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!

 

Virtual Foraging

Yesterday a friend likened my shopping habit on line for stuff to eat as virtual foraging. I like the sound of that. My foraging on line this week bagged me an impressive collection of cosmopolitan herbs from Norfolk Herbs to grow at home, including a pungent spicy Vietnamese Coriander, and several Mint varieties: Moroccan, Apple, Lime and Orange. What a lovely selection for making tea or sloshing around in a jug of Pimms. The herbs arrived by post as little plugs, each packed in its own plastic cocooned micro climate ready for planting on into pots. The packaging will come in handy for growing other seeds. Tick the box on recycling and tick another box for local sourcing (from Norfolk to my garden) versus shop bought produce air freighted from wherever. Add several ticks for self righteous smugness. Let’s hope everything in the garden grows then I might have the right to be smug simply for the joy of growing my own food!

The beauty of these little herbs, all eighteen in total is the sheer variety that I wouldn’t have found foraging around in local shops or garden centres.

Looking forward to the warmer days ahead and genuinely excited for the time when I can plant out and get my herb garden started. (Never done this before.) Meanwhile the kitchen floor serves as the indoor nursery where the Vietnamese Coriander is galloping ahead. Unlike the the flat leaf Coriander I am used to buying from a supermarket, the Vietnamese is a perennial and should survive the winter if I bring it indoors and treat it like a house plant. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Watch this space.

 

Feeding Orchids to the Slugs

My late father-in-law, an orchid fancier and cultivator of rare orchids, would have turned in his grave at the thought of feeding slugs anything other than poison. No doubt, he would also have been puzzled by a new book, due in November, titled Feeding Orchids to the Slugs written by Florencia Clifford, a Zen cook with a very different take on slugs and their place in the circle of life.

Ahead of publication about twenty members of Vala Publishing, have been invited to test Florencia’s recipes. There’s a sneak preview of some of the dishes over on Vala’s Facebook page. Here’s the one I tested:

with this recipe I had the pleasure of discovering three new ingredients (Tamari, Mirin and Lovage) in Florencia’s Mushroom and Lovage Stew:

1 punnet of button mushrooms, 4-6 Portobello mushrooms, 2 celery stalks, 3 carrots, 4 garlic cloves, 2 medium onions, 1/3 cup of Tamari sauce, 1 tbsp of Mirin, Lovage, olive oil, vegetable stock. Serves 4

Roughly chop onions, celery and carrots into chunks. Quick fry button mushrooms whole or halved, in a wok with the olive oil. Cook in small batches and remove.

Chop the large mushrooms into thick slices and cook gently, keep them on the move. Mushrooms are thirsty, top up on oil as you go, avoid overcooking, they need to