are the garden’s gender antonym to the zucchini. At some point I’ll make some fig jam when the harvest becomes overwhelming. Unusual fig recipes are welcomed, dear reader.

My most successful eggplant this year is this magenta striped variety, Melanzana Siciliana or Graffiti eggplant. I have some wild self sown eggplants still to show their true colours.

Too nice to cook.
Buerre Bosc pears are great keepers.

Thanks once again to Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings for hosting In My Kitchen, a monthly event which encourages many to step back from their regular writing or photographic posting and to take a closer look at the engine room of the house, the kitchen.

Not so Cool Cucumbers

Every time I wander through the vegetable garden, cucumbers virtually trip me up. They are self-sown, growing wild between other more ordered plantings, scrambling over paths and up reo metal structures. Not having the heart to pull them all out when they were petite little specimens with delicate yellow flowers, I am now paying for that weakness. These cucumbers make the zucchini look polite. On average, I pick 10 a day and although I try to nab them while they are dainty and seedless, many reach adulthood. At the beginning of summer, when they’re cool and welcome, I grate them into garlicky tzaziki or serve them in various brines and vinegars, just like my grandmother Maggie used to do. I’ve also pickled a few jars with dill and am now wondering what comes next. Last night the cucs got the hot Sichuan treatment with this spicy dish by Fuchsia Dunlop. The best part of this dish is smacking the cucumber with a rolling pin- very therapeutic. It’s a wonderful side dish served alongside other dishes as part of a Chinese banquet. I attempted to eat this dish on its own as a little Chinese entrée, chopsticks in one hand, chilled rosé in the other. The dish needs friends, both culinary and human.

Smacked cucumber in garlicky sauce (Su an ni pai huang gua)

  • 1-2 cucumbers ( 300 gr )
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar ( black vinegar- no substitutes)
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp chilli oil – optional
  • A pinch or two of ground, roasted Sichuan pepper

Put the cucumber on a chopping board and smack it a few times with a rolling pin or the flat side of a cleaver, until some cracks appear on the surface. Then, holding your knife at an angle to the chopping board, slice the cucumber on the diagonal into small chunks.

In a bowl, mix the cucumber with the salt and leave to sit for 10 minutes to draw some of the water out of the cucumber. Stir together all the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Drain the cucumber, then pour over the sauce and serve right away while still crunchy.

Do you have any memorable and unusual cucumber recipes? Leave a cucumber recipe comment below. Francesca xx

The Garden Diaries, January 2016

Whenever I visit friends who enjoy gardening, the first thing on the agenda is a tour around their vegetable patch and orchard, before we settle down to a cup of tea and a chat. So grab a cuppa or something stronger and take a stroll around my garden for a quick tour. The season has been harsh but things are on the mend.

Purple flowers of endive lettuce
Bee Attractors- the flowers of Endive lettuce

First up we have the tall blue and purple flowering lettuces, my bee and insect attractors and invaluable aid to the continued fertility of all the tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and fruit trees. The bright cornflower blue flowers of the radicchio, now three metres high, are beacons to bees. The purple flowers of endive lettuce last for months, while the blue flowering borage plants magically appear on the lower levels. These lettuces self sow in early Spring, bolt towards the sky in late Spring and flower through summer. They are a gardener’s best friends.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


It’s seed harvesting time. All the main lettuces have gone to seed and have been hulled through my Turkish Celik, labelled and packed. The leek seed is close to collecting and makes an interesting garden specimen. Many species self sow, such as lettuce, radicchio, silver beet, coriander,parsley, tomato, pumpkin, zucchini and cucumber, though not all are retained. The garden beds become depleted quickly when taken over by the same species.

The tomato glut has caught up with the zucchini and it’s time to think about preserving. These golden tomatoes, giving literal meaning to the Italian pomodoro, are lovely sliced on toast or a pizza. The Roma tomatoes are prolific and good keepers, while my favourite, the Rouge de Marmande are still green.

cucumber flowers
Cucumber flowers through the mulch

As the heat will be with us for another two months, it’s time to apply another layer of mulch and to feed the older zucchini. I use organic sugar cane- it is expensive but goes a long way, and top this with crumbled old cow manure which I soak overnight in a bucket of water. As the zucchini have been productive for over two months now, they need a good feed.

early morning in the orchard
Early morning in the orchard

Last year was a pear year: this year is the turn of the Japanese plum. Hooray. I have waited for Satsuma and Mariposa plums for around four years and at last they have begun. Another week and they are all mine.

