Sunday, 22 April 2012

Italian food and an English garden

With each passing year, it seems as though my senses sharpen; as though, when we emerge from each winter, I'm raising my face ever more to the sun and snuffle, trying to scent the season itself, like Mole.

The weather forecast for today had predicted good weather early on – and then rain from around noon.

Awake by 7am, I headed down to Columbia Road earlier than in recent weeks. Haggerston Park behind us was almost empty, except for a couple of dog walkers.

Walking through, the low sun lit the horse chestnuts, their little towers of cream blossom; delicate, pink blossom contrasted wonderfully with the blue above, and birdsong filled their air.

It was simply glorious.

The market traders were still setting up. I was far from the only shopper – the tourists and families were absent, though: this early on a Sunday morning was when you could spot the rather more serious gardeners.

There was vivid colour everywhere, but insanely, I couldn't find any nasturtiums.

The stall where I'd bought two pots from around three weeks ago didn't have any, and everybody else gave me cause to believe that it was a act of plain daftness to be looking for such a plant at this point in the year.

In the end, I bought three packets of seeds for different types of nasturtium: tall, Empress and Tom Thumb.

Two more cape daisies (or river daisies, as they were labeled) were irresistible, along with another large pot of the daisy-like flowers I have already potted – in a plain, deep purple this time.

These latter daisies were intended for a tallish pot alongside the two mints and the rosemary.

All of them add wonderful colour, but daisy-type flowers also apparently encourage the 'right type' of insect visitors.

Three pots were sown with nasturtiums. And three more small plugs of catnip were potted with the one that had survived the attentions of Basil, Reggie and The Cat With No Name. This was no gamble, though.

Les from Halifax, who runs a gardening shop just off Columbia Road itself, had managed to find me two plastic cloches. With air vents at the top, they just fit over the catnip and rosemary pots.

So there - drug-nicking visitor cats and rosemary-chomping metallic beetles!

There had been a pot with grass in it next to the mints, but I wanted to move that over to be in catnip corner: the cats have been nibbling it (which was part of the reason for putting it in in the first place) but I didn't want it next to the mint, which needed spraying after starting to attract greenfly.

Amazingly, everything was potted, sorted and tidied by well before noon, even as the weather showed little inclination to do as the Met Office had decreed. The sky stayed blue, the sun stayed warm and the rain stayed away.

With The Other Half leaving in late afternoon for few days' work in Brighton, I'd planned an early lunch.

In this case, pasta with a sauce of dried porcini, sage (from the garden), garlic, chili, lemon and cream, with Parmesan to taste – in other words, for me. It was from the River Café Classic Italian Cookbook and it was yummy.

I had been hoping to make squid with courgette and spaghetti in the evening, but neither Vikki nor Fin & Founder had any: the seas have been too churny for squid in the last couple of weeks.

After a slight near panic, I pulled myself together, went back to Vikki and opted for the biggest lemon sole she had. And, keeping uo the culinary theme for the day, it went under a hot grill, brushed only with good olive oil and served simply with a sprinkle of fleur de sel and a spritz of fresh lemon juice.

Indeed, in something close to a properly structured Italian-style meal, I had simple (English) asparagus with a drizzle of my best oil and a few shavings of pecorino to start.

Such insanely easy food - it almost feels like cheating to call it 'cooking'. But trust me – it was magnifique!

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