Category Archives: Vegetables

Kale

Boerenkool

Make friends with kale.

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing a post about kale on the warmest day of the year so far in the Netherlands. Winter seems far behind us and spring is already in the air. After all, kale is a vegetable eaten during the cold, dark hours of winter. Well, if you look outside in the fields and allotments right now, you’ll notice there’s not a whole lot growing in the ground. Perhaps a handful of vegetables of which the trusty kale is one.

This time of year was traditionally known as the ‘Hungry Gap’, a time when last summer/autumn’s stored harvest were dwindling or fast deteriorating and the first spring vegetables would not appear until May. While greenhouses and all-year food at supermarkets have pretty much bridged the 21st century hungry gap, it’s still a tricky time for seasonal locally-grown food – yes the daffodils and blossoms are now in bloom but many vegetable plants aren’t ready to plant yet and the berries and fruits aren’t quite ready to wake up. As the weather warms, we automatically start to crave lighter foods like vibrant greens, tomatoes and the like and sweet summer fruits – we’ll have to wait a few more months for these real seasonal foods to arrive.

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In the meantime while the evenings are still cold enough, why not indulge in kale? It’s still growing happily outside, is abundant in the Netherlands and is available to buy everywhere. Buy whole leaves and shred them at home or try pre-shredded packets. Look for dark green leaves without any yellow blemishes. Stamppot is the country’s favourite way of cooking kale – boiled and mashed with potatoes and other veges or perhaps with bacon. Today, there are many other delicious recipes for cooking kale. Tuscan Ribollita soup is one of my favourites as is a simple stir fry with garlic, chili, soy, and lime – blanch the kale quickly first before frying so the leaves cook faster and don’t dry out. Kale loves to be paired with something sour like a citrus fruit or vinegar or something super salty like anchovy or bacon. Try this pasta with chili, lemon and anchovy for a quick tasty weeknight dinner. Just don’t overcook kale, otherwise your kitchen will smell like rotten egg for days…..

Some early spring ingredients (grown outside) to enjoy:
Forced rhubarb – grown indoors in the dark – is available now, while regular rhubarb is available from april/ may onwards.
Green asparagus should be ready to eat sometime in late April.
Wild garlic can be foraged in April.
Winter postelein is good now.

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Green Beans

green beans
Green Beans are not the sexiest of vegetables, I know, but they’re so tasty once you know how to make them sing. A usual suspect on a meat and three veg plate, green beans got their terrible reputation from being over cooked to a brown pulp: they’re called green beans for a good reason.

This vegetable grows beautifully in the Netherlands – try the dwarf versions that remain as low bushy shrubs instead of becoming pole-climbing vines. And not only are they green, there’s also purple, red, streaked, and pale pale green types too. When buying, pick crisp, green beans without any blemishes. If they’re getting bendy, eat them pretty quickly. Excess beans from bumper harvests can be easily preserved for later: just blanch them first and store in airtight bags in the freezer.

Blanch them in hot water or pan fry with garlic, lemon and butter. Try shallow frying them until slightly crinkled (in a good amount of olive oil) and dress with LOTS of rough sea salt. Jazz them up with fried pancetta, hazelnuts or olives or make your own version of a Salade Niçoise. Once you learn to love your green beans, they will love you right back.

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Tomatoes

cherry tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes are one of those ingredients that, despite being eaten all year round, taste their very best in summer. No doubt it’s the sweetness they gain after being ripened under the sun on the plant as opposed to being picked unripe from a greenhouse but perhaps it also has to do with gorgeous summer dishes using tomatoes and lots of salads eaten outdoors. The pairing with basil, another high summer ingredient, is guaranteed to whet the appetite every time (try replacing the mozzarella in a classic Insalata Caprese with creamy Burrata!).

During the tomato growing season, there are several highlight moments: when the first flowers appear on the plant, when they start turning to fruit, and biting into your first sun-ripened tomato from the plant (like the cherry tomatoes in the photo). Some people pinch, others don’t but generally the fruit will be fewer but bigger when you pinch the offshoots.

My favourite time of tomato season is now: the moment of overabundance! At the end of summer, there is always a glut of shiny, ripe tomatoes to snap up at the markets for rock bottom prices, especially at the end of the day. And it doesn’t matter if they’re on the riper side if you’re planning to cook them. So buy your boxes of tomatoes to make passata, chutneys, salsas and tomato sauce or soups and sauces to freeze. Or just freeze the tomatoes themselves or oven/sun dry them.

What I love about the tradition of making passata – and also preserving and foraging – is that it is done together with the family and friends in order to preserve big summer harvests for the winter. While processing a few hundred kilos of tomatoes is probably not possible in most of our kitchens, it’s really worth taking the time to make (and share!) your own tomato preserves and sauces: your stomach will thank you for that little taste of summer during the dark, grey Dutch winter months (as which we all know, can last a very, very, very long time).

PS I had a couple of requests for a good tomato sauce recipe: I love the Jamie Oliver one here  (I left out the water as the tomatoes produce a lot of it themselves during cooking).

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Broccoli

Broccoli

Dutch Broccoli season has well and truly begun and they are growing outdoors so beautifully right now. This is the first time that I saw a broccoli plant and it was wonderful to see the flower together with the plant.

Silverbeet / Swiss Chard

IMG_1623 IMG_1624Swiss Chard or Silverbeet as it’s also known is a little friendlier for the mouth than Spinach – you’ll not have that yukky furry teeth feeling  after gorging on these gorgeous greens (or reds or yellows). You’ll have a hard time finding Silverbeet at the supermarket so the farmers’ market is your best bet. They should be available into the early autumn. Look for shiny, squeaky leaves, and if picking yourself, take the big outer leaves if you can so that the young inner leaves can mature. Use in quiches and pies  – in combination with feta in a spanakopita is  a hit – or a favourite is to pan fry with garlic and finish with raisins, toasted pine nuts and a dash of balsamic. Mouthwateringly good…