Spring may be the time that most people start gardening, but there’s no reason for you to wait until then to get planting. As the days become darker, I find it extra-uplifting having new life brightening up the kitchen – and adding freshness to food.
Not everything will grow at this time of year. However, an indoor window box full of salad, and outdoor tubs of herbs, along with sprouting seeds in jars, can enhance meals for minimum effort and money. They’ve also saved me from having to visit the shops when my body won’t play ball: it’s amazing what can be made by adding herbs and salad to store-cupboard ingredients.
Spice Up Your Life
At this time of year, I like my food to have a little heat. Radishes grow easily in pots indoors, and you can use the leaves to add a peppery kick to salads too.
Rocket will also give salads some punch, and can be mixed with mustard and winter leaves for a super-fresh side dish. And spinach adds depth to salads – along with vitamins and iron.
Woody herbs are coming into their own outdoors. Sage adds depth to winter roasts and bakes- though use it sparingly as it can be a bit medicinal if over-used. It’s delicious with pumpkin – roast the flesh then mash with sage butter and use as a side dish or filling for pasta. Pumpkin and sage lasagne with layers of spinach and finely sliced griddled courgette, along with pasta and white or cheese sauce is comforting and fairly healthy too (use nut milk and vegan spread to make it if you’re vegan).
Sage also lifts a potato rosti: just grate potatoes, put in a tea towel and squeeze out the juice, add shredded herbs and garlic salt, heat a pan, add oil and fry the mix, pressing down with a spatula to bind it.
Thyme and rosemary can be used in the same way; and all the woody herbs can really help make a stew sing.
My basil plant is still going strong indoors too. While the flavour is traditionally associated with summer, I find fresh pesto pasta a great comfort food: just blitz or pound the basil with pine nuts, garlic and grated cheese (parmesan traditionally, but cheddar can work as a budget alternative – or use ground almonds to add texture and bulk if you’re vegan.) You can also add fresh chilli, or a slug of chilli oil.
Roast or oven-dried tomatoes are another great addition to pesto pasta (and a good way to deal with tomato gluts). Remove the seeds and salt lightly to get rid of excess moisture (blot with a clean tea towel), add oil, garlic and rosemary and/or other woody herbs, blast in the oven at 225 degrees or so for an hour, then turn off the oven and leave the tomatoes in it overnight. Alternatively, cook them for 8 hours at 100 degrees or so: put fruit leather in at the same time, along with any slow roasts, to fill the oven.
I’ve planted garlic in tubs so that I’ll have green garlic to add to my tomatoes next year too.
You don’t need a garden to grow. A lot can be done with containers and window boxes. But if you are lucky enough to have outdoor space, you can also plant peas, onions, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and winter lettuce. By tending the garden throughout autumn, you’ll have a bumper harvest to look forward to next year.