What to Plant Now
This time of year is more about picking than planting. The highlights of the coming month – beans, lettuce, courgettes, cucumbers, etc – will all keep producing harvests if you keep picking. So the more you pick, the more you get.
That said, my broad beans are over and the spring peas are done, so there are some gaps in the patch. And a gap is a missed opportunity. I fill my now cleared broad bean patch with kale plugs that have been bulking up in little pots for a few weeks now and are ready to brave open soil. A good net is a must for all brassicas: the cabbage white butterflies move in flocks at this time of year and will lay their eggs on anything even remotely brassica-like, resulting in an army of caterpillars that decimate a crop in days.
I’m also sowing some more lettuce. My current crop is still going strong (I pick leaves around the edge of the lettuce so it keeps growing rather than take a whole head), but I am thinking ahead to September when I will be glad of some fresh new plants to pick at as the old harvest either wilts, bolts or gives in to the relentless slug attacks.
What to Harvest Now
Apart from those already mentioned, there are plenty of other things to harvest now. The beetroot is in mint condition – just the right size and not yet slug eaten. If you’re a potato grower (I’m not: no room), they will be harvesting now too. And don’t forget edible flowers as well – sweetpeas, calendula, nasturtiums are all at their most beautiful and abundant this month.
Of the more-you-pick-more-you-get crops, courgettes have to be the most prolific. Mine have been slow to get going this season, but let me tell you they are making up for it now. The yellow varieties are still on the small side, but the Defenders (a green variety I grow every year because they are so reliable) are threatening to turn to marrows if I don’t pick them daily.
There’s been a bit of press lately about toxic courgettes. As ever, it’s more complicated and far less scary than it sounds. From what I’ve read, the ‘threat’ mostly comes from saved seeds. There is a very small chance that courgettes grown from saved seeds (ie: seeds you have collected from your own harvests the previous year, dried, stored, and planted the following spring) may have crossed with other varieties nearby to create a new, potentially toxic hybrid. The way round this tiny risk is to buy seeds from a reputable seed company rather than save your own. And since saving seeds is a faff and a lottery and only saves you a couple of quid anyway, it’s no loss. Toxicity can also occasionally be triggered by stress (like under-watering) or storing for too long, but toxic courgettes taste inedibly bitter, so you aren’t going to get through a plateful before you realise. Drama over.
What to Cook with the Harvest
To be so inundated would be a bit stressful if courgettes weren’t such a versatile crop. The small, sweet ones are simply peeled into ribbons and doused in olive oil and lemon for a raw salad. The larger ones are stuffed with anything from a beef ragu to cheesy pasta. The rest are roasted, griddled, pickled, melted slowly into butter and spread on toast, whizzed into soup – there are, fortunately, a hundred ways to deal with a courgette glut. Not to mention:
This is a very simple cake, not nearly as odd as it sounds, and the answer to so many situations. Forget the buttercream and simply dust it with icing sugar for elevenses, or smooth out the icing and festoon it with flowers for a rustic celebration cake.
There isn’t much Rachel Roddy doesn’t know about pasta. Her new book An A-Z of Pasta is full of tales and stories, plus a wealth of recipes that will become firm favourites. Like this courgette linguine, a sort of veggie carbonara that is summery but rich and savoury all in one.
Find Rachel’s recipe here.
Not all courgette flowers need to be stuffed. As Yotam Ottolenghi demonstrates here, using them, baby courgettes still attached, to top this herby, cheesy puff pastry pie. They’re more than just window dressing too, bringing as they do a sweet, green brightness to the dish.
Get Yotam’s recipe here.