Chef and TV presenter Paul West has spent a lot of time, while working in the garden, debating with himself about whether homegrown produce tastes better than store-bought. And while he's concluded that there's no guarantee it will, "when the planets align and your season has been more nurture than neglect, the taste of something homegrown with love is better than anything you could possibly have imagined".
That's the key message the former River Cottage Australia presenter wants you to draw from his latest book, Homegrown: A Year of Growing, Cooking and Eating, written to guide you through four seasons in the garden and kitchen. Along with simple advice on getting more from your vegie patch, West provides recipes for simple, nourishing meals using the spoils. Here are some of his favourites using the summer crop.
Barbecued corn with tangy sour cream dressing
My favourite way to cook corn is on the barbecue. The way that some of the kernels turn brown and sweet, others become a little charred and pop, and the rest are yellow and juicy … it's hard to beat. Coupled with a smoky, tangy dressing, this corn looks amazing and tastes even better.
- 4 sweetcorn cobs, husks on
- olive oil
- small handful of coriander leaves salt and pepper
- lime wedges, to serve
Tangy sour cream dressing
- 125g (½ cup) sour cream
- 1 tsp full-cream milk
- finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp smoked paprika, plus extra to serve
- Preheat a barbecue grill to medium-hot. If you don't have a grill plate, a hot barbecue plate will also work or you can use the overhead grill on your oven.
- Shuck the corn, leaving 5cm or so of the stem to use as a handle. Pour a good glug of olive oil onto a baking tray and roll the corn around in the oil until evenly coated.
- Lay the corn on the grill and cook for about 15 minutes, turning frequently. The corn is ready when the kernels are tender and have started to char a little. Once cooked, take the corn off the barbecue and transfer to a serving platter.
- While the corn is cooking, combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk with a fork to bring them all together.
- Spoon the dressing over the corn, scatter the coriander leaves over the top and garnish with a little salt and pepper and extra paprika. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.
Serves 4 as a side
This is a summer salad with a bit of oomph. Photo: Chris Middleton
Caramelised eggplant salad
Roasted eggplant is possibly the most delicious of all roasted vegetables (sorry potatoes, you're just not as complex). Buttery and rich, the time that they take to cook is paid back tenfold by the time you take them out of the oven. Coupled with a few herbs from the garden and some cherry tomatoes, this is a summer salad with a bit of oomph.
- 2 large or 4 small eggplants, cut lengthways into 3cm thick wedges olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 300g cherry tomatoes
- 2½ tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 large handfuls of rocket
- ½ bunch of basil, leaves picked and roughly torn
- 150g soft feta
- Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional). Line a baking tray with baking paper.
- Arrange the eggplant, skin-side down, on the prepared tray. Generously drizzle some olive oil over the top and season well with salt and pepper.
- Pop the tray in the oven and roast for 20-25 minutes, until the eggplant is nicely caramelised and tender. Remove and set aside to cool slightly.
- While the eggplant is roasting, place a large frypan over medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. Pop the onion into the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes, until it starts to soften and turn translucent, then add the cherry tomatoes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 3-5 minutes, until the tomatoes have burst and released their juices. Pour in the vinegar and cook for another minute or so. Remove the pan from the heat and generously season with salt and pepper.
- To serve, arrange the eggplant wedges on a platter and toss through the rocket. Spoon the tomato mixture over the top and scatter with the basil leaves and feta.
Grilled king prawns with herbs and lemon
There is undoubtedly something about the smell of prawns on the barbecue that is powerfully evocative of Australian summers. Jazz up your prawns with a herby sauce straight from the garden.
- ¼ bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped
- ¼ bunch of coriander, leaves picked and finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 lemons, 1 juiced, the other cut into wedges
- 1½ tbsp olive oil
- 16 raw king prawns, mid sections peeled and deveined
- Preheat a barbecue grill or hotplate to medium-hot.
- While the barbecue is warming up, combine the herbs, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl and give them a good mix.
- Lay the prawns on the barbecue and sprinkle some salt over the top. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, until they are just cooked, then transfer to a serving platter. Halfway through cooking the prawns, add the lemon wedges to the barbecue and give them a minute or so on each side, just so they start to brown.
- Spoon the herby oil mix over the prawns, squeeze the grilled lemon wedges over the top and serve.
Serves 4 as a starter
Sweet and sticky barbecued chicken
How much barbecue can you handle? What about chicken barbecued in barbecue sauce – that's double the barbecue! Jazz up your next summer gathering with these sticky winners. Move over boring old sausages, this lightly charred chicken dish may take a little extra effort but pays off big time.
- 4 chicken marylands
- olive oil
Sticky barbecue marinade
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 185ml (¾ cup) homemade tomato sauce (see recipe)
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp sriracha chilli sauce (optional)
- To make the sticky barbecue marinade, place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
- Place the chicken marylands in a baking dish that is big enough to fit them snugly. Spoon the marinade over the top, then dip the legs a couple of times to make sure they have a nice, even coating. Cover the dish and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 3 hours, but ideally overnight.
- Remove the dish from the fridge about 1 hour before you're ready to start cooking.
- Preheat one side of a barbecue grill to medium, leaving the other burners turned off.
- Lightly brush the hot grill with olive oil, then add the chicken, keeping the remaining marinade handy for basting. Cook the chicken for 3-5 minutes each side, until the skin has browned up nicely and is starting to char.
- Move the chicken to the unheated side of the barbecue, baste with some of the leftover marinade and pop the lid down. Cook for another 10 or so minutes, basting every now and then, until the chicken is cooked through.
- Whip the chicken off the grill.
Forget the "dead horse". This homemade tomato sauce is one thousand times better than the store-bought stuff. Keep it in the cupboard, or gift it to neighbours and friends. It definitely elevates the old meat pie or some hot chips to dizzying heights.
- olive oil
- 1kg tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
- 2 onions, roughly diced
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 tsp mustard powder
- 100g brown sugar
- 250ml (1 cup) red wine vinegar
- Sterilise three 250ml jars and lids (see note).
- Place a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. Add the tomato, onion, garlic and mustard powder and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 30-45 minutes, until the sauce has thickened significantly. Add the sugar and vinegar and simmer for another 15 minutes or until the mixture is thick and a little jammy.
- Use a stick blender to puree the sauce in the pan. It will still have a little texture, but as long as you're OK with that, it's totally fine. If you'd like a super-smooth sauce, place a fine-meshed sieve over a bowl and ladle the sauce into the sieve. Use the back of the ladle to push the sauce through the sieve, leaving behind any skins and seeds.
- Transfer the sauce to the sterilised jars, then pop them in the fridge where the sauce will keep for a month. If you'd like to make the sauce shelf stable, leave a 3cm gap at the top of the jars, screw on the lids and follow the instructions below. Treated this way, the sauce will keep in the pantry for at least a year. Once opened, store in the fridge and consume within 1 month.
Makes 3 x 250ml jars
Note To sterilise the jars, preheat the oven to 100C fan-forced (120C conventional). Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water, then arrange on a large baking tray. Place in the oven for 20 minutes, then allow to cool completely before filling.
This is an edited extract from Homegrown: A Year of Growing, Cooking and Eating by Paul West, Plum, RRP $44.99. Garden and produce photography by David Rogers, food photography by Chris Middleton. Buy now