In the Veg Patch with
In the honeyed light of a late September afternoon we drove to a tiny village in the Cotswolds, to meet with food writer and vegetable grower Kathy Slack.
Kathy began growing vegetables after swapping the bright lights of London and her demanding job for a quieter life in the Oxfordshire countryside 9 years ago. In that time, she has transformed what was a bare patch of soil into a marvellous plot of greenery – where juicy tomatoes and lush chard cohabit with plump pumpkins and sweet beetroot.
The gentle, methodical process of growing vegetables - from planting tiny seeds to harvesting chubby vegetables - has been a daily act of mindfulness for Kathy – and a welcome relief from her formerly stressful lifestyle.
Autumn has just begun when we visit Kathy’s idyllic set-up and her kitchen garden is beginning to show signs of returning to its cyclic resting state. Having just fetched a whole basket of shiny quinces from her neighbour, Kathy joyfully takes us on a tour of her veg patch, accompanied by her Spaniel, Hadleigh.
Kathy’s favourite plants to grow are tomatoes although the harvest hasn’t been brilliant this year. She finds them the most delicious things to pick and eat straight away. When it comes to cooking, beetroot are a firm favourite for hers. They work so well in many different ways - in roasts, purees, soups and cakes to name but a few.
Originally writing about food on her blog Gluts and Gluttony, Kathy extended her love of cooking her home grown produce by publishing the recipe book, From the Veg Patch. In the book Kathy chooses 10 of her favourite fruits and vegetables, dedicating a chapter for each. Within these chapters she shares a selection of recipes that showcase the incredible flavours of home grown produce.
Being an impatient cook herself, Kathy’s recipes are quick and simple and require little involvement – they are the ones she comes back to again and again.
Kathy’s recipes make the vegetables the stars of the show - they aren’t covered in sauces or demoted to side dishes. By keeping the freshly-grown ingredients at the forefront, Kathy makes each recipe a celebration of home grown produce in all its simple brilliance.
In the soft rays of the declining sun, with two dogs happily chasing each other (Rodney Shop Dog couldn’t resist joining us), we feel a strong sense of contentment among the ancient cottages of Oxfordshire. As we say our goodbyes and make our way back to London, we can’t help but wonder what Kathy might be cooking this evening – of one thing we are certain though – it’ll be fresh and delicious and home-grown.
Spinach and smoked haddock rarebitby Kathy Slack
Makes 4 slices
150g un-dyed smoked haddock, skinned and deboned
2 bay leaves6 black peppercorns
up to 400ml whole milk
30g plain flour
100g Cheddar cheese, grated
130g spinach leaves4 thick slices of crusty farmhouse bread or sourdough
When I was little, my mum used to make a supper of haddock and spinach in cheese sauce with a baked egg on top, which I thought was the height of sophistication because the spinach was wilted using a hot new cheffy gadget we had just bought – a microwave. I would marvel at how a field of spinach went in, but only a thimbleful came out. The same is true of this recipe, which is inspired by that childhood dish: 130g looks like a lot of spinach, but it isn’t. And if the spinach has come from your garden, it won’t feel like nearly enough to make a dent in the relentless (but pleasing) harvest.
Lay the fish flat in the bottom of a saucepan. Tuck the bay leaves and peppercorns in around it and pour over enough milk to cover the fish. Put a lid on and set the pan over a gentle heat. Bring to a simmer, then cook for 5 minutes or until the fish is flaking. Turn the heat off, lift the fish out with a slotted spoon and flake it into a bowl. Discard the bay and peppercorns, but keep the poaching milk for the next stage.
Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over a low-medium heat, then add the flour and cook for 2 minutes. It will look crumbly and lumpy, but fear not. Pour in the poaching milk, a little at a time, whisking it into the flour mixture before adding the next glug. The mixture will thicken when you first add the liquid, but then gradually loosen to a paste and, after, a thick sauce. Keep whisking all the while so it doesn’t go lumpy. When the sauce is the consistency of thick double cream, stop adding the milk (you may not need all of it) and let it bubble for a minute or two, stirring regularly; watch it thicken further. The end result should be a smooth, gluey paste, which you can now remove from the heat. Fold in the flaked fish and half the Cheddar. Season generously with salt and pepper.
In another saucepan wilt the spinach leaves in a splash of water for 1–2 minutes. Tip them into a colander to squeeze out the excess water, then roughly chop and stir into the fish mixture.
Set your grill to medium. Arrange the slices of bread on a baking tray and toast on one side. Turn the slices over and spread the spinach-y fish topping on the untoasted side. Be sure to spread it right to the edges or the crusts will burn. Top with the remaining Cheddar, then return to the grill for 10 minutes, by which time the top will be bubbling and golden. Serve promptly.
To celebrate the launch of 'From The Veg Patch', you can win one of 10 copies of Kathy Slack's inspiring recipe collections. Follow us on Instagram @palavafolk for details how to enter.
Kathy is wearing Ida Blackcurrant Homegrown dress, Rita Cream Damson dress, Vera Plum Hedgerow cardigan and Vera Navy Berries cardigan. All items are part of our AW21 Collection.