Mon, November 16th, 2020
Our Glorious Gardens
It has been so lovely to see visitors back at Picton this week, just in time to enjoy the last of the spectacular Autumn colours after the second Welsh lockdown. Although it has been a tough year, with a lot of days where the grounds have been closed to the public, the gardening team have worked tirelessly to keep the gardens looking wonderful. Picton has survived a few pandemics since it was first built, 740 years ago, and it will survive this one.
The gardening team ploughed on through the firebreak lockdown and have been busier than ever due to many exciting new developments. Over on the walled garden site, the building work is getting close to completion. After years of planning and hard work the team are thrilled to see their dreams coming to fruition. Head Gardener, Roddy Milne, has already filled the new Glasshouse with many magnificent plants from around the world. He took delivery of a very important and rare fern; the Brainea Insignis, this week from a friend of Picton known locally as “Dai the Fern”. The Brainea Insignis is a very rare Asian fern that can be extremely difficult to cultivate. We will have to keep a close eye on this one though because it is destined to be displayed at the prestigious Chelsea Flower show next summer. It will be collected by a gardener from Ireland who will incorporate it in their display. So the pressure is on to keep it thriving until then!
This week, our devoted and hard working group of garden volunteers returned to help in the transformation of the beds in the walled garden. Volunteers Sue, Jane and Andrew have assisted in pulling out the herb bed to make way for a Mediterranean bed with many highly scented flora such as giant fennel, lavender and rosemary. The walled garden will truly be a treat for the senses once it is complete.
The bothy buildings are well on their way to being transformed. Earlier this year you may have noticed we were selling roof slates for £10. Visitors could write a message onto the inside of these slates to be preserved into the building. These are all in place now and looking like they’ve been there for over a hundred years, hopefully they will look just as good in a hundred years time! Inside these buildings there will be a new head gardener’s office and a plush new education, lecture and volunteer space, complete with wood burner. The old Fernery is also being restored sympathetically; this has been a difficult process as the building was very dilapidated. The well established ferns needed to be preserved but unfortunately placing a glass roof on the structure was not an option, so a clear plastic roof has been installed to allow enough light in for the plants.
Maria’s restaurant has reopened and her ever popular take-away tapas meals are back on the menu each weekend. She also has two very exciting events on the horizon in December. On Saturday 5th December there is an evening of wine tasting and canapés for £15, and on Saturday 19th December you can book in for a delicious 3 course Spanish Christmas Fiesta meal. Spaces are very limited and only 4 persons per table. For more information and to book please call the restaurant on 01437 751 346.
If you fancy trying your hand at making Maria’s famous Fideuà why not follow this recipe?
For the stock
- 6 tomatoes, grated
- 3 garliccloves, skins left on, crushed
- 2 onions, roughly chopped
- 2 dried ñora peppers
- monkfishhead and bones (or other white fish bones)
- 5 litres/3¼ pints boiling water
- 1 lemon, juice only
- pinch salt
For the fideuà
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 whole monkfishtail, cut into large chunks
- 12 king prawns
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 4 garliccloves, finely chopped
- 2 squid, cleaned, spines removed, flesh roughly chopped
- 2 dried ñora peppers, finely chopped (available from Spanish delicatessens and online specialists)
- 500g/1lb 2oz short vermicelli noodles (called ‘fideo’ in Spain)
- 2 tbsp smoked paprika
- 400g/14oz mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded (discard any musselst hat do not shut tightly when tapped firmly)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the picada
- For the stock, place the grated tomato skins in a large saucepan, reserving the flesh for later, with the rest of the stock ingredients and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering, then continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the stock and reserve the liquid.
- For the fideuà, heat half of the oil in a paella pan or large, heavy-based, shallow frying pan over a medium heat. Add the monkfish and prawns and fry for 1-2 minutes on each side, until browned on both sides, adding more oil if necessary. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan, add the onions and fry for 3-4 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic, tomato flesh and squid and continue cook over a low heat for 6-7 minutes, or until the squid is opaque.
- Add the ñora peppers and the noodles, mix well, and continue to cook for a further 2-3 minutes, or until the noodles are covered in the oil. Sprinkle over the smoked paprika.
- Pour in the stock and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Return the monkfish and the prawns to the pan, then arrange the mussels over the top of the fideuà. Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then cover the pan tightly with aluminium foil or greaseproof paper and continue to simmer for a further 4-5 minutes, or until the mussels have opened (discard any mussels whose shells do not open during cooking).
- Meanwhile, for the picada, grind the almonds and the chopped parsley in a mortar and pestle as finely as possible.
- To serve, sprinkle the picada over the fideuà, garnish with lemon wedges and spoon onto serving plates.