Courgetti Spaghetti

I hope there is a glut of English courgettes this year, I have so many great recipes I want to try out now that I’ve got a brand new gadget that turns a courgette into spaghetti or linguine, either will do. spiraliser

Meet the spiraliser, it seems to be this years top kitchen gadget; looks like an egg timer with a bite: teeth either side for variable cutting thickness.

Turns out spirals of courgette makes for a really good pasta substitute if like me you’re cutting down on the carbs. And so long as you don’t over cook the courgetti so that it stays firm and doesn’t go limp, it really does have a good structure (like pasta) to hold together whatever else you want to add.

courgettiI’d say stir fry for a few seconds not minutes just long enough to toss around the pan, in my case a wok with a teaspoon of oil until it’s hot. Turn off the heat and then add other ingredients.

My recipe is a minty summery mix of 1 large courgette, a handful of peas, another handful of mint, 2 tspn of lemon juice, 1 tspn of lemon zest, pinch of salt, pop an edible flower on top and that’s it.Courgetti Peas Mint

 

Creamy Crab Linguine

 

 

 

 

 

Another recipe I love with courgette is Crab and Avocado Linguine from Amelia Freer’s blog. I’m enjoying her book, Eat, Nourish, Glow, life lessons on how to eat well and mindfully. She writes about grace around food, and asks the reader ‘what kind of eater are you?’. Well I never really thought about that but it’s a really good question. I’d say I’m a greedy eater. Greedy for good wholesome food but as the scales show, you can have too much good food. ‘Indulge on life, not food,’ she says. Yeah I’m up for that. So out goes the pasta and in with all the courgettes I can eat, well not literally but the season will be here soon and it will be fun trying out different recipes, mindfully I should add. Did I mention the flowers? Totally decadent, but only in moderation, of course.

Domani

Back in May I planted out three courgette plants. One didn’t make it but the other two are bearing a fantastic crop.

Over the last two weeks there’s been enough for several feastings. O-M-Gosh, the best part is cooking and eating the flowers. A courgette or zucchini, same thing, is the immature fruit, like a swollen ovary behind the big blousey, yellow female flower.

A clever plant that produces male and female flowers at the same time, convenient for pollination if you’ve only got room for one plant. The male flowers wiggle around on long stems intent on attracting passing insects.

I haven’t seen any bees in my garden since before all that rain so it must be other insects pollinating the plants. I often find ants inside the flowers so maybe that’s it. That means I’ve probably cooked and eaten a few.

I followed Hugh Fearless Whittingstall’s recipe on how to cook the flowers in a batter, but opted out of the cheese filling because I wanted a ‘virgin’ experience since this was my first time ‘eating flowers’.

He’s right this is the most exquisite and delicious, gorgeous vegetable you can put in your mouth. A couple of years ago during a long stay in Rome, I curiously watched housewives buy zucchini flowers by the boxful from the local food market in Testaccio. My loss for not finding out there and then what those women knew about eating the lotus flower.

A plate full of lightly battered courgette flowers served with a couple of tasty dips and a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio at lunch time, and you’d want to put off the rest of the day until tomorrow.

 

 

 

Turning Over a New Leaf

Too many grey skies and dreary weather (please note I’m not complaining about the rain) has meant too much comfort eating of late (blame it on . . . see above), so it’s a green salad lunch for me.

Time to head out to the garden and harvest the first crop of salad leaves from the Riverford veg to grow range together with a few hand picked leaves from the Norfolk herb mint collection (apple, lime, orange). I’ve managed to keep all the seedlings alive since they arrived five weeks ago in April. The spring onions in the box next to the lettuce are a bit weedy, they need re-homing to get more growing room.

The rocket has sprouted a flower head, best nip that in the bud to encourage more leaf growth. According to the BBC web site lack of water encourages the plant to put its energy into producing flowers. Water supply is down to me as I’m still hand rearing some of the veg plants until it warms up but overcrowding is probably stressing plants that have reached the limits of their pots. Behind the rocket, the beetroot plants are pushing on as are the cabbage, rainbow chard, mustard, tomato and kohlrabi. Investing in the cool cupboard (sold as a mini greenhouse, out of season) has paid off during our very chilly spring. But it is time to move most of the the plants on.

