Sunday, May 04, 2014

Dates, Spud Towers and Bruschetta

It's date season and the fruit eating birds around here are in heaven! The oldest date palm (below right), planted by my mum-in-law many years ago, is laden with fruit and is far too tall for me to pick it so the birds feast and fight over the fruit from morning 'til night. Fortunately we also have a few of younger trees and I have slipped some covers over their bunches to protect them from the birds (below centre), so at least we get a few!

Dates are very easy to grow in our climate, in fact they can be a bit of a pest and I am always pulling them out. If you want to harvest the dates you need to keep trimming the bottom fronds off with a saw or chain saw and you need to be very careful doing this because the leaves have a nasty spike on the end which can cause itching and inflammation if they stab you. It might be easier to buy them!

I like to eat dates straight off the tree but they are delicious when split on one side and filled with some creamy soft cheese and a pistachio or almond and served as an after dinner treat. From what I have been reading dates are having a bit of a renaissance in the Raw Food scene. They are used as a substitute for sugar in all sorts of recipes. My daughter likes to make 'ice-cream' from dates, bananas, cocoa, nut butter and coconut milk all blitzed together in a food processor. Here is a recipe from a blog called 'MindBodyGreen' for this virtuous treat.  Dates also add a delicious hint of sweetness when added to a lamb tagine, otherwise called Moroccan Lamb Stew.

We were very fortunate to have some wonderful rain last week.  For me the best thing about this is that now the trees and shrubs in the bush will stop dying. It has been heartbreaking to watch the country dying before our eyes and I am looking forward now to watching it recover. 

The veggie garden has enjoyed the rain too. Since writing last I have finished making the beds and have planted most of them up. I am trying very hard to be restrained and save some room for later plantings in order to prolong the harvest, but it is taking a lot of will power!

I've just taken possession of a plastic 'grow tunnel' under which I have planted beans. I am hopeful that the tunnel will keep conditions warm enough for winter grown beans, as well as protecting them from frost. We don't get a lot of frost here but of course it only takes one to wipe out a crop of anything susceptible. 

With Tom's help I have also erected three potato towers. The idea is that each time a green sprout pokes its head through you cover it with more soil, which forces the plant to get taller and taller - and hopefully produce potatoes all the way up the stem! When it gets to the top you let it do what it wants to do, which is make leaves in order to feed the potaoes underneath. When the leaves die back you lift the netting off and harvest the bounty. Well, that's the theory anyway. I've never grown spuds this way before so I guess we'll just see what happens. In two towers I've planted Dutch Creams and in the other Ruby Lou. It's a bit hard here in Western Australia to get hold of interesting varieties of seed potatoes because they can't be ordered from the Eastern States due to quarantine laws. I was pretty happy to find the Dutch Creams….I hope they do well! 

One of my favourite things to make for lunch is bruschetta, and that is what I had today, with the first coriander from the garden….it was pretty small but  I had to thin the plants anyway and fresh coriander has so much flavour you don't need heaps to get a good hit. It's a pretty ordinary photo but you get the idea. 

Bruschetta (pronounced Broo-scet-ta)

This is more of an idea than a recipe. What ever you choose to put on top of your bread here are a couple of tips that will ensure your bruschetta will be fabulous: Use a good, robust bread like sourdough (floppy white bread will not hold up under the topping), drizzle the bread with olive oil and grill it on a griddle pan or under a grill, rub the toasted bread with fresh cut garlic and use lovely fresh ingredients, including fresh herbs, in the topping. 

You can use whatever you fancy for your topping. We had fresh corn cooked on the BBQ last night and there was a bit left over which, combined with  coriander, made me lean towards a slightly Mexican salsa theme…… So, into the bowl went diced tomatoes, diced red capsicum, chopped avocado, cooked  fresh corn, diced cucumber, finely sliced spring onion, fresh picked coriander, salt and pepper. All tossed together with some good extra virgin olive oil and a generous squeeze of lime. 

A classic bruschetta is a combo of fresh tomato and basil but you can top your toast with all sorts of things, for example: smoked salmon, dill and capers; tinned tuna, red onion, mayo and parsley; grilled eggplant, feta and mint; caramelised onions, goats cheese and rocket. The list is endless, and you can even do sweet fruit and cheese toppings….but better leave out the garlic!

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