How to make Allotment Focaccia

As many of you may have noticed, I’ve been a little less prevalent in posting recently. The allotment has had to take a back seat as plans for the community supported bakery, and baking itself, have had to take precedent. Fortunately, the weather and season has offered me the excuse to put the allotment into hibernation with only a little guilt that I should be tending, clearing or digging. Plot 4 has been a critical part of my ongoing recovery and a place of safety from the Black Dog of depression, but as I move on, baking has joined it in providing me with the chance to be mindful. This recipe is therfore an important one to me; combining, as it does, two therapeutic activities and experiences in one food.

The great thing about having an allotment is having a range of herbs and crops that cna be used in all your cooking. My little garden at home, with a small herb planter, can’t sustain the constant use of a family, but the plot’s herb garden can. So, the herbs for this bread come from the plot; picked on a beautiful spring morning, their fragrance is brought to life topping this traditional hearth bread.

You will need
500g strong white flour
7g salt (plus more flaked sea salt to sprinkle on top of the finished bread)
7g dried yeast
60ml olive oil (plus more to  work the dough and drizzle on top of the finished bread)
310ml warm water
Your choice of herbs to top the bread with (I used marjoram and some chopped rosemary)

Start by mixing all the ingredients (minus the herbs) together to form a rough dough. Continue to knead the dough until it becomes smooth; using a little olive oil on the worksurface can help to stop the dough sticking, and help you to achieve the silken finish you’re looking for. The kneading will take about 10 minutes, after which you should form the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to ferment for a couple of hours.

After 120 minutes, take the dough out of the bowl, lay it flat, and fold it over on itself. Place back in the bowl for a further half an hour. Meanwhile oil a tray a 40×30 tray, then take the doughwith oiled hands and stretch it to fill the tray. Scatter your chosen herbs over the top and massage into the dough, making dimples usiny your fingers. Pour a little more oil over the dough and leave to prove for an hour or so. Bake in a hot oven (230°C) for 20-25 minutes until golden. Allow to cool a bit before taking off the tray and cutting into portions.

 

I topped this focaccia with simple herbs; but the beauty of this bread is that onions, potatoes, courgettes, even peppers, would work equally well. It really is a bread for the allotment.

How to make Pizza Bianca Brassica

how to make pizza bianca brassicaPizza is undoubtedly one of my favourite foods and a sure fire winner with the kids too. There are so many possible things to top it with, but almost always they include the addition of a tomato sauce on the base. I do love this classic pizza, but I’ve recently discovered the pizza bianca; a pizza with no tomato. Somehow the lack of the tomato allows you to really appreciate the flavours of the pizza topping fully.

Brassicas are not the first port of call for the home pizza chef, but they offer a great alternative to the usual topping fayre. Cooked down with onions and garlic they create an unctiuous sweet and iron rich base on which to place your chosen cheese.

You will need (makes 6 small pizzas)

For the pizza base

3g dried yeast
150ml warm water
500g strong white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

For the topping

A glug of olive oil
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
350g of spring greens, kale, cavolo nero or other brassica leaves (stalks removed)
75g mature cheddar, grated
75g mozarella
Salt and black pepper

Mix all the pizza ingredients together to form a dough. Continue to knead until the dough becomes more silken and springy. It’s impossble to say how long this could take, but after six or seven minutes you should be pretty much there. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm or a damp teatowel.  Leave to prove for an hour or so, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Whilst the dough proves, finely slice a couple of onions and a large clove of garlic, and slowly cook in a little oil until it is wonderfuly soft and transulcent. When the onions are done, add the finely shredded greens, allowing them to soften and combine with the sweet allium mix. Take the dough, divide it into 6, shape into balls, then roll out on a floured surface to about the thickness of a pound coin.

I find that pizzas in a home oven benefit from being placed onto a hot baking sheet. I use a piece of floured plywood to peel the pizza in to the oven and onto a preheated baking tray (set your oven to hot, as hot as it goes). The additional heat from below helps to ensure the crisp bottom required of a decent pizza, and aids the speedy baking of the dough. So, spread each pizza with the onion, garlic, brassica mix, then top with the two cheeses. Bake for 7-8 minutes until they are crisp and golden.

How to train tomatoes

Whilst tomatoes should have been planted out by now, you can still get them from nurseries and garden centres, ready grown and ready to nurture to cropping. The smell of fresh tomatoes, let alone the unbeatable taste of fruits picked from the vine, makes growing them well worth it.


Once your tomato plants have grown to about a foot in height, support them with a cane or stick at their side which you can use to tie them into as they grow. It’s importance to tie the. plants to a cane before they have a chance to drop, as this encourages them to grow up and produce more fruiting spurs. As they grow, pinch out all side shoots of your cordon tomatoes, but you can leave the bush types well alone to fill out. Once cordons have formed six or so fruiting trusses you should pinch out the tops. In reality I tend to let them hit the roof of the greenhouse, then pinch out the tips.


I under-plant my tomatoes with basil, as basil and tomato go together. It makes it easy to make a basil and tomato salad, but also has a preventative effect on aphids. Companion planting with French marigolds – tagetes – also works as the aphids will be repelled by their smell. Watering is crucial for consistently good fruits. Before the flowers have formed, water once a week or so and feed once a fortnight. Once the flowers and fruit have formed, water twice a week and feed once a week. What tomatoes don’t like is inconsistent watering, this tends to lead to splits and problems with bottom rot. Like children, they appreciate a routine and will repay you when they are looked after in a consistent way.

Once ready ripe, keep picking, this will help to extend the harvest as long as possible. It also means you can use them in a range of delicious recipes. Check out some tomato recipes here.

How to grow French Beans

Prone to late frosts, cold winds and slugs, now is the time to grow French beans. I planted out my climbing bean Cornetti Meraviglia di Venezia last week, but only sowed Dwarf French bean Boby Bianco in situ in the last few days. The dwarf varieties work well, allowing a bumper crop without the need for supports. They also are the best to grow if you want to extend the season and grow under cover. Beans are best sown into moist soil that is rich in organic matter, a few centimetres deep and initially under cloches. To get a succession of crops, sow every month or so until late summer. As the plants develop and get flowers, make sure that you water regularly, as this will encourage more flowers and thus more beans. A mulch of organic matter around the base of the plants helps to retain the moisture and also gives a nutritional boost to the plants. You can also use a tomato feed (or something similar like comfrey or nettle ‘tea’) to help encourage the development of more pods.

Pick the beans regularly to keep them producing. They are at their best when their slim pods hide the beans seeds perfectly, and the flesh snaps crisply. If you’re unable to devour all the beans available when they’re at their best, just blanch in boiling water for a minute or so and open-freeze, before transferring to freezer bags. They cook brilliantly from frozen when needed.

Beans also do a great job of improving the soil even after their harvest. They enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen in nodules of bacteria on their roots. To capture this nutritional boost, cut off the stems of the plants at ground level when they have finished cropping, leaving the roots to enrich the soil.