Anyway back to lunch. Choice of the day: Halloumi cheese sliced and cooked in olive oil with a few capers added seems like a worthy accompaniment to my first, hand picked, home made salad AND three flavours of mint. A splash of red pepper that’s been skinned alive (charred under the grill until the black crispy skin peels away) turns my lunch into a visual feast.

Always worth the effort to rustle up fresh dressing: 1 tsp of grain mustard, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 3 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp apple juice + seasoning

Tasting so many different kinds of leaves in one salad is novel and the lime, apple and orange mint flavours punctuate each mouthful like lots of little exclamation marks!

 

The Hungry Gap

Between the end of winter veg and the arrival of summer veg there are a few weeks without much English seasonal food around. Filling the gap this week in my veg box: Spanish asparagus, tomatoes and calabrese.

AND, a big bonus of three organic fruits and half a dozen eggs from Riverford to make up for the damage in transit last week to my box of veg to grow. Appreciated!

No question of what to eat first . . . it has to be the asparagus. I always approach asparagus with a great anticipation of pleasure.

As I don’t have a steamer I placed the asparagus in shallow boiling water, then simmered for a couple of minutes after cutting about an inch off the end stalks. Serve with a knob of butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

My first taste of asparagus was April 1979 whilst on a business trip to Vienna with my then, Austrian boss. He told me, ‘there’s no better time, or place on earth, to eat your first asparagus than here during Spargel Saison’. I can’t remember anything about that trip other than celebrating this fact and consequently, eating asparagus at all the restaurants we dined at and going through the wine list to find the perfect accompaniment.

That kind of initiation with a native and an expense account, spoils one for everywhere else one is likely to encounter asparagus.

As for the Spanish variety, I’d give it a low 5 and expect this season’s English to come up to a 7 or 8 when it arrives. That’s about as good as it gets here. I know because every year I’m left with a certain kind of longing afterwards, for something better.

Top Tip. Unsalted butter is usually cheaper than salted varieties so worth keeping a supply just for cooking.


Real Fast Food @ The Watercress Festival

It was food heaven on the streets of Alresford today. The broad streets of this picturesque English market town were full of people marketing (in the real sense of the word) and cooking their own produce for people with an appetite for real food, by that I mean food that hasn’t been tampered with by all sorts of substances I wouldn’t normally keep in my kitchen cupboard, or processed to death in a factory.

 

There was a fabulous amount of choice and enterprise amongst the stall holders, a feast for hungry eyes.

The Isle of Wight came up trumps with some very fancy looking mushrooms, garlic and asparagus which I had to buy.

 

I’m always on a quest to compare and contrast my taste for asparagus. And for my supper I steamed it and served with lots of fresh leaves from my garden. Now that’s what I call real fast food. A well deserved 8 out of 10 for the asparagus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not all Hampshire food at the festival, a few neighbours had managed to cross the border.

 

 

 

This is jam heaven, a business entirely dedicated to one of my must have cupboard ingredients: Chilli Jam and not just one variant but lots of them as well as chutneys. How about one called Pearfection or a sauce called Mean Green?

I’d be in word heaven if it was my job to come up with all those product names. As the sign says: It’s cool to be hot!

Apart from a few men in black trying to look mean, the mood on the streets was festive. Real food events seem to lift everyone’s spirits; helped along by a rocking good jazz band and imbibation of local ales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My debut into the World Watercress Soup Championship was Watercress and Wild Garlic (discovered in my local woodland), sadly not a winning combo. The winning soup for the traditional recipe was made with shallots and the winner of the speciality soup, called Soupe Henri Louis so named after the glug of Pernod that went into it. Congratulations to both winners! I had to say that didn’t I?

Sophie Grigson was out on the street cooking up interest on the many ways with watercress. I managed to get a taste of the Watercress and Onion Bhajee with fresh watercress coconut chutney as it went round. It was amazing, I’ll be trying that at home, more on than later.

That’s Sophie on the left, behind the smoke and mirrors doing a great job entertaining us with her food stories.

It was a grand day out!

 

 

Rabi, it’s Kohl Outside

I’m staring at the weird and wonderful kohlrabi and wondering what on earth am I going to do with it.

 

 

 

 

And then I hear this little voice, ‘Baby, it’s cold outside, you know what you really, really want is a big bowl of hot steamy tomato soup straight out of a Campbell’s tin with several slices of thick white chunky bread slathered in butter’.

