First, designate a part of your garden to fruit, vegetables and herbs. If you’ve only a small patch of land, or even just a windowsill, there are plenty of ingredients you can grow on your balcony, in your backyard or even on the edges of your flower border. Turn the soil over, check the earth has enough water and make sure there’s enough available sunshine.
Then, start by growing plants that are easy to care for. There are a number of pre-grown gourmet ingredients you can pick up in the supermarket, such as potted coriander, mint and basil. You can even buy partially grown chilli plants too! Simply pop the pots in the soil when you get home and tend to them throughout the month, picking off leaves and produce as and when you need it. Note, however, that herbs such as coriander don’t much like the cold and so should be kept indoors.
Or, if you fancy going about gourmet gardening ‘The Good Life’ style, pull on your wellies and dust of your trowel… you’re going to get planting! Packets of seeds are available from suppliers such as You Garden, meaning you can grow everything from artichokes, to Maris Pipers, to shallots. Here are three essential gourmet ingredients you can grow from scratch:
Asparagus: Being one of the most sought after ingredients in the supermarket, asparagus is a vegetable worth growing yourself. Asparagus can be grown from seed, but it’s easier to plant a one-year-old dormant plant (known as a crown) in March. Don’t harvest the plant until its third year in the ground (really… patience is key – the crunchy, flavoursome spears are well worth the wait). Enjoy yours wrapped with Parma ham and top them with a poached egg and cracked black pepper.
Fennel: Fennel is a delicious herb with a long history of use. The ancient Egyptians, for example, used fennel exclusively for medicine. However, modern chefs use it today, opting to pair it with fish, eggs and pork. Plant your seeds as soon as the soil begins to warm in spring or when you’re sure the worst of the winter frosts are over. You’ll need some sunshine, and should harvest and dry the plant’s seeds as soon as the flower heads fade: you can use dried fennel seeds in your kitchen to add a delicious hint of seasoning that tastes close to liquorice or aniseed.
Sorrel leaves: If you like fresh, lemony flavours, consider growing sorrel in your gourmet garden. This plant tastes great with lettuce and rocket in salads, adding a nice ‘zing’ to crunchy summertime dishes. Keen cooks swear by adding finely chopped sorrel to their scrambled eggs and suggest sprinkling it on smoked salmon and sourdough bread. With a fresh coffee and the Sunday paper, your weekend brunch will feel thoroughly upmarket!