A beginner's how-to on growing gourmet vegetables for your table
One of the purest joys in my life is tucking into some fresh, delicious vegetables that I’ve grown in my garden. There’s a real satisfaction in growing beautiful, healthy produce from tiny seeds, and in truth it really isn’t some kind of secret art. If you’ve got a bit of space, chances are you’ll be able to grow something edible in your garden. If you’ve got a little bit more space, some sunshine and a good helping of elbow grease, the possibilities are (almost) endless!
In this article I’ll tell you all about my favourite easy-to-grow vegetables that will likely flourish in the UK’s milder climate – I’ll also even give you some bonus recipe suggestions. Let’s get going!
Swiss chard not only tastes fantastic, with an earthy bite similar to spinach, but it’s a real looker too, with bright yellow or fuchsia stalks. It’s great just cooked down with butter, salt and pepper (cut the stems into inch-long pieces to cook), or baked into a creamy, cheesy gratin that I love as a side dish with white fish.
Pak choi is easily grown. The delicate leaves on firm, fleshy stems are delicious cooked with sesame seeds and soy sauce, or tossed with noodles in a stir fry. It can be grown easily from seed, and the seedlings planted out when around 5cm tall.
Mushrooms are so varied and versatile. I just love serving oyster or Shiitake mushrooms cooked with Henderson’s relish, fresh parsley and natural yoghurt to serve on toast, or chestnut mushrooms in a rich risotto. They can be a bit of a journey to start growing, but once you’re on your way it’s a doddle. Read my article dedicated to the different ways of growing mushrooms here.
Salad greens will just grow and grow for a few months once seeds are scattered across a bed. I love to plant out a variety like rocket, lamb’s lettuce, cress and red leaf lettuce that not only all look beautiful, but taste fresh and robust too. It’s just wonderful to pick and wash a bowl-full with my kids in the evening and dress the leaves for serving with our meal.
Radishes are small but mighty, with a relentless growth habit that seems not to mind the weather at all! The leaves are edible and lovely in a salad, and the pink-skinned, round root is crisp and packed with flavour. I love mine tossed with oil and salt and roasted on a low heat in the oven, or sliced super-fine and plunged into a pickling mixture of vinegar, salt and sugar where they can happily sit in the fridge ready to accompany salads.
Tomatoes are a real treat if you can get them going, and there are loads of different varieties that all have a completely different flavour profile. They’re easy to grow from seed, but young plants are readily available too, and they look fantastic cascading from a hanging basket. Just don’t forget the tomato feed! I love them in a classic pasta sauce with garlic and black olives, or sliced fresh from the garden and served with basil, olive oil and mozzarella in a caprese salad. I also never store them in the fridge, as this can inhibit their flavour.
Nasturtiums are a beautiful flowering plant that will grow very happily of their own accord. The striped circular leaves aren’t edible, but the fiery orange, trumpet-shaped blooms have a delicious peppery flavour very similar to rocket. I love to use the flowers in summer salads for a shot of colour and zing. Discover some other types of edible flower for the garden here.
Courgette plants not only look really impressive with their big, prickly leaves, but they deliver a delicious crop for several months if they’re given plenty of space and some patient care. Once a plant is in full swing you can expect several courgettes a week! They’re super versatile with a smooth texture and delicate flavour, and they’re just as good griddled on the barbecue as served raw, ribboned and topped with shaved parmesan and black pepper.
Borlotti beans are beautiful plants perfect for a space-limited garden, as they will grow vertically up canes. Their vibrant pink-striated skin is a real treat for the eyes, although this pattern is lost when they’re cooked up in my favourite way with lemon and garlic and drizzled with olive oil. They also make a tasty and substantial mash that’s great with pie or sausages!
… And of course, some home-grown herbs really make all of this gourmet garden produce sing. The good news is herbs are super easy and will often come back year after year. Read my article on growing herbs in your garden here.
Happy growing… and subsequent munching! Katie x