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Beetroot and Cobnut Pesto

This weekend saw September’s Invisible Food Walk and the beautiful autumnal day brought much seasonal foodie inspiration. I eyed up some crabapples for a chili infused jam, noted where the sloes are in Brixton, marvelled at the abundance of elderberries and sampled some amazing vegan food at the post walk picnic.

One of these dishes was a vegan pesto made with beetroot greens and cashew nuts. I was too busy stuffing my face with it to ask what the umami element was since it definitely wasn’t parmesan. Whatever it was it was delicious and I lost out on seconds to a couple of the kids who were very taken with the colour and the flavour…

So when I picked my first crop of beetroot from the garden the next day to accompany the grouse Mister North and I roasted, I made sure to keep the lovely young tender leaves, stems and teeny tiny baby beets that hadn’t really reached full potential. I planned to pick up some pine nuts next day and make a pesto with them when I remembered Mister North had picked up some fresh Kentish cobnuts at the Farmers’ Market earlier that day. Why not use these seasonal treats to make the pesto instead of the more traditional pine nuts?

While the grouse was roasting, we stripped the outer husks and then popped the cobnuts in the oven at 180°C for about 20 minutes to roast them lightly before shelling them. This was trickier than it sounds. The shells are quite tough and the nuts quite soft and buttery in texture so it was almost impossible to get them out intact. Obviously this wasn’t a problem for pesto, but might have been if you wanted to serve them as nibbles.

Once the cobnuts were shelled (using a cleaver, chopping board and metal skewer), I blitzed them in the food processor along with the chopped beetroot leaves and stems and some rapeseed oil to get a chopped but well bound texture. Olive oil would of course work beautifully here, but I had run out and had to improvise a bit, although the rapeseed oil made this an even more fantastically seasonal British dish! I then added in some grated parmesan and a good grinding of black pepper to finish. Feeling very domesticated I put some of this gorgeously vibrant pesto into a pot for Mister North to take home and the rest in the fridge for me.

We both ate the pesto the next day. He served his stirred through fresh pasta for dinner and I had mine on oatcakes with a sliver or two of Pexommier cheese for lunch and we both loved it. Sweet and earthy, it tasted deliciously fresh compared to traditional basil pesto and the light smooth texture of the cobnuts made it especially creamy and quite light. It needed some extra pepper to lift it completely, but this was otherwise a real seasonal delight!


There’s no excuse to waste any beetroot tops you might have around, and don’t worry if you can’t get cobnuts. Pine nuts or walnuts would be equally lovely. Think pink this week when you’re picking up veg from the garden or the farmers’ market and make this fab pesto for a quick and easy meal!

Gardeners’ Delight

After a freakishly chilly May, I have finally got everything planted in my little garden (despite the person who stole a bag of soil from me. What kind of person steals dirt?). I am now impatiently awaiting the appearance of tender green shoots like an eager child…

As I had previously mentioned this is my third year growing my own and with my confidence growing, I am hoping my crop will too! Things took on a life of their own slightly when I managed to get hold of some raised beds fairly cheaply online, expanding my growing space hugely and unexpectedly. Getting hold of soil online proved a bit tricky, but the beds were soon ready to go.

Raised beds

A trip to the amazing garden centre at RHS Wisley led to a rather large credit card bill and some new finds for the garden. I will be experimenting with Munchkin squash in the beds this year as well as hopefully bedding in some perennial Holsteiner Blut and Pink Champagne rhubarb beside the beds. As you may remember both Mister North and I are very fond of rhubarb so I have high hopes for this!

Wisley was also the source of several new herbs for the patio. I got my hands on a stunning tarragon plant, some beautiful marjoram and a fabulous oregano in a self composting pot. Along with the chervil, borage, lovage, sorrel, lemon basil, Thai basil and regular basil I have planted in pots, I think I might just have the best herb garden in Brixton! I’m really looking forward to cooking with some of these new herbs, plan to make litres of pesto and my Pimms will be enhanced beautifully by the borage!

herb-tastic

My little raised beds are home to beetroot, salad leaves, pak choi, gherkins, squash, curly kale, carrots and Swiss chard. I’m using a combination of seeds from Just Seed on Ebay, some swaps with friends and family and my freebies from the brilliant Dig in! at the BBC. I planted last week and seven days later, my pak choi and salad leaves are fantastic! My beetroot was a total washout last year, so I’m particularly excited for that…

I’ve gone for two types of potato this year; the sweet nutty Pink Fir Apple and the stunning looking Shetland Blue. Last year I had limited success with the Pink Fir Apples. I don’t think I planted them deep enough or banked them up well enough. So this year, I dug a trench for them both and buried them deep enough that neither squirrels or sun can damage them. I want to make chips with the whole Fir Apples for utter indulgence and the Blues will make the prettiest mash in all the land.

My tomatoes are less than two weeks in their pots and already showing fruit. I’m starting to think I may be some kind of tomato whisperer. Sadly I couldn’t get the amazing Cheriettes of Fire again this year, but I’ve got two Tumblers instead. These trailing plants are so easy to grow I’d recommend them to anyone with even the smallest amount of outside space, even a strong hanging basket. They just need regular watering and a bit of a feed and they crop like nobody’s business. I’ve also got a lovely Gardener’s Delight again and a heritage variety called Black Cherry because I’m a sucker for purple fruit and veg!

pots & planters

I’m also hoping to get some peas and beans going. I did buy runner bean plants at Homebase, but an unfortunate slug infestation means they have been eaten to shreds before even seeing a flowerbed. I hope to get some more this weekend, plus I plan to get my peas and mangetout underway. I’d like to fully grow the mangetout, but I think I’ll simply sprout the peas to feast on those sweet crunchy pea shoots that make a salad a sensation.

I also have several collapsible planters (supposedly for potatoes) on the patio for courgettes. I’ve planted two varieties this year, a striped Italian number and some yellow ones. I had fairly good success with my zucchini last year, but the globe type I planted seemed to run out of steam quite early and I only had about 8 in total. I’ve heard better things about the sort that resemble mini-marrows instead, so fingers crossed!

I’m hoping for a nice mixture of sun and rain this summer to get my money’s worth from the fruit and veg I’ve got going. Planting most stuff in beds or pots makes them quite easy to care for and hopefully I won’t spend all summer weeding! I’m secretly hoping for a glut of tomatoes again as I’ve really been enjoying sampling that fresh grown flavour throughout the winter months thanks to the home made sauce in the freezer. Home made pesto would be a lovely addition this year to perk up pasta!

I’m just keep my fingers crossed that I don’t have too much die on me this year, but if you’ve got any tips on getting any of the plants mentioned to thrive, please let me know! My nerves may not be able to take the stress otherwise!

Home grown goodness

Spring is finally in the air and my thought are turning to what I will grow in my little garden this year. I have a small patio that is a perfect sun trap for pots and taking inspiration from Landshare and London’s Guerrilla Gardeners, I have commandeered the flowerbed outside my flat since the council has given up tending it. This gives me a manageable amount of space to grow my own fruit, veg and herbs each summer in a attempt to cut food miles, save money and eat fresh produce that actually tastes of something! Read more