John and Danielle Hyndes recently moved from their property and large garden in Gundaroo to a townhouse in Deakin and she invited six of us to a spring lunch. From our Yates seeds giveaway (Kitchen Garden, April 23) I sowed what I recalled was bok choi or tatsoi in a low trough.
For the host's garden, I dug one of my seven plants of greens with roots and soil so it could be transplanted into their new garden.
Another guest and keen gardener, Gabrielle Tryon, who had lived in France for years, heard me naming the plant and said it was mache or corn salad. She plucked a leaf to taste and confirmed the identity. A very good reason to label edibles. So now I have shared a plant with next week's Kitchen Gardener and she knew it, having already purchased one plant at a local nursery. As my plants will soon go to seed I plan to save some to tempt new growers.
Yates called it by another name, lambs lettuce (Valerianella locusta). To those readers who grew these cute leaf vegetables this year, Gabrielle said it makes a good winter-to-spring salad with potato, hardboiled egg, crisped tiny lardons with a mustardy dressing.
Keeping to the seasonal French-influenced theme, Danielle Hyndes served a delicious asparagus quiche, with salad, for lunch. The recipe (which follows) came from Taste Coles magazine, November, 2014.
She used Australian mini spears of fresh asparagus.
At the Southside Farmers Market the following Sunday I noticed a bucket of huge asparagus spears. I said to a shopper next to me, "Just look at those, I suppose they are tough and woody."
"No", she said, "I bought some last weekend, steamed it for six minutes, and it was the best asparagus I've ever eaten." She was right.
Frank Verduci Jr told me the asparagus is grown in almost pure cow manure which produces the texture and size. I measured one of the spears I bought and the circumference was 8.5cm.
The stall with the asparagus is run by Frank Verduci Snr and his son Frank Verduci Jr and they take it in turns to come to Canberra from the chemical- and spray-free family farm of 60 acres near Cobram on the fertile river flats of the Murray River. Members of the family came to Australia in the 1960s from Calabria.
It is rather stylish to have your own asparagus patch. I do not but have observed them with admiration in many home gardens and community plots over the years. Asparagus needs a dedicated bed with lots of organic matter added - cow manure and compost dug in and a dose of lime - as the crowns can last for 20 years.
Kitchen gardeners who have planted the popular "Mary Washington" or the high-yielding "Fat Bastard" or the ultra select "Sweet Purple" crowns this season need to know that no spears should be picked in the first year but a light yield can be harvested in the second year. Then, in Canberra, you can harvest lots of spears from early spring until December.
1 tbsp pure olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
100g thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
4 free range eggs
1 cup cream
2 tbsp chopped chives
2 bunches asparagus, ends trimmed
1.5 cups plain flour
1/2 cup grated parmesan
100g chilled butter, chopped
1 egg yolk
1-2 tbsp water
To make cheese pastry, process the flour and butter in a food processor until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add egg yolk and water and pulse until a dough forms. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Shape into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 190C. Grease a 20cm x 27cm rectangular loose based tart pan.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thick. Ease into prepared pan and trim edges. Chill for 10 minutes.
Line pastry with baking paper and fill with pastry weights or rice. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove paper and weights or rice and bake for another 10 minutes or until pastry is dry.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook the shallots for two to three minutes or until soft. Add pancetta and cook for two minutes or until crisp. Scatter over pastry base.
Whisk the eggs, cream and chives in a jug. Season well. Pour over shallot mixture. Arrange asparagus over egg mixture and bake for 25-30 minutes or until set. Stand in pan for five minutes. Serve with salad and toss in the just picked nutty leaves of lambs lettuce.