15 July 2011

what I dream about when I dream about gardening

I have a beautiful garden. At least I did. It’s 6724 miles away (according to the internet) and I haven’t seen it for 14 months and three weeks. While I’ve stopped counting the days we’ve been apart, it’s safe to say that not one goes by without my thinking about it.

Scratch that: not a day goes by without my worrying about it.

Distance and time have added a rosy tint to my memories. It was a charming jumble of abundance. A scruffy playground for children where the sun always shone. My garden filled our house with cut flowers and fresh veggies with no apparent effort. Okay that might be pushing it a bit but hey, they’re my thoughts, so I’ll remember a personal Elysium if I want to.

Slightly more problematic is my vision for the future.
When we move back to our home some time in 2012, I’m going to single-handedly turn it into heaven on earth. There will be fat chickens roaming, abundant beehives humming, and a combined 30 square metres of luscious vegetable patches. I’ll achieve that by the end of the first summer, while acres of white laundry billows on the line and my husband miraculously learns how to build a deck from sutainable eucalyptus over that old patio at the back. In an afternoon.

You see my problem.

What I dream about when I dream about gardening is eating, and this recipe for pea hash, crispy bacon and a poached egg is my idea of gardening nirvana. As I read the brittle old newspaper clipping, I envisage Golden Wonders from the sack my Mum won at the village hall raffle. Peas picked from the overloaded wigwams at the back of my garden (my daughter sitting on the lawn in the rudey nudey scoffing pod after pod). Bacon? Perhaps a gift from our friends in London who cure their own in an Essex garage and keep encouraging us to do the same. And eggs, well of course they’ve just been laid by those fat roaming chickens.

Pea hash with crispy bacon and a poached egg
Serves 4
Nick Nairn in the Sunday Herald, August 2003

500g floury potatoes (King Edwards, Duke of York, Kerr’s Pinks, Golden Wonder)
250g shelled peas
40g butter, melted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Seasoned flour
25g butter for frying
8-12 rashers thinly sliced pancetta or streaky bacon
Splash of wine vinegar
4 really fresh free-range eggs, chilled
A few sweet raw fresh peas
Some good olive oil
  • Peel the potatoes, cut into large chunks, then boil for about 15-20 minutes until tender.
  • Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil and add the peas. Boil for two to three minutes then drain well and set aside. When tender, drain the potatoes well and return to the hot pan. Crush the potatoes with a fork and stir in the butter, peas and salt and pepper to taste. Shape into four large cakes and dip the tops and bottoms into seasoned flour. Heat the butter in a non-stick frying pan, when it has stopped foaming, add the potato cakes to the pan and cook on one side without moving for about three minutes until a golden crust has formed. Turn over and cook in the same way on the other side. Cover and keep warm.
  • Grill the bacon until crisp and drain on kitchen paper.
  • Bring a medium pan of salted water to the boil. Break the eggs into ramekins or cups. When boiling, add a splash of vinegar to the water and swirl the water into a vortex with a wooden spoon. Slip an egg into the centre of the vortex and leave to poach for about three to four minutes depending on the size. Fish out with a draining spoon and drain on some kitchen paper; keep warm while you cook the others in the same way.
  • To serve, place a potato and pea hash on each of four warmed plates. Top each with a poached egg and set two or three rashers of bacon on top. Sprinkle a few fresh peas around the plate, drizzle with olive oil and season with black pepper. Serve immediately.

In reality the Golden Wonders and the home-cured meat are always far too precious a commodity for us to have been blessed with as random gifts (let alone both at the same time). I know absolutely nothing about chickens other than that they sound like hard work. Oh, and I can’t poach an egg to save my life.

But there’s another major problem. Though divine, this recipe is quite a lot of hassle for what is essentially just brunch.

So, abandoning the fantasies that I've wound round this cheffy dish, let's return to a tolerable reality (where my garden was, and always will be, a bit of a mess, with more weeds than plants and a lot of rotten concrete). If all that peeling and boiling and frying and poaching and grilling and keeping-it-warm-while-you-do-everything-else is too much for you to contemplate, here is an amazing alternative. It takes mere moments, tastes like pure Summer, and on the occasions when I've had mint, garlic and courgettes in the garden, and a loaf of homemade bread, this recipe makes me feel smugger than Barbara Good.

Courgettes on toast with garlic and mint
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Serves 1

2-3 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4 baby courgettes (ideally a mixture of yellow and green), trimmed and sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp finely chopped mint
2 tbsp natural yoghurt
1 slice of robust bread

  • Heat about 1 tbsp oil in a frying pan over a fairly low heat. Add the garlic and sweat gently for a minute or two. Add the courgettes, increase the heat a little, and fry until tender and lightly coloured. Season with salt and pepper. Add the juice of half a lemon (or to taste) and half the mint. While the courgettes are cooking, toast the bread, and mix the remaining mint with the yoghurt and season well. Trickle the toast generously with oil. Pile the hot courgettes on top and finish with a generous dollop of the minted yoghurt.

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