I hope you had a great Big Wild Sleepout and have managed to try out some of the recipes posted in the last few days. I know my nephew really enjoyed his and told everyone at his school how they should all join the RSPB!
I've been seeing plenty of nocturnal wildlife in the last week, but the strange thing is that it hasn't been at night. This lunchtime, I discovered my fourth local brood of baby tawny owls in the last week while I was walking around The Lodge. That is a crazy statistic, especially as I haven't even been looking for them. Clearly it has been an excellent breeding season for owls.
Tawny owls by Ernie Janes (rspb-images.com)
The latest three owls (a little bit older than the cuties above) were high up in a sycamore and I enjoyed sharing them with some of my colleagues. You can't beat baby tawnys for the "Aaaah" factor.
Maybe it was the cover image of a tawny owl for the current Nature's Home magazine that led to my run of luck! Hopefully there will be more to come yet.
One of my favourite things about party food is you get to try a little bit of everything and sometimes the side dishes really can be the stars of the show.
Broad bean, dill and rice salad
If your broad beans are young, simply pod and cook them; if mature, slip them out of their casings after cooking.
250g/9oz mixed basmati and wild rice115g/4oz podded and shelled broad beans3 inner sticks celery, finely sliced½ cucumber, peeled and diced1 bunch radishes, trimmed and cut into chunks1 tablespoon roughly snipped dill3 tablespoons finely sliced chives1 tablespoon white wine vinegar3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oilsalt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Put the rice in a saucepan with 500ml/18 fl oz water. Bring up to the boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, or until tender and the water has all evaporated. Tip on to a plate and leave to cool.
2 Drop the broad beans into a saucepan of boiling unsalted water. Return to the boil and simmer, covered, for about 3–4 minutes, or until tender, then drain and cool under cold running water. Pat dry with kitchen paper. Place in a salad bowl with the celery, cucumber, radishes and chopped herbs. Mix in the cool rice.
3 In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste and mix into the salad. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve.
Recipe taken from The Great British Vegetable Cookbook by Sybil Kapoor, published by National Trust Books. Photography by Karen Thomas
Tick off a few of your five a day whilst you tick off your wild spots in the garden.
Grilled aubergine with green beans and leeks
Aubergine is delicious cooked on the barbecue, but if you don’t have one, use an oven-top griddle pan instead. If you’re using slightly larger leeks, blanch them for about 4 minutes.
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + extra for brushingsalt and freshly ground black pepper310g/11oz fine green beans, trimmed12 baby leeks, trimmed2 large aubergines, trimmed3 handfuls rocket3 mozzarellas, drained
1 Measure the balsamic vinegar into a bowl and slowly whisk in the olive oil, so that it forms a thick emulsion. Season to taste.
2 Drop the beans into a saucepan of boiling unsalted water. Cook for 6 minutes, or until tender. Drain and immediately spread them out on a plate. Allow to cool slightly, then dry with kitchen paper and place in a mixing bowl. Toss in half the vinaigrette.
3 Cut a cross in the leafy green part of each trimmed leek. Wash the leeks thoroughly in plenty of water, then drop them into a saucepan of boiling unsalted water and cook for 2 minutes, or until they are just tender. Drain and cool under cold running water. Gently squeeze dry with some kitchen paper and set aside.
4 Once the coals on the barbecue are glowing white, or your griddle is hot, cut the aubergine into 1cm/½ in thick slices lengthways. Lightly brush with some olive oil, season and place over a medium-hot grill. Cook for 3 minutes on each side, or until seared a deep golden brown by the grill and cooked through. If possible, sear a diamond pattern on to each slice. Transfer to a plate and lightly coat both sides of the aubergine with some of the balsamic vinaigrette.
5 Lightly oil the leeks and grill for 2 minutes, turning regularly until they are flecked with gold. Remove and gently mix into the beans.
6 To serve, gently mix the rocket into the beans and divide between 6 plates, spreading out the tentacle-like tops of the leeks. Weave in the marinated aubergine. Cut the mozzarella into thick slices, season lightly with pepper and slip into each salad. Serve immediately.