Satsuma plums
Satsuma plums
Quince in hiding
Quince in hiding
Table grapes ripening.
Table grapes ripening.

The Garden Diaries this time last year:

What’s happening in your garden? Do you keep a garden diary or journal?

Happy Chinese New Year and a Cucumber Salad

Happy Chinese New Year to all in this year of the Goat! In Chinese astrology, goats are described as peace-loving, kind and popular. They can be helpful and trusting but also ‘clinging’ and resistant to change. Were you born in the following years 1931, 43, 55, 67, 79, 91, 2003, 2015? If so, it’s your year!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACelebrating Chinese New Year here in Australia, means planning a few little dishes from that wonderful country. A refreshing salad for a hot day, Cucumber salad Yunnan Style makes use of the current cucumber and chilli glut. My addition of tuna is not traditional but transforms the salad into a light lunch. Leave out the tuna if using the salad as a side dish.

cucumbers galore
cucumbers galore

I am using my apple cucumbers as these have appeared in plague proportions. They are too seedy for most dishes, but with seeds removed, work well in this quick and easy salad.

Cucumber Salad Yunnan Style.

  • 2 medium cucumbers, peeled and seeded.
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of castor sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1-2 hot chilli, seeded and sliced finely
  • 1 can of tuna in oil, drained and flaked
  •  A little Sichuan pepper oil or sesame oil to dress
  • chopped coriander leaves
  1. Peel and seed the cucumbers, cut the cucumbers vertically then diagonally into 3 cm chunks place in a bowl. Toss with the vinegar, sugar and salt and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer.
  2. When ready to serve, add chilli slices, flaked tuna and coriander leaves.
  3. Dress with a drizzle of Sichuan pepper oil or Sesame oil.


Additions and subtractions.

  • Add more chilli if you grow the milder variety.
  • If using small Lebanese cucumbers, use more and leave half the skin on in strips.
  • add toasted sesame seeds.
  • For a Japanese twist, add cut up thin strips of nori seaweed and dress with toasted sesame and sesame oil.



Rajma Curry and Back to the Budget.

I’ve indulged in a few wanton and delicious splurges lately. One involved a long lunch at a nearby restaurant. Mr Tranquillo and I, tired of picking, prepping and pickling produce, agreed it was time someone else cooked our lunch. We chose Mercer’s Restaurant in Eltham, not only because of it’s ‘hat’ awards over the years, but also because the menu looked like it might please my very fastidious palate. The degustation menu for two looked perfect, and at $90 each, a steal. The whole experience was delightful and exquisite: the setting, elegant with soft lighting, the staff discreet but well-informed, the food exceptional, cheffy but very good. No photos were taken. I was rather pleased to discover a vacuum in my camera’s memory card slot. It was a sign not to spoil a heavenly experience with the tedious, pedestrian business of the taking of photos. Enough said. Just go to Mercer’s when you need to be spoilt.

As an antidote to this splurge, and in keeping with my resolution of the New Year, I now return to my $1.00 per head feasts with this Rajma Masala recipe. The Indian ( Hindi) word for red kidney bean sounds more exotic than the English, the latter with allusions to tie-dyed hippydom. This is a classic Indian vegetarian curry.  Break out the Bollywood and dance as you prepare your simple feast. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARajma Curry for 2 (or many as part of a larger banquet)


  • 200 gr red kidney beans/rajma
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium to large tomatoes, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves + 1 inch ginger, peeled and chopped + 1 green chilli, crushed to a paste in a mortar and pestle ( or small blender)
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • ¼ to ½ tsp red chili powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • a pinch of asafoetida
  • ¼ tsp to ½ tsp garam masala powder
  • 2 cups of stock or water
  • 2 to 3 tbsp cream
  • salt


  1.  Rinse and soak the beans in enough water overnight or for 8 hours. The next day, discard the water and rinse the beans again in fresh water and cook in a pressure cooker, or on the stove till soft and cooked.
  2. Heat oil in a large pot or wok. Add cumin seeds and let them crackle and brown a little, then add the onions and cook gently until soft and caramelised
  3.  Add the ginger/garlic/chili paste. Stir and saute for 5-10 seconds on low heat.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes. Saute for 2-3 minutes till soft.
  5. Add all the spice powders- turmeric powder, red chilli powder, coriander powder, asafoetida and garam masala powder and stir through until the oil separates from the masala.
  6.  Add the drained beans to the mixture. stir through. You may decide not to add them all.
  7. Add 1+ 1/2 cups or stock, water or bean cooking liquid to the mixture and add salt to taste.
  8.  Simmer uncovered for 10-12 minutes or more till the curry thickens slightly.
  9. Mash around a third of the bean mixture in a mortar and pestle and add back to the mixture to thicken the curry.
  10.  When the curry has thickened, add the cream and stir through. Check seasoning.

