Courgette ideas

August 26, 2008

I may be joining the obligatory ‘courgette glut’ moaning, but I actually love courgettes (or zucchini).  So I have not been troubled by eating them day after day, and have quite enjoyed trying out new ideas.  Here are some of them.

COURGETTE CARBONARA…
Tagliatele coated in an egg yolk-pecorino sauce with grilled or fried courgettes and pine nuts.  This was really lovely.  Use more cheese than you would have hoped – parmesan is suitable, but we prefer pecorino.  It’s salty so don’t add any more, but be generous with pepper.  Directions: chop or grate two courgettes (for two people), salt, drain, rinse and dry.  Using a large pan, bring water to boil and cook tagliatele until only just done.  Drain and put the courgettes into the pan with a little olive oil, then cook until lightly browned.  Add the pinenuts and toss for a minute.  Add two beaten egg yolks, pepper, and a BIG handful of grated cheese.  Add the cooked pasta, turn heat to medium, and stir well until it’s all warm and melty.  Dish up, sprinkle with parsley or extra cheese.

Jamie Oliver has a recipe with bacon (as traditional) in it, here.

CHARGRILLED VEG FOCACCIA
This is gorgeous!  Just fine on its own or great with the carbonara.  (based on the recipe here.)  Prepare focaccia dough or use a shop focaccia, sliced horizontally.  Chop some mediterranean veg (courgettes, aubergine, tomatoes, red onions) and toss with a little olive oil, rosemary and salt and pepper.  Spread on a tray and put under a hot grill, turning, until browned.  Put in bowl to cool.  Add crumbled feta (or mozzarella).  Spread mixture over half the focaccia, top with the second half, press down, and bake until hot and bubbly.  (OR if making with dough, roll out half into a round, add topping, roll second half, brush edges with water and seal together.  Dimple top of dough, brush with olive oil.  Bake on high heat until golden.)

COURGETTES STUFFED WITH PEA RISOTTO
Cut courgettes lengthways, and spoon out some of the flesh.  Put the shells into the oven to bake while you make the risotto.  Prepare risotto as usual (butter, courgette flesh, onion, 150g rice, glass white wine, veg stock, stir, add peas, stir) until just-cooked.  Press it into the courgette halves, dot with butter and cover with pecorino.  Bake until golden and bubbly.

COURGETTE RAGU (RAGOUT)
I made a version of Ragu loosely based on the one at Cooking Light (here).  No mushrooms, and I substituted the olive paste with a little sundried tomato paste – and a glass of white wine went in before the tomatoes.  I omitted the spinach from the potato (cooked some, but it was too tough) and stirred the cheese into the mash instead of putting it on top.  This is a strange combination but it tasted fantastic!  Perfect for a grey summer day.

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Drowning in courgettes, send help

August 5, 2008

I’m sorry for the quiet spell over here.  I have been on holidays to France and Cornwall (how could I desert the plot?  I know.  But don’t worry, it’s taking its revenge.) but we are back!

And confronted with an ocean of weeds.  And a good-sized puddle of courgettes.  And a hurricane of runner beans (whose idea was it to plant two 12′ rows)?  Ah, the overenthusiasm of spring and inevitable gluttony of summer.

We have eaten our way through courgette lasagne and courgette soup (with pecorino), courgette tart (marinate sliced courgettes in lemon juice, olive oil and tarragon/chives, then arrange on puff pastry, add crumbled feta, and bake until golden) and courgette smoothies.  Okay, I was lying about that last one.  But it doesn’t seem far off.

Tonight we will be testing out courgette carbonara (saw the idea somewhere on the interweb, and ordinary carbonara is a cinch) and chargrilled-veg focaccia on the side.  I have several of the blighters that have actually turned into marrows now.  I think I will keep a couple of these for stuffing tomorrow, as Good Food has a nice chilli-parmesan idea for them.

And I KNOW I’ve seen a recipe for marrow ‘mango’ chutney, but I can’t find it anywhere.  Send help.

