Archive for the ‘Tunnel Growing’ Category

Preserving tomatillos & tomatoes

This year I’ve grown tomatillos in the tunnel and have sent some up to Cafe Azteca in Dublin. Hugo from Cafe Azteca visited us here with his family last January and gave a great Mexican Cookery Class.  He then sent on tomatillo and jalepeno seeds.  We had grown tomatillos before but really hadn’t much idea what to do with them.  I tried out a few recipes this weekend and can report good results.  Good news for the future of tomatillos here because the head gardener wasn’t too impressed with all the space they took up!

tomatillo june 2011

A tomatillo is sort of a green tomato, except it has a more interesting growth process and quite a different flavour. The plants flower and then drop down a hollow, green ‘lantern’, into which the fruit then grows.  The taste is sour/sweet.

I first tried a couple of cooked salsa recipes.  This one turned out like a ketchup so I’m calling it:

Tomatillo Ketchup – Mexican-style

makes 8 jars

3kg tomatillos, roughly chopped

3 white onions, roughly chopped

8 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped

6 fresh jalapenos, chopped

2 dried chillis – e.g. guajillo – lightly toasted over gas flame to soften & roughly chopped

Place all these ingredients in a large saucepan.  Heat and bring to the boil – reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the onion is soft.  Now add:

1 bunch fresh coriander

225g sugar

Heat to dissolve the sugar fully.  Blitz with a hand blender to a fairly smooth puree. Bring back to the boil and store in sterilised jars or bottles.  Place sterilised lids on immediately.  Store in a cool, dark press.

It’s lovely and would be a great, flavoursome ketchup replacer, but I wasn’t really going for a ketchup.  I flaked and added sugar towards the end of cooking because I thought it was going to be too sour.  Then it turned into ketchup.  So I started again and came up with a yummy, hotter salsa.

Tomatillo Ancho Salsa

This recipe is exactly as above but instead of 2 dried chillis add 8 dried ancho chillis (lightly roasted over gas flame and roughly chopped).  DO NOT ADD SUGAR. Preserve in the same way.  This salsa would be lovely drizzled over quesedillas, tacos, burritos….and also good for dipping good quality sausages into as I found out yesterday morning.

Hugo had explained that I could use tomatillos in place of tomatoes for ‘pico de gallo’ – the everyday fresh tomato salsa.  I had a look through Thomasina Miers ‘Mexican Food made Simple’ and she has a great recipe for a roast chilli tomatillo salsa.  The only changes I made was to leave out the lime juice ( I think the tomatillos lend plenty of sour on their own) and stick to jalapenos (which I have in the tunnel) instead of serranos.  This was the tomatillo triumph of the day!

Classic Roast Salsa Verde

500g tomatillos

2 cloves garlic

1 large jalapeno chilli

1 large tbsp chopped coriander

1/2 white onion, finely chopped

1 pinch sea salt

First you roast the tomatillo, jalapeno and unpeeled garlic cloves in a dry frying pan. You do this until the tomatillos are blistering and become soft (10-15 minutes).  Take the jalapenos and garlic out of the pan earlier (after 5-10 minutes).  Once they are done, roughly chop the tomatillos, take the stalk off the jalapeno and peel the garlic cloves.  Add these ingredients to a blender and hit blitz a few times to give you a rough puree.  Pour into a bowl and stir in the finely chopped onion, coriander and salt.  Taste – is it good?  Serve with tortilla chips.  Delish!

That is the salsa at the front of the picture, with classic pico de gallo next to it.

Pico de Gallo (not roasted)

3 ripe tomatoes, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large jalapeno chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 large tbsp chopped coriander

1/2 white onion, finely diced

juice of 1/2 lime

1 pinch sea salt

For pico de gallo just mix all the ingredients together and enjoy with chips.

I’m reading a book called ‘A Year in the Village of Eternity’ by Tracey Lawson.  It details the authors food year spent in Campodimele, Italy where people live particularly long, healthy lives.  There are lots of recipes included and I wanted to try preserving tomatoes as described in the book.   We don’t have tons of tomatoes but I gathered up the surplus from a few people and made 5 jars thick tomato sauce.

Preserved Tomato Sauce

6kg fresh, ripe tomatoes – halved or quartered

6 pinches sea salt

Place the tomatoes and salt in a wide saucepan and heat.  Simmer for about 1 hour until you have quite a thick tomato sauce.  Stir often to prevent sticking at the base. Meanwhile sterilise jars and lids.  Place a basil leave in each jar.  Use a funnel to transfer the hot sauce to the hot jars. Seal immediately with the lid and wrap the jars in newspaper and a blanket (a very important step apparently).  This would be the method my mother uses also but she usually freezes the resulting puree to use later in the year. It will be a bit of a treat to open summer for a pasta sauce some dark winters evening.


Pesto Peas, Supper Club & Garden News

We would grow a lot of peas when I was young.  I’m thinking now that large families provide a lot of podders……there isn’t so many peas or young podders around these days.  In later years the ‘posher’ variety of pea ‘mange-tout’ was grown.  The taste of freshly pod peas or mangetout holds a lot of memories.  When first faced with a huge bucket of peas to pod, one would eat plenty – munching on the small sweet peas, making the odd mistake and getting a hard, dry one.  By the end one was truly sick of peas……until the next day.  The podded peas went into bags for the freezer.

I made these ‘pesto peas’ with frozen peas as we don’t have any in the garden as yet. Anyway, it’s probably best not to alter freshly podded peas too much.  They impress us just the way they are.