Serve with rice and cucumber raita. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Simple Cucumber Raita

  • small cucumber, peeled , seeded, diced.
  • 1 cup plain yoghurt
  • small handful chopped coriander
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin seeds and mustard seeds
  • a little plain oil.

Mix the yoghurt and cucumber together, add the chopped coriander and a little salt. Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add the seeds till they pop and brown and add to the yoghurt mixture, Return mixture to fridge to cool further. Make this ahead of time. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Garden Monthly, January 2015

Summer gardening in Melbourne is an Yin/Yang experience. We need the heat to bring on the tomatoes, basil and beans: too much, and the plants suffer badly from heat stress. The temperatures soared last week to over 40c for two days: this is a taste of what’s around the corner. Melbourne can often experience heat waves of 44 degrees celsius for four days in a row, followed by cooler days in the 30s. On extremely hot days when north winds gust at over 50 km an hour, we self- evacuate in line with the Victorian policy of Leave and Live, which I have mentioned in a previous post. On these days, the garden hangs on, just.

Tomato News. My triffid tomato, the miniature yellow pear, is still growing madly and is covered in hundreds of baby fruit. I will definitely save this seed. My son planted some weird black tomatoes, the seed bought on eBay. They look like some awful deadly nightshade cross between a potato and a tomato. They are still too young to eat so wait for the reports in February. There are six plants so ‘fingers crossed’. The Rouge de Marmande, my favourite tomato, were planted a little late so these fruits won’t appear on the table until February. I forgot to plant a green zebra tomato this year. What an omission; I will miss their green stripes in the the tomato salad bowl.

mini yellow pear tomato.
mini yellow pear tomato.
Spooky black/purple tomato.
Spooky black/purple tomato.

It is definitely the year of the cucumber. I had some old seed to use up a few months ago, and voila, they all came up.  Although not fond of apple cucumbers, I am investigating using them in some lovely Yunnanese dishes, with loads of chilli. I only notice two Lebanese cucumbers for green munching and pickling.


The strawberries are producing continuously, thanks to the netting which has 20% UV shadecloth, and the addition of mulching with pine needles. At last a use for the dreaded pine trees that inhabit our 20 acre block.

The task of sifting the seed has begun. I found this fabulous sifter in Bas Foods in Brunswick, near Melbourne. A ceelik , I think it is Turkish in origin.

I have saved my own Cos and Red leafed lettuce for years. It germinates in any season and there are always hundreds of seedlings to give away, thus keeping the strain going. The cavolo nero dried seed pods needed splitting open by hand. Seed saving is one of the real pleasures of gardening, knowing that you have selected the best specimen for your own micro climate.

Garlic cleaning has begun. Last year the garlic lasted for 12 months without shooting, thanks to correct storage in the dark, in an airy container. This year, I plan to store them in these old Chinese steamer baskets, covered with hessian, in the larder.

The garlic crop was disappointing in size due to lack of rain in winter and early Spring. Our total rainfall this year was 587mm, compared with 670 mm in 2013 and 711 in 2012. As we are in the midst of an El Nino cycle, watering needs to happen more consistently in Winter and Spring, especially as garlic requires it to fatten up. Winter can often be our driest period. We forget this, thinking that cold equals wet!

I leave all the radicchio to go to seed as the flowers do their job attracting bees and insects for pollinating the tomatoes, pumpkin, cucumber and so on. And their cornflower blue is so stunning.

radicchio flower- bee attractor.
radicchio flower- bee attractor.

Jobs to do: Net the grapes. Mulch the tomato and pumpkin beds, create another green shade cloth bed for lettuce. Remove old seeded silver beets.


It’s a gardener’s source of inspiration at Lizzie’s The Garden Share Collective every month. Check it out.