Celery, snags and soup

I’m still poring over the vegetableseeds.net website and my list of seeds for next year is growing longer and longer as I spot new things. For instance, how could I not grow a pumpkin called ‘Munchkin’ with baby grandson Ben in mind? For a new experience, I’m thinking about trying the self-blanching celery – partly because it’s a veg I love and also because it’s always expensive in the shops here. However, everything I read on growing celery screams ‘fussy’ and ‘difficult.’ My main worry is whether it would cope with the hot, dry summer as I know it’s a thirsty beast. Is it worth the bother or would I be wasting my time? Any advice from other bloggers would be welcome!

I’ve had a 50% success rate with the two fusspots I’ve grown this year. The Florence fennel bolted instantly in the heat; I left it to flower for the insects and I’m gathering the seed for cooking (it has a far more intense flavour than the herb fennel) but was one edible bulb out of a dozen really worth it? The chicory, on the other hand, has done everything it was supposed to and it’s almost time for the next phase: dig it up, chop roots and leaves then bury it in the dark to develop (I hope) some blanched chicons. So far, so good.

Chicory on the left, Florence fennel on the right.

I finally remembered to buy some more garlic this week. I found this net of French white ‘Germidour’ in our local supermarket, £3.60 for 6 fat bulbs which I thought was a reasonable buy.

With the two bulbs of pink ‘Germidour’ I bought earlier, that should be enough. I’ve started preparing the ground ready for planting but have hit a bit of a snag. I need to remove the wigwam of ‘Yard Long’ climbing beans: the beans have long since finished (well, let’s be honest – they never really started) but a spare morning glory plant I stuffed in with them has finally decided to have its moment. Unlike the stunning mass of blooms on Livingofftheland’s blog, my plant is opening a single flower at a time. Still, how can I pull up something so pretty? Sorry, garlic – you’ll have to wait a bit longer.

Staying with the onion family, despite several days of lounging in the sun, the giant onions are refusing to dry out properly. It’s my fault, I should have lifted them earlier so time for Plan B – eat them quickly. Bring on the Using-Up-The-Onions soup, not the prettiest to look at but full of autumn sweetness and flavour. This recipe is loosely based on French onion soup but is by no means authentic: for instance, having a garden full of veg but no cows handy, I tend to use vegetable stock rather than a beef one. Also, I like to chop and change the choice of herbs from one batch to the next and I’m seriously considering a whack of chilli next time. Luckily,  it’s a very forgiving recipe. The quantities are only a rough guide – change it to suit yourself –  but it does need masses of onions. Having cried buckets over slicing one giant onion I felt a bit simple when Roger pointed out that we do have a food processor with a mandolin blade – thank goodness for husbands and technology, I’d have drowned otherwise.

Bringing tears to my eyes: the ‘Unwins Giant Exhibition’ onions need eating.

For the vegetable stock I throw in whatever is handy in the garden. It doesn’t have to be brilliant quality or delicately prepared, just go for what you’ve got. For this soup I used some chunks of onion, three crushed garlic cloves (no need to peel), a couple of carrots scrubbed and roughly chopped, ruby chard stalks chopped and leaves shredded, some celeriac leaves, a bayleaf, a handful of parsley and some whole black peppercorns. Bring to the boil in a couple of litres of water and simmer for 20-30 minutes, then strain. Simple! Any spare stock freezes well for next time you need some.

To make soup for 4: finely slice at least 1kg of onions, preferably using a machine. Melt 50g of butter (you could use oil, but I’m going for comfort food here) in a large pan, add onions and stir well. Cook over a low heat stirring often until the onions are soft, golden and starting to caramelise. It can take a long time – this lot took over an hour to reach that stage – so put the kettle on and find something else to do in the kitchen while you wait (but don’t forget to stir)!

The huge pile of sliced raw onion needs to be reduced to a thick, glossy, golden brown melting mass of gorgeousness.

Add three or four cloves of finely chopped garlic and a heaped tablespoon of plain flour. Stir well so that the flour absorbs any remaining liquid then slowly add a couple of glasses of white wine and about a litre or so of stock, stirring hard to prevent lumps forming. Throw in a couple of bayleaves and any other herbs you fancy (I used thyme in this one), season well with plenty of pepper and salt then leave to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the soup looks fairly thick and seems ready to eat (sorry, I know that’s not very cheffy – just taste it and decide if it’s ok).

The other ingredients. Don’t waste a good white wine in this, cheap cooking plonk will do the job.

To make cheesy toasts: brush thin slices of bread with olive oil and grill until toasted, top with your favourite cheese and pop back under the grill until melted. Sprinkle the soup with a chopped herb of your choice if wanted then ‘float’ a toast. Alternatively, just top the soup with grated cheese. Tuck in and enjoy. 😀

Using-Up-The-Onions soup: a warming lunch for cold gardening days.

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