I think it was reading Sarah Raven’s column in the paper that I first came across the idea of lasagne planting with spring flowering bulbs. It’s a nifty way of getting the most from a pot of tulips or daffodils – the bulbs are planted in layers with the latest flowering nearest the bottom and the earlier flowerers in the higher layers. This means you can squeeze more bulbs into a single pot, giving you a bigger, longer lasting flowery display in the spring. I liked the idea – more flowers from less space and not too much work, but had yet to get around to trying it… until now.
Well, it’s not exactly the lasagne planting of bulbs as laid out in the original newspaper article that I’m trying – more an adaptation of the lasagne idea to edible gardening. I started out wanting to have another go at growing garlic in pots, something I’ve tried without much success in the past. But given previous failures, the idea of having a pot sat for months on end only to produce a few small heads of garlic next summer seems a bit of a waste. Which is where the layered planting comes in – one pot but more than one crop, giving a harvest over a few months.
I’ve filled a nice deep pot with a mixture of peat free multipurpose, homemade compost and leaf mould. A couple of inches down there are three cloves of garlic, then more compost and planted into the top a shallot, with some winter lettuces and small parsley plants that had been left too long in a module tray. If all goes to plan there will be a (probably very small) harvest of leaves through the winter, followed by a healthy crop of alliums in early summer. We’ll see. I’m not sure if the lettuces are too small to produce much. But, if the idea does work, there will no doubt be a blog post all about how fantastic it is. I may even have to come up with a catchy name for this style of growing and try some other layered combinations – suggestions anyone?
While the freshly planted garlic is just starting out in its journey kitchenwards, the leeks are nearly at the end of theirs. A few of them were pretty much ready, and I was wanting something to complement a handful of Manchego cheese and a sprinkling of fresh thyme in a loaf of bread. Chopped leek, sauteed in butter turned out to be just the thing. The loaf has a soft texture and a great cheesy, herby flavour. You know that soup made from the random assortment of veg from the bottom of the fridge that really needs used up? This bread turns a slightly dodgy bowl of soup into a fabulous meal… really, we’ve tried it and it works.
Manchego, being a hard cheese made from ewe’s milk, should qualify this bread for October’s Cheese Please! over at Fromage Homage. Reading about the range of hard, sheep’s milk cheeses available, I’ve realised that the variety of cheese I cook with and eat is very limited and it’s time to get more adventurous.
Leek & Manchego bread
500g strong white bread flour
2 tsp fine sea salt
2 tsp active dried yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
about 250 ml cold water
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium leek (about 55g), quartered lengthways and chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper
50g Manchego cheese, grated
Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the salt, yeast and olive oil and stir to combine. Add enough water to form a soft, but not too wet, dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Return the dough to the bowl, cover the top of the bowl with a damp tea towel or cling wrap and leave to rise for about an hour or so… until it has nearly doubled in size.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Cook the chopped leek with the thyme leaves and a good grinding of black pepper over a low heat for about 5 minutes, until the leek is starting to soften. Leave to one side to cool until the dough is ready.
Tip the dough out onto a board and push it out to form a rectangle. Mix all but 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese with the leek, and sprinkle the mixture over the dough. Roll the dough up and gently knead it to spread the leek and cheese mixture through. Shape into a round loaf (or whatever shape takes your fancy really), place on a greased and floured baking tray and leave to rise for about 30 minutes.
While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 200oC, 400oF, gas 6. If you like a good crust on your bread, when the oven is fully heated tip a cupful of boiling water into a tray at the bottom. Bake the loaf for 25-30 minutes, until the bottom makes a good hollow sound when you tap it. Cool on a wire rack before cutting into thick slices and enjoying with a bowl of soup, an apple and a hunk of cheese, or just on its own…