I am very proud to announce that my kitchen garden has just started producing the first fruit and vegetables of the season, so the recipes I want to share with you use a few of the things I've grown myself. They are all easy to grow and, more importantly, easy to cook.
It's my third year growing fruit and vegetables and, for the first time since I started, my little patch is right outside my door. When we moved into our new house it came with a jungle of a garden out the back, which I had high hopes would become my little plot.
After a lot of strimming and cutting and snipping and chopping, there was finally room for some raised beds courtesy of Patchworkveg.com and, within a few months, I had a place to grow.
In my limited experience of growing, the three most important things I have learned are: only grow things you are going to eat; don't plant all the seeds at once or you won't be able to get through the amount of produce, and finally, choose quick-growing produce such as peas and lettuce to keep your attention, and keep you motivated.
There is a huge sense of achievement when you do finally get something to bring into the kitchen from your own garden.
These recipes make the most of some of the things that are already being harvested from my garden.
My pea, mint and pancetta soup is delicious and the ingredients are extremely easy to grow, but watch the mint -- it needs to be contained or it will take over your garden.
Pak choy is my little wonder veg, mainly because I can actually get it to grow. It has happily produced for me and goes beautifully alongside some green beans and sticky duck for a delicious main meal.
There really is no better fruit that Ireland can produce than strawberries. It is the stunning red hero of the summer and goes beatifully with some cream in my mini strawberry pavlovas.
I hope this piece inspires you to cook and get growing.
CRISPY STICKY DUCK WITH GREEN BEANS AND A PAK CHOY SESAME SALAD
I absolutely love Asian flavours which was what prompted me to start growing my own pak choy, a really easy-to-grow Asian vegetable. Here I've tossed it with green beans in a fantastic Japanese sesame dressing, which is nutty, aromatic and full of flavour. The duck is roasted in the oven, coated in a dark soy-sauce marinade, sprinkled with a little five-spice powder and then popped under the grill to crisp up the skin. Serves four
YOU WILL NEED
4 duck breasts
6 tablespoons of honey
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
4 teaspoons of five spice powder
For the salad
200g of green beans 4 x baby pak choy, quartered 50g of toasted sesame seeds 1 tablespoon of honey 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce 1 tablespoon of rice wine 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F), Gas mark 6. In a roasting tin, whisk together 4 tablespoons of honey, soy sauce and garlic. Toss the duck in the marinade, turn skin side up and sprinkle with the five-spice powder. Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes or until cooked all the way through. Baste the duck with the juices halfway through the cooking period. When the duck is cooked, preheat the grill to high. Then, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of honey and place the tray under the hot grill for 1-2 minutes to caramelise and crisp the skin. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting into thin slices and serving with a drizzle of the juices. While the duck is cooking, whizz together the sesame seeds, honey, soy sauce, rice wine and sunflower oil until smooth. Top and tail the green beans and blanch in a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove and drop in ice-cold water. Drain and place in a bowl with the pak choy. Pour in the dressing and toss until combined. Serve the duck with the pak choy salad alongside.
PEA, MINT AND PANCETTA SOUP
A true classic, but it never fails to get me excited. The combination of mint and peas is unique and it’s a really fresh flavour for a soup in the summer. You can, of course, make this with frozen peas, and unless you can pick some from your own garden, the frozen pea route is actually the better option. I add pancetta to my soup for a salty kick. Serves four
YOU WILL NEED
1 tablespoon of olive oil
200g of pancetta pieces
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 litre of vegetable stock
500g of frozen or fresh peas
1 small bunch of mint, about a handful
sea salt and ground black pepper to season
Crème fraîche to serve
Place a medium-sized pot over a high heat and fry the pancetta in a drop of olive oil for about 4 minutes until crispy. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with kitchen paper. You should be left with enough oil and pancetta fat in the pan, if not, add a little more olive oil and fry the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Then, add in the potato and vegetable stock. Bring to a steady simmer and cook until the potato is tender when pierced with a fork. It should take about 10 minutes. Add the peas and mint and simmer for a further 3-4 minutes. Then, blitz with a hand blender until smooth. Taste and season with sea salt and ground black pepper as required. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and crispy pancetta pieces.
STRAWBERRY PAVLOVA PIES
YOU WILL NEED
250g of icing sugar
4 egg whites
2 teaspoons of cornflour
1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
300g of strawberries
300ml of cream, whipped
3 tablespoons of strawberry jam
Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2. Line two baking trays with parchment. Place the icing sugar and egg whites in a standing food mixer and whisk on high for 10 minutes until glossy white peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold in the cornflour and the white wine vinegar. Using a tablespoon, place 3in/8cm spoonfuls of the meringue mix on to the baking tray and flatten each one gently in the centre with the back of a spoon. Bake for 45 minutes. Heat the strawberry jam in a saucepan until it has a loose pouring consistency. Layer the meringues with cream and strawberries and serve with a drizzle of jam.