the winter garden

lettuce,-radichioThe winter garden in a subtropical climate is usually more productive than the summer garden. Summer comes with excess: rain, heat, humidity, and pests. Winters are generally warm, sometimes even at night, but most important, they are reliable. There is a transition period, too, there are summer plantings that linger on, still producing into the cooler months: tomatoes, chillies, capsicum, eggplants.

fennel-and-casa

pergola-1

To my eye, the winter garden is more beautiful than the summer garden. Plants last longer and the garden beds have a more ‘architectural’ quality. The brassicas, the fennel, the spring onions, the leeks and various varieties of lettuce contribute to a garden that is full of diversity, but also has a sense of completeness, as if everything belongs together. In the winter garden brassicas are king. This year we planted five varieties: cavolo nero, sugarloaf cabbages, calabrese broccoli, romanesco and pink Sicilian cauliflowers.

Romanesco-and-Jan

romanesco-in-garden

The romanesco is either a broccoli, a cauliflower, or its own thing. I have eaten it in Italy but we had never grown it before. It surprised us by refusing to develop heads until it was as tall as a person. Researching this behaviour, I discovered the story of a woman in California who had grown a romanesco as big as her car. I don’t think this happens in Italy, because there, romanesco are common in the markets. (And anyway, cars are much smaller in Italy.)

romanesco-in-kitchenIt is a function of a garden, including a food garden, to be beautiful, and we develop our food garden with the same care and eye for detail that a chef might devote to plating. In fact, I regard it as a kind of plating: the presentation of food, not for the dining table, but for the kitchen, the presentation of food for the joyous act of harvesting.

Sicilian-cavolfiori

Our food gardens are physically dominant, surrounding the house on the same side as the kitchen. Visiting the garden in the morning is the prelude to choosing a menu for the evening. The garden then is something like a market, with food expressly presented to tempt the cook.

pergola-2

There are always gluts. Plants that grow and produce more heavily than expected, or plants that are just bursting with produce all at the same time. I have come to value gluts, they are opportunities to discover recipes that can only be cooked when you have an abundance. Making do with too much is a similar skill to making do with too little. When the abundance really is too much, our local Stop the Rot distributes the excess to those in need.

Cauliflower-salad

In the kitchen, there are attempts to replicate the beauty that is found in the garden, particularly to emphasise the natural beauty of the food. A salad of Sicilian cauliflower, olives and capers…

Chioggia

…Chioggia beetroots roasted to an intense red with their blackened roots intact…

pomegranate-seeds…pomegranate seeds harvested in late summer, garnishing a dish of chicken in pomegranate sauce.
pomegranate-chicken

imparare l’italiano in cucina

 

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