In the Southern Tablelands region of NSW (where we live and garden), this is the time of year when the vege patch is FULL to the brim with green stuff - spinach, mustard, rocket (arugula) and all sorts of other good things - but not a whole lot of colour. We still have quite a wait for our tomatoes, capsicum, chillis, eggplant, corn, carrots, beets and melons (in fact, some of those will really only be ready for harvest at the end of summer or early autumn).
I’m a big fan of the green stuff. I’d be quite content for most of our meals to consist of those ingredients (I, for one, truly believe that you CAN make friends with salad), but sometimes it is nice to have a bit of colour in a meal.
Enter the jewel of the early summer vege patch in cool and alpine regions - silverbeet (Swiss chard).
Silverbeet could not be easier to grow and, for much of the country, it can be treated as a semi-perennial and planted in the ornamental garden beds (and with its white, red and yellow stems, it is certainly pretty enough to earn its place there!). In our climate we can’t grow it well over the three coldest months, so we keep it confined to The Coopermarket.
Silverbeet seeds are best sown directly into the vege patch. It doesn’t take long to get to harvest - in fact, tonight’s dinner was sown only about 5 weeks ago (they were young stems, but all the better… and sweeter).
This is one of those fantastic cut-and-come-again type plants. You harvest only what you want to eat by cutting the stem near the soil (both stem and leaves are edible), leaving the rest intact. You will be able to eat from the same plant for months before it goes to seed. It is still worth succession sowing about once very 4-6 weeks for a continuous supply, but it isn’t quite such an urgent task as, say, with rocket that tends to bolt in the hotter months. Better yet, silverbeet isn’t really a food that you will get sick of with a glut that has to be harvested all at once (ahem, zucchini!), and there are soooooo many great uses for it.
We are a bit obsessed with the Stephanie Alexander tome ‘The Cook’s Companion’ in our house (recommended by Mickey Robertson, stolen from my mum). If you have a kitchen garden, you should really get that book. Every single fruit or vege that you grow or find in your local farmers’ market is itemised in ‘A Cook’s Companion’ and the most wonderful recipes and “recipes” (simple, rustic ways to make the most of the ingredient) are suggested.
Tonight’s dinner was courtesy of silverbeet from The Coopermarket and Stephanie’s advice to pair it with a fruity olive oil, streaky bacon and some goats cheese. Done and done. Dinner was on the table in minutes, and we both agreed that we could happily eat this for breakfast (maybe add a poached egg?), lunch or dinner any day of the week. Which is good, as we have a whole lot of silverbeet to eat before the rest of The Coopermarket colours up!