Over a year ago I responded to a call for help from Celia Brooks Brown who was busy writing a gardening and cook book called New Urban Farmer and needed some help testing the recipes in the book. The recipes I tested were all great – although I think some of the feedback I gave to Celia was that one of the recipes would be good with chicken or bacon, not realising that the book was going to be vegetarian (whoops!). The book has now been published and there is a lovely acknowledgment in the back to me and lots of the other bloggers who helped test recipes.
Celia wrote the book based on her experiences cultivating and cooking from an allotment in London. It’s a really great book if you are interested in growing some of your own food and shows that you don’t need to live in the countryside or even have a garden. The focus is mainly on the gardening side of things and personally I would probably have preferred a few more recipes, but one thing I can say is all the recipes work well – they have after all been extensively tested. To give you a taster for the book I did a short interview with Celia and also tried out one of the recipes I originally tested, the courgettes with Parmesan crackling.
Cooking the courgettes with parmesan crackling
Interview with Celia Brooks Brown
What inspired you to write the New Urban Farmer?
I had been writing a blog for The Times online for three years (since the second year of cultivating the plot) and I really enjoyed cataloguing my experience. Also, I found most gardening books to be rather dry and difficult to absorb for a beginner, so I set out to write something engaging and mouthwatering and that had a gritty, urban edge to it rather than being yet another depiction of a rural idyll.
What are your tips for “urban farmers” who don’t have an allotment and have to rely on a windowbox?
Just about anything can be grown in containers outdoors, with a few exceptions, like rhubarb and Jerusalem artichokes. Even a small windowbox is fine for growing all sorts of herbs, lettuces, baby greens like chard, pakchoi and mustard, and edible flowers. These can also be grown on a surface inside a sunny window.
How did you come up with the recipes for the book?
The recipes were mostly inspired by having an abundance of produce and having to constantly come up with ideas for using it! Sometimes it was spontaneous invention. Some I developed as variations on classics, like Jeweled Cauliflower Pilao and Smoky Gazpacho. My Rhubarb and Lentil Curry was inspired by a recipe from blogger Lizzy Mabbot’s dad who makes a meat curry with rhubarb – I decided the sharpness of rhubarb would work well with lentils, so I played around with it til I got it right. Ideas come from all over the place – even dreams!
What was it like getting feedback from food bloggers testing your recipes?
Getting food bloggers to test recipes and give feedback was absolutely brilliant. There are so many enthusiastic cooks out there and I was overwhelmed with their enthusiasm and willingness to take the time not only to cook the recipes, but to write me back with constructive feedback. I simply sent out a few tweets asking if anyone wanted to test my recipes, and got dozens of replies which led to some really valuable analysis. With my previous cookbooks it was always a real chore to farm out the recipes for testing.
What should urban farmers be planting now?
The sowing season is starting to wane a bit from August onwards, but one can continue planting a plethora of quick growing crops including baby leaves and lettuces, pak choi, mustard greens, choi sum, spring cabbages, radishes, rocket, spinach and spring onions.
Celia’s recipe for Courgettes with Parmesan crackling
2 medium courgettes (zucchinis)
1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Mixed salad leaves
50g walnuts chopped
75g Parmesan grated
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
The finished dish
1. Heat a non stick frying pan over a medium heat. Place the courgettes in a bowl and sprinkle with balsamic vinegar making sure they are coated on boath sides.
2. Place the courgettes in the hot, dry pan (save the remaining vinegar in the bowl) making sure there is some space between the slices.
3. Sprinkle with half the grated Parmesan. Wait until it starts to look golden and crusty then turn the courgettes making sure to scrape up the cheese from the pan.
4. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the courgettes and let it get crusty again before removing the pan from the heat.
5. Mix the oil with the leftover vinegar to make a dressing. Arrange the salad leaves on plates, place the courgettes and Parmesan “crackling” on top and then the walnuts and dressing. Season with salt and pepper.
Serves two as a light lunch.
Gourmet Chick received a review copy of New Urban Farmer.