Every year I put my hand to trying to grow some lesser grown or unusual vegetables. As a self titled garden virgin (but gaining experience all the time), I of course have varying success. I am very proud of having had a go with sweet potatoes, celeriac, artichokes, fennel, asparagus, physalis and Rond de Nice.
In the past I planted straight courgettes, only 4 plants, but my oh my did I get a few courgettes. As did the neighbours, and the neighbours of the neighbours, the post woman, heck, anyone who dared come to our door.*
Then I discovered Rond de Nice – round courgettes (or zucchini) to you and me. Not chosen just as one of my unusual vegetables, but mainly because I think they are prettier.
But, and this is a big but in this family of veg, it turns out they also produce less and don’t (quite) take over the garden. Win, win.
Rond de Nice Recipes
It’s a little trickier figuring out what to do with them. The obvious is stuff them. It is actually a delicious thing to do as they cook better than squashes this way, since they are smaller, softer and have a higher water content. But it can get a little boring after the 3rd time, particularly if you have quite a few of them.
I did find you can actually cook them just as you would straight courgettes, cutting them up, ribboning them, whatever the needs are for a recipe. One of my favourite recipes for courgettes is so very easy, takes about 5 minutes:
1 x courgette (any shape)
sumac (substitute paprika if you don’t have sumac, though not quite as good)
Using a potato peeler, peel your courgette (round or otherwise) into ribbons, skin and flesh, until you get to the seeds. Compost the seeded bit, or dry seeds to use in the garden next year.
In a saucepan heat a tablespoon of olive oil on a medium heat. Toss in the courgette ribbons and stir around. Add a pinch of salt. Add a teaspoon of sumac, and stir into the courgette. Add the sesame seeds, and again stir. Stir loosely for about 2 minutes and serve.
Ugly Unusual Vegetables
And let’s talk celeriac. This has to be my favourite in the unusual vegetables I have tried growing. Have you ever seen this ugly veg, let alone grown it? It’s from the celery family, but grows like a white ugly turnip. You can eat the tops, which funny enough taste, and look like, celery.
It’s quite easy to grow actually, like celery. It takes longer to grow the actual celeriac root ball and is an autumn harvest veg consequently. It stores for a very long time too, like potatoes. And that is also how you use it. Whatever you can do with a potato, you can do with celeriac.
To my mind it is most delicious cooked as curried chips.
2 Tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 Tablespoon curry powder
Pre-heat an oven to 210C/415F. Cut off the skin of the celeriac, then cut the celeriac into thick chips and place in a heat proof bowl. In a pan melt the butter and add mustard seeds and curry powder. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes until sizzling. Pour over the celeriac chips. Toss to coat with the flavouring. Place the chips in a roasting tray. Season with salt and put in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, turning them about half way through. Bake until golden.
The newest of my unusual vegetables that I am trying to grow are fennel and physalic. The fennel has made a show of itself in the garden, but not much of one. Just a frond or two. I think I have not planted it in the best place. It’s a wait and see game. So when I see, I will pass on what I have learned.
The physalis has been a nice surprise. I planted seeds on a whim, because I found them in a Lidls. Then I promptly forgot about them. Several months later and I found two plants growing in my tucked away out of the windy weather pots. Pots I use for cuttings mostly to give them a fighting chance before heading into the ground outside.
Trouble was I couldn’t tell what they were. They looked like tomato plants, and since I had planted tomatoes too… And the name I had written on the label has become illegible. So thinking they were tomatoes, I planted one next to my known tomatoes in the garden. The other, smaller one, I left in its pot. Both grew a little, but not much. And then they started show casing their fruit (or is it technically a veg?) in tiny form, so not ready for eating.
Then I discovered physalis is in fact a perennial. Oops, on the planting the one in the garden. It will have to be transplanted come early spring. The one in the pot can stay in the pot until then too. Both would prefer sunnier spots, and could grow to be quite big and bushy, so some planning has to go into where they will be situated. Gardening can sometimes provide you wish some very pleasant surprises.
*PS – You know those overly large courgettes/zucchini that you get given now and then? Here’s what to do when you are ‘given a marrow‘.