For a bit of a break in the Coast to Coast posts (mainly as I've got a huge photo backlog and haven't finished typing up and editing the remaining posts), it's time to talk home grown fruit and veg!
As I've mentioned before we don't really have a garden but have used our balcony to grow our own food before now to varying degrees of success.
This year I decided to be a bit overly adventurous and tried to grow mange tout (which went alright), radishes (a disaster), lettuce (mixed results), spring onions (went okay) and courgettes (where the plant grew massively but didn't actually seem to grow any courgette plants at all), but the major success stories were the dwarf beans and the tomatoes.
Dwarf beans are amazingly easy to grow - they don't grow very high, they don't need canes and you get a seriously good yield off them. And they freeze superbly. Unfortunately most of them grew whilst we were away and as such went into the bellies of Matt and Nic who looked after our plants. Still I've got a big bag full in the freezer waiting for me to use them.
And as for the tomatoes... Oh boy!
I tried growing tomatoes a few years ago and got okay results off them. That time I just bought some plants from the garden centre but this year I tried to grow my own from seed. I went for Tumblers which are a suitable variety for growing in hanging baskets, planted seeds in twelve peat plugs on the living room window ledge. To my surprise all twelve plugs grew well. Six were split between two hanging baskets and three went into a tub. I had no space for the remaining three so a friend took them.
It seemed to take forever to grow fruit, but they're easy to look after - just add plenty of water and a bit of fertilizer. With the end of summer approaching they've been in a growing frenzy and we've been inundated with the things - we just couldn't eat them fast enough!
Tumblers sometimes turn out a bit mushy inside for some reason so they're not always great for salads, however when cooked into a tomato sauce they are divine with a beautiful sweetness to the sauce so I decided to make a big batch of the stuff and freeze it. Tomato sauce is something I normally make with tinned toms - I once read that's what the Italians do unless they have some really fresh good tomatoes and mine certainly fitted the bill.
A couple of days harvesting had left us with about 1.1kg of tomatoes and with the addition of two slightly ripe "normal" tomatoes from our weekly veg box I had 1.2kg - which makes three sets of tomato sauce for two!
Tomato sauce is so easy to make that I just can't understand why people buy jars of it. Based on 400g of tomatoes fry half an onion until brown. Then add a big fat garlic clove and fry that for a moment.
Now add your 400g of tomatoes chopped up - as I was using cherry sized ones I quartered them. Add a splodge of tomato puree to make it a bit redder, about 100ml of water and simmer until the tomatoes break down and the sauce becomes thick and rich.
It's easily multiplied - adding in two normal toms from my veg box I had 1.2kg so tripled it.
Cooking will take about 20 minutes and you should get a nice smooth tomato sauce. You can then liquidise it if you wish but I prefer it with some chunks.
Depending on how much tomato sauce you like, this will give you between 3 and 5 portions for two people. I went for three because that's just the kind of guy I am!
Once you've got it, you can use it as you wish - add to bolognaise with mince and a bit of basil or pesto for example, or throw in some chillis and you' ve got a fantastic aribiata sauce.
It also freezes very well. Splitting it between plastic tubs I put two in the freezer for future use (just defrost and use as if freshly made) and one in the fridge for use over the weekend. It looks and tastes stunning and - of course - has amazingly low food mileage.
If you've never tried growing your own tomatoes, tumblers in hanging baskets are a great way to start. They're extremely easy and will give you a good reward. And the pasta sauce it makes - well you'll be in heaven!