At moments like this I have to turn away and consult the Oracle. Third up on Google: Hugh Fernleaf Whittingstall, Hugh calls it a ‘vegetable sputnik’ but is a fan and turned his into a good looking Carpaccio (clock that for next time). Checking Riverford’s farm cook book sparked the idea of turning mine into an English variation of Som Tam aka Thai Green Papaya Salad.

I thrived on Som Tam during the three months I lived in Pakkred, just north of Bangkok. The local food vendors at the end of the road where I bought my dinner most nights could tell how long us ‘falangs’ (foreigners) had been in Thailand by the number of chillies we could handle in our Som Tam. Starting at one on the first week, you knew you were fully acclimatised the day you could hold up three fingers and ask for the equivalent number of chillies. Like many Thai dishes, Som Tam combines sweet, salty, spicy (hot) and sour ingredients all of which help to regulate the body’s temperature in a tropical climate.

With a leap of imagination I’m sure my improv version will increase body temperature without going comatose for the rest of the day as I would flat out on white bread and tinned soup.

Take: 1 kohlrabi, 2 carrots, 1 garlic clove, juice of 1 lime, 1 tbsp fish sauce, 2 tsp chilli jam, 1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter, coriander leaves

Peel the kohlrabi and cut into thin strips. Coarse grate the carrots. I started to grate the kohlrabi but it collapsed into a soggy mess.

What I’m after is a good crunchy texture like green papaya. The kohlrabi is a hybrid veg somewhere between a turnip and a cabbage stalk (how appealing does that sound?). But don’t be put off I think this is a FAB veg, very versatile and I like its clean taste. It works with this recipe because it takes on all the delicious flavours. It can be whatever you want it to be, that’s its secret.

Som Tam contains chopped roasted peanuts, instead I used a good quality crunchy peanut butter and mixed it with fresh lime juice and Thai fish sauce (Blue Elephant brand). I added finely chopped garlic and 2 tsp of home made chilli jam (very sweet so no sugar needed). Otherwise add chopped chillies (up to you how many) and a tspn of soft brown sugar. (Small chopped tomatoes and dried shrimps are usual in this recipe but not today.)

Good idea to mix chilli jam, peanut butter, lime juice and fish sauce together in a separate bowl and taste so you can adjust the flavour to how you like it before mixing it into the veg. Fish sauce is very salty, no extra seasoning required. Mix all the ingredients together with salad servers and it’s ready. I finished mine off with a few leaves from my Vietnamese coriander plant. Very satisfying to make and even more satisfying to eat!

Last word: Apparently kohl is German for cabbage and rabi means turnip. This veg crops up all over the place especially in Eastern Europe, Asia and in some parts, cattle are rather partial to eating it. Looking forward to eating my home grown variety: Azur Star in a couple of months.

 

One Legged Food

‘Eating what stands on one leg (mushrooms and plant foods) is better than eating what stands on two legs (fowl), which is better than eating what stands on four legs (cows, pigs and other mammals)’. So says a Chinese proverb offering traditional wisdom on a healthy diet. But what stand should we take on fish with no legs?

Advice about what and how to eat probably benefit those who publish more than the folks who read them. When the Blood Type Diet came out in the 1990s, it seemed to explain something that I’d already figured out for myself. An O blood type person, like me, should eat meat and forget wheat. O types, according to Eat Right 4 Your Type, come from a line of foragers and hunter gathers who lived in the northern hemisphere and what they needed was lots of protein. It’s true, wheat and I don’t get along and I do get along with meat in moderation and I get along even better eating lots of veg and fruit. The blood type diet has since been rubbished by the established medical experts.

Probably the best way to eat is to let common sense be our guide and trust our guts to know what we need. The Food Rules book is a good source of common sense, like Rule No. 20 ‘It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car’, (unless it’s road kill but let’s not go there).

These days I’m so busy eating vegetables every which way just to keep up with my veg box, I haven’t got time to think about meat. Which brings me back nicely to the three varieties of one legged food in my box this week: mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower. All good for a fast food lunch.

Steam green and white florets whilst flashing the mushrooms in a drop of oil around a hot wok. Add steamed veg, toss with mushrooms for a minute or two then sprinkle dark soy sauce (or any other sauce you fancy). Toss a bit more and it’s ready to serve. Add carbs to suit maybe a portion of rice, couscous, quinoa or if in a hurry, hurry drop a handful of noodles into boiling water, wait a couple more minutes until they’ve gone soft and plump, drain, serve, eat.

