When I was little, my grandmother use to plant all sorts of melons and vegetables in her garden. She lived downtown above a restaurant our family had owned at College and Ossington with a small patch of land and a patio that she fully made use of. Urban gardening wasn’t a trend or something that was cool to do. Back then, it was just a way of life.
As the season starts to warm up now I’m looking to planting a few more flowers, herbs, and vegetables in my own urban garden. There is something very satisfying about growing your own food. Nurturing from the start and harvesting is a labour of love and there’s nothing better than fresh picked items! So, where do you start? I love herbs so this time of year I’m eager to get started on the ones I enjoy the most like basil, rosemary, chives and rhubarb. These usually don’t need too much attention and will offer you an abundance over the summer months. I can recall a few years of having too much rhubarb and was able to trade off with neighbours who had an abundance of cherries. I’m also getting ready to make my own variety of herbs and fruit based popsicles this summer! But now I’m also looking for some variety in what I grow including what my grandmother had in her garden.
Chef Tim Mackiddie of Jackson-Triggs Winery offers up a few helpful tips for enjoying your own urban garden this season. As an avid gardener himself, he grows his own herbs and vegetables in the kitchen’s garden and then uses the fresh ingredients in dishes served in the Tasting Gallery.
Here are a few of his tips:
- Plant vegetables that turn over quickly, such as radish and fresh herbs. This will allow you 2-3 plantings per summer.
- Pick root vegetables, like beets, when they are small. Large leaves can be bitter, so use them when they’re young means leaves will be tender and full of flavour.
- Radish, baby greens, beets, and herbs are best planted in the springtime.
- When planting, be sure to allow enough space between vegetables. This allows them to spread their roots and grow properly.
- When cleaning garden-grown vegetables, be sure to wash the dirt toward the leavs. This ensures that small dirt particles don’t get lodged in the small creases in the vegetable’s skin.
- Try not to refrigerate your fresh garden vegetables, as this mutes the flavour. Instead, pick herbs and veggies just before using.
I was sifting through for a good beet salad recipe and discovered this one by Chef Mackiddie was a home run with guests. The beetroot can be enjoyed boiled, roasted, pickled or raw (they are crunchy when raw but when cooked they turn soft). And not all beets are red! there are also golden and candy cane beets that are very attractive when entertaining. While this recipe called for using the green, leafy tops of the beets, I didn’t have them but opted for any greens like baby spinach or even arugula — which I love as I enjoy stronger flavours.
Paired with perfectly seasoned bbq flank steak and a nice Jackson-Triggs Reserve Merlot VQA, this made for a perfect and easy entertaining dinner.
Warm Beet Salad with Charred Mushroom Vinegar
- 9 medium size beets, tops on
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 small red onion, finely diced
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)
- 6 tbsp mushroom vinegar (see recipe below, make 2 days ahead)
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 3 stalks rosemary, picked and chopped
- Preheat your oven to 400 F
- Cut the stalks and leaves off the beetroot. Remove the stalks from the leaves then cut the leaves into bite size pieces.
- In a pot, cover beets with cold water and cook until fork tender.
- While still warm, wipe the skin off of the beets using a kitchen towel or paper towel.
- allow to cool then cut into wedges.
- Toss the cut beets with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in a high sided roasting pan.
- Roast the beets for 10 minute then remove from oven. While warm, mix through the beet greens, mushroom vinegar, red onion and rosemary.
- Transfer to a serving dish and top with hazelnuts.
NOTE: I also like to add a bit of goat cheese to my beet salad.
- 500 g mushroom stems (preferably shiitake)
- 500 mL seasoned rice vinegar
- 100 mL soy sauce
- Over high heat grill or pan sear the mushroom stalks until a medium char exists.
- Mix together the soy sauce, vinegar and stalks.
- Place into a covered container. allow to sit for a t least 2 days before using.