Another way with new potatoes

July 2, 2008

In ‘Arabesque’, Claudia Roden gives a Lebanese recipe for lemon-and-coriander spiked potatoes.  This is quite a sharp taste, and would suit something mild or sweet to accompany it – for example a chickpea & yoghurt salad (pictured, bottom): soften a clove minced garlic in a pan with a handful pine nuts, and stir half of this mixture into plain yoghurt with salt, pepper, and a good tbsp chopped mint.  Pour over cooked chickpeas and top with the remaining pine nuts.

For the potatoes, boil 1kg in salted water for about 10 minutes, drain, and put into a baking dish.  Cut into 1″ chunks and pour over 5tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper, and 4 cloves garlic (crushed).  Roast in a hot oven until golden and crispy, then toss with the juice of 1/2 lemon and a handful of chopped coriander; adjust seasoning, and serve immediately.

By the way, I am putting a sunny face on it, but all is not entirely well at the plot; potatoes have been struck down with blight.  We are kicking ourselves for not taking the advice of the drunk man in the pub (milk spray to keep off blight), foolishly thinking that the summer has been dry enough not to need it.  Apparently, our potatoes got damp and hot – or they just did it to blight us.

It was difficult to get advice whether to cut down the potato foliage, or dig up the whole plants, or what.  Different websites say different things, so we made up our own minds.  We have just cut the foliage right down to the ground, and removed all the dead brown leaves, and put them away from the plot.  We are leaving the tubers in the ground to develop skins and hopefully the blight will not have spread to them.  And this is supposed to be a blight-resistant variety!  Oh well.  I guess at worst we could always just try to eat them all super-fast.  Not such a bad thing.

Still, the winter veg has gone in – parsnips, swedes, broccoli, and a trial of 4 kinds of carrots (let’s see if I can remember): Mokum, Autumn King, Nantes, and damn!  that is going to annoy me.  Flyaway!!  Hah!  They all went in at the same time so I am interested to see how they do, although they now have a week before I net them, so good luck against those carrot flies, chaps.

PSB is proving a very tasty snack for the slugs, who are also partial to green kale (but not red).  Frogs have been sighted on the strawbs which explains why those are doing so beautifully (thanks, kermy).  And I’m signing off now… here’s to the plot looking after itself for a week!

Fresh summer lettuce

July 2, 2008

I know I have been singing the praises of saladini, but there is a lot to be said for a plain old iceberg – if it’s fresh from the plot, and not shrink-wrapped.  I do like a bit of crunch in my salad.  The only problem is that all 12 icebergs have matured at once, so we will have to eat a lot of them in the next three days.

On the weekend we leave for a week in France, but I am having trouble with the idea of giving away our precious crops, instead wondering vainly if they would maybe cope for a week on their own?

A recent post at My Tiny plot raised the issue of giving away surplus.  Having never grown ANY of these crops before this year, I am reluctant to consider giving away ANYTHING.  But perhaps that’ll come in time.  And you can have a parsnip at Christmas, if you want.

But you might have to trample me to the ground to get them.

No vampires here

June 24, 2008

Garlic harvest from the allotment
This is our garlic harvest, which is currently drying out in a box on the sunny lawn.  It has been drying for a fortnight and the cloves are semi-papery now; impatiently, I have already used three whole heads.  Garlic-roasted potatoes, garlicky hummous, lamb roasted with garlic and rosemary, lemon and garlic mayonnaise.  (The mayo is good with paprika-roast squash chunks.)  At the moment, I have no idea where these heads are going after they depart the box.  Hmm.

Eating, this past week:
Broad beans (possibly for ever)
New potatoes
Beet greens
Peas
Strawberries
Salad
Summer carrots

Sowing, last and this week:
Autumn carrots
Parsnips (late, I know)
Swede
Spring onion
Radish
Mangetout

Pray for peas

June 19, 2008

Meteor peas
We ate the first peas last week and there is a good crop now.  These are ‘Meteor’ which we sowed in January.  The later (spring) sowings had very poor germination, which might be due to mice or birds.  We have both, I think (and whoever thinks it’s funny to unearth shallots on a daily basis, PACK IT IN!).

The mulch around the base of these plants has kept them pretty weed-free, and the pea seedlings didn’t mind.  I think mulching peas and onions is a good plan, generally.  We didn’t really feed these peas – they were almost ready when the heatwave started and they’d already enjoyed plenty of rain in the growing period.  I think that we will concentrate on autumn/winter-sown peas next year, since they have been much less hassle than the spring ones.

We ate the first bumper crop of peas last night – I made Sarah Raven’s Pea and Ricotta Tart with Thyme Pastry.  It is a time-consuming recipe because you have to make the pastry in advance, then cook it twice (with and without the filling) and cool a bit before eating.  But it’s lovely – individual ones would be nice for a summer lunch.  I halved the recipe (for 4) and it made quite a lot. The picture is rubbish.  I took loads so I don’t know how come they all turned out so badly. I am not a photographer.  But I am good at eating.

Pea and Ricotta Tart

 

Butter me and feed me to the potatoes

June 18, 2008

Lady Christl potatoes from the allotment

I had heard that new potatoes fresh from the ground are way, way better than supermarket newbies.  I’d heard it, but I hadn’t really believed it.  I thought this was probably a grower’s saying – not a cook’s.  I have come to appreciate the fact that vegetables you’ve grown yourself make a way better supper than shop-bought ones.  You take more care in scrubbing them, gently lowering them into a pan, standing beside the cooker to catch them at the just-right moment.  And it feels more, hm, true, I suppose.  The miracle of growing your own food, right?

So with this in mind, I was nervous about our first crop of potatoes (last Friday).  I thought they would be an anticlimax.  And even now, I am not going to climb on my chair and shout about them, even though maybe I should.  Have we grown the world’s most fabulous potatoes?  I mean, is there a prize for these things, because I think we would win?

Because they were s-t-u-p-e-n-d-o-u-s.  Please grow some to taste this love for yourself (and send some by first class post to me as thanks).  The end.new potatoes june 2008

 Oh hang on.  That’s not the end.  I also wanted to tell you about Jane Grigson’s way for delicious Stoved Potatoes.  This sounds the same as boiling and buttering, but it REALLY isn’t.  Try it out and you’ll want to buy her Vegetable Book to find out what other secrets she has.

‘Stoved’ from the French etuve, meaning stewed, in this case potatoes stewed in their own juices, with only a tiny amount of water and butter to prevent them sticking in the first stages.  With gas or asbestos cookers, an asbestos mat helps to keep the temperature evenly low [Note: I just use the lowest heat, and it works fine.  Definitely not asbestos].  Keep the lid of the pan, which should be aluminium, jammed on tightly with foil.  They must be good potatoes to begin with.  Peel them [no need with new potatoes] and put them in a pan with about 2 tablespoonfuls of water.  Sprinkle them with salt and add a tiny bit of butter here and there.  Cover close and simmer til soft and melted [keep a VERY close eye on the potatoes at this point – they could take anything from around 15-30 minutes].”

First peas with Beurre Blanc

June 11, 2008

We ate our first crop of peas (Meteor, planted in January) on Friday night, and I decided to do something special with them (instead of throwing them into a curry where they would be swamped).  I have been reading ‘Made in Italy’ by Giorgio Locatelli and he has a very complicated and delicious recipe for egg pasta with broad beans and potatoes.  He keeps some of the beans and potatoes whole, blends a few to make a puree/sauce, adds freshly-rolled egg pasta, and tosses the veg in butter sauce.  Sounded pretty hard, right?

So I decided to disregard most of it, and just make the Beurre Blanc.  This turned out to be a stroke of genius, although (if the wonder of this was anything to go by) I think it might be worth having a bash at the entire recipe one day.   Like, when I am reeeeeaaaaaally bored.

Here’s how I made it, and I hope you will enjoy it with your green peas (also some shelled broad beans) – pasta is really optional.  I think this would be even better just with green peas and bread on the side.  It’s horribly bad for you.  But it’s a nice Friday treat, if you have been super-good for the week.  And those peas really deserve a nice dressing.