The Squash Exchange

This week there’s a polite notice in the box about an alien species of squash called Kabocha, aka Japanese pumkin, standing in for the English Butternut squash. Wikipedia describes it as strong, sweet, moist and fluffy like chestnuts and a good candidate for tempura. Yes! Great idea, let’s give it a try.

Tamper with your Tempura

Let me count the ways to make tempura. A long search on the internet provided too many variations on the subject so I made up a recipe according to my rule of what’s in the cupboard. Since this is a way of cooking from Japan I used rice flour mixed with corn flour and avoided the problem of over mixing and activating the gluten in wheat flour which could make the batter chewy, apparently. Not sure what corn flour does but I spotted it in one variation and decided to add it to my experiment.  All the recipes I found included ice cold water, with or without fizz and some called for baking soda. Beer ticks all those boxes so I opened a cold bottle of Peroni, used half and drank the rest.

Kabocha Tempura

Take: 1 small pumpkin or squash, 75g rice flour, 75g cornflour, 180ml very cold light beer, 1 egg, enough cooking oil for deep frying, I used peanut oil which is suited to hot frying and doesn’t effect the flavour of the food.

1 Place flours in a large mixing bowl. Crack egg into the middle and pour in beer. Lightly mix with a hand whisk. Lumps in the batter are good to get the characteristic knobbly crunchy look. However mine turned out to be a very smooth affair. (Note to self: try it without cornflour next time.) Keep the batter cool in the fridge and then tackle the pumpkin.

2 Removing the skin with a sharp veg peeler worked better than trying to do it with a knife. Cut the pumpkin into thin slices after removing the insides. Lay the slices on a plate and sprinkle with rice flour as it helps the batter stick to the surface of the vegetable.

3 Heat the oil in a deep pan. I used a wok. Dip a slice of pumpkin in the batter and drop carefully into the oil. If it sizzles and fizzes the temperature of the oil is hot enough otherwise wait a bit before adding the next slice. Fry a few pieces at a time and lift out when the batter has turned golden. Place all the cooked pieces on kitchen paper to absorb the oil. (Remove the loose batter bits as you go otherwise they burn and spoil the oil.)

I was surprised how quickly and well the pumpkin cooked. This batter works even without all the knobbly bits and tastes delicious with a typical crispy lightness you expect with tempura cooked food. And yes it did remind me of the taste of chestnuts and yummy dipped in dark soy sauce or Nigella’s home-made Chilli Jam.

How do you tamper with your tempura?

 

 

Spring Box

This week’s box: Lettuce and tomatoes, squash and red cabbage, carrots and potatoes

The very bright green frilly lettuce perched on top of the box is saying, ‘Eat Me! Eat me now, don’t put me in the fridge or I’ll wither and die’. As it happens we’re having a random hot day here in Hampshire, perfectly timed for a lunch time salad using leftover roast chicken and potatoes from this week’s box. I’m going to dress it all up with fresh Coriander Chutney. That will put a ZING into what feels like the first day of Spring but it won’t last so I’d better make the most of it and get the mower out after lunch.

Don’t know why but the veg box delivery slipped a day this week. Just as well. Yesterday was not the weather for salad or grass cutting. All these things happen for a reason.

Since my Veg Box Rules declaration, I’ve started using my cook books and have discovered a trove of treasure in ye olde recipe books. The recipe for Coriander Chutney comes from the Good Housekeeping book of Preserves which I love for its novel concoctions. (Anyone for Kumquat Mincemeat? Hats off to all daring housekeepers.) I would have called this a relish but I’m told chutney and relish are interchangeable definitions. Given the aliveness of the ingredients I’m re-naming it Coriander Relish and being one for relishing words, I like the way the relish word does what it says.

Fresh Coriander Chutney Relish

Take: 100g fresh coriander, 1 small onion, 2 fresh green chillies (seeded), 2.5cm  fresh root ginger, 1 level tsp salt (I used half the amount), 2 tbsp lime juice, 1 level tbs desiccated coconut

The fast option is to blitz all the ingredients in a food processor otherwise take the chop wood, carry water approach and chop everything according to its size, shape and character then combine the ingredients by hand for a more interesting texture and satisfying life. I’m loving the lingering fragrance of fresh limes and ginger on my fingers and the smell of fresh chopped grass wafting outdoors as I mow (eat your heart out Jo Malone). How delicious that the combination of all these things are available here in the middle of February.