As a quick, last minute, “what will my 2nd vegetable be?” moment while you’re waiting for whatever it is to finish cooking these are brilliant.  Take your frozen peas and cook in just enough water for 5-10 minutes.  Drain the water and add a couple of tablespoons of basil pesto.  Bash them around with a masher or fork, adding some seasoning – salt, pepper (and a little cream cheese if you have it).  This could also be blended for a lovely pea puree.

pesto peas

On supper club news I’ve just made the ‘pernod’ ice-cream for one of the desserts… to keep it safe until Sunday!  The menu is still pretty much as previous post.  A couple of spots opened up today because of cancellation – we’d be happy to have a few more eaters. Get in touch to find out more (Sarah: 0879439446). Very excited!

Cockails will be served in the Gazebo

Eric Humburg, landscaper, has cleaned up around the gazebo with some nice beds and laid a deck floor within.  There is loads of work going on around the garden – check out this ranch-style fence love it!!

And here’s a 2011 view of the front:

One vegetable I’m looking forward to this year is the aubergine in the tunnel.  I’ve a good few plants in and they’re doing pretty well.  I spotted it’s flower today.

Picking about 2kg strawberries every day so best go and deal with them before they soften.  I’m not complaining – I will love these frozen strawberries in the depths of winter – but I will have enough of them when it’s done.  By the way – I’m washing them, laying them on a tea towel to dry, hulling them and freezing the perfect ones whole on a tray in the freezer.  Once frozen I bag them and return to the freezer immediately.

5 Butternut Squash!

For the last couple of years we have grown butternut squash, optimistically but not very successfully.  The first year none, last year 2 and this year 5!!  So we’re getting there.  We have only tried them in the tunnel and allowed the plants to climb along a trellis trained over the dome of the tunnel ceiling.

Butternut tunnel November

When I tasted the butternut we had grown last year I truly understood why it got it’s name.  The colour is a lighter and more buttery than those I had bought and the taste was creamy and fabilicious.  Last night we all got together for some roast butternut squash which I did by just cutting it into wedges with the skin on, tossed in olive oil and roasted in a hot oven for 25 minutes or so.

Butternut wedge

I also incorporated some into a recipe I’m using this afternoon for my canapes & fingerfood course.  It’s a filling for filo pastry cups or parcels:

Curried Chicken & Squash Filling

1 chicken breast, cut into thin strips

1 tbsp sunflower oil

½  onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1-2 tsp curry powder (medium)

¼ butternut squash, peeled, diced and cooked in boiling water

2 tbsp natural yogurt

salt and pepper to taste

fresh herbs – e.g. parsley, coriander, chives


Heat the oil over a medium heat in a medium saucepan.  Cook the onion for 10 minutes until soft without browning.  Add the garlic and curry powder and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the chicken pieces and cook for 10 minutes.  Stir in the natural yogurt and squash and heat through for 3-4 minutes.  Finally stir in the fresh herbs.  Use as a filling for the filo cups, filo parcels or vol-au-vents.

Chicken & Butternut Curry



There are a number of reasons I love when the tomatoes start appearing red (or yellow).  Mainly it’s because I rarely eat a fresh tomato the rest of year and have been relying on tinned and passata/purees etc.  The wait for a home grown tomato is worth it – a tomato sandwich is all that’s needed for lunch at this time of year such is the flavour.   I’m also slicing up a variety and eating with some shaved cucumber, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and basil +/- rocket.  In a little while I’ll have so many tomatoes I’ll be able to make roast fresh tomato soup – what a luxury!

Cherry Tomatoes

Bursting Tomato - what's this variety?

Ripening Yellow Tomato

Ailsa Craig

Leeks, magic beans & bronze fennel

Today came some much needed rain for the outdoor plants – and some unwanted wind but we will have to take it as it comes. I put in another set of seeds.  Leeks I sprinkled in a fairly deep container of compost – saw this at a farm walk in Rooskey and it helps to get lovely length on your young leeks before they go into the great big earth outside.  ‘Black magic runner beans’ from The Seed Savers in Co. Clare could be a bad influence on the rest of the seed table so will have to keep a close eye!  I also put in some bronze fennel, sweet rocket (supposed to yield lovely flowers), sorrel, and white & blue borage for the border garden.  I sowed one bed of beetroot seed outside.  We’re having a public garden walk on Thursday so lots of weeding and clean up too!

Lots of brilliant stuff happening food and community wise in Roscommon this weekend –

Lots of seed movement

The frost last night put a few things in danger – luckily nothing much has taken off outside.  At this time of year, the tunnel can really cheer one up!  Things grow…..quickly.  Here’s some fresh pictures from the tunnel – the sunflowers are almost all ready to rear their heads. These are going to be decorative around the garden and hopefully for harvesting some seeds of our own.  The tunnel fennel is definitely winning the race agains the outside fennel so far (healthy competition is good for plants, and the end consumer!).  You can see the fennel seed ready to spring off the top.  I’m hoping we’ll be enjoying the bulbs sliced into many dishes in a few months.  I haven’t grown these before.

I put in a few more seeds – mainly successive stuff like a few lettuces and coriander.

More tunnel news

Things are really taking off in the tunnel with all this sun.  I thought the flat-leaf parsley would never germinate but it decided to surface overnight.  Theses carrots are over the worst and getting bigger than the weeds!  And look at the beetroot all grown up!  The root is not ready yet, but the leaves make great salad.  Tonight I’m cooking up something with plant thinnings I pulled so will post the recipe if it turns out tasty.

And just outside, rhubarb is flying up.  Will have to make something with that soon.