2 spring onions (white parts), finely sliced
2 black peppercorns
100ml white wine
2tbsp double cream (plus more to loosen)
100g unsalted butter

Cut the butter into pieces, put one in a saucepan, and use it to soften the spring onions. Add the peppercorns (and I think a bay leaf or two would be nice) and soften very gently, not allowing anything to brown.  Add the wine and turn up the heat a little bit, to reduce it all by about half.  Add the cream and bubble for another minute.  Turn the heat to low and whisk in the butter, a little at a time, until it’s all incorporated.  Strain the sauce into a warm bowl (throw out the onion/peppercorns) until the peas/beans are ready, then return to the pan, and toss together gently.

Sorry there’s no picture, but we gobbled before we remembered.

Harvesting: gooseberries and garlic

June 2, 2008

Mm, what a combination.  First: gooseberries.  All we did was plant the young bush (autumn), fed with plenty of manure at the roots, and netted it once the berries appeared (not sure it’s necessary).  You are supposed to prune to maintain a ‘goblet’ shape, with a space in the middle so you can reach in without getting scratched.

Gooseberry invicta

In total, they came to 4oz – enough for 2 crumbles in ramekins.  I cooked the berries very gently with 3tbsp homemade elderflower cordial (more on that soon) and topped with Delia’s standard crumble mixture (something like 1tbsp butter, 1tbsp sugar, 2-3 tbsp flour), into hot oven for 15-20 mins.  Not much of a crop!  But according to the T&M website, ‘Invicta’ should yield 5-6lb (20 times what we picked) when mature.  Jam could be a long wait… Still, we won’t go hungry with all this garlic….
Garlic and shallots on the plot
It’s not supposed to be ready, really, but it is – look at those yellow old leaves.  I lifted one and it was beautifully plump and cloved, so they all came out – replaced with a line of leek seed (horribly, horribly late).  (In The Good Life, Tom and Barbara planted 96 leeks.  We have about 15, so we need all the leek space we can get.)  I think we might actually have enough garlic for the year, now.  I planted just one pack (two heads) of garlic and every single blessed clove has fattified and delicified over the cold winter.  Aren’t they clever?  I continue to be amazed at the magic of growing.  I suppose it will wear off soon enough…

A few more things we got done on the weekend:
– Planted courgette plants
– Covered the fruit cage with netting (£30ish from garden centre)
– Watered Nematodes onto the potato, strawberry, salad and runner beds
– Strew straw around the strawberries
– Transplanted squash plants between the runners (1m apart)
– Planted sweetcorn plants (in a block, not a line)
– Planted tomato plantlets in the fruit cage (behind raspberries)
– Built a pond!  About 2mx1m with plenty of interesting tubes, shelters and nooks around the edges (for frogs, newts and hedgehogs).  This should reverse the bad karma we got for upsetting frogs on the plot.  We’re waiting for rain to fill it – pictures to follow.
– Cut back the saladini, hard, and harvested more broad beans.

Weeding the strawberries

May 28, 2008

Raspberries and strawberriesMmmm, our strawberry crop is coming…. Cambridge Early, Florence and Honeye, although I’ve not figured out which is the earliest yet, since they all seem to be coming into fruit. 

There’s me!  I was allocated weeding last night while Deputy Gardener propped and shot, and Holly (pooch) scampered around with bits of plastic bottle (huh, what else has she been eating?!).  The fruit cage isn’t covered yet – first job on saturday, to save our strawberries… and I am fretting about pea moth, too… gah, monsters.

The plot does have a healthy frog population which, I have come to realise, is to account for the extra-super-healthy salad beds (yum, yum, yum) and which we are delighted about.  We eat soooo much salad all year that this is a great saving, and we’ve never EVER managed to grow salad in the garden.  The solution is, obviously, to get frogs and sow saladini by the handful. 

Ooh, here’s another gratuitous strawberry shot.  Don’t look at that weed, will you.  I missed a few.

Strawberries in fruit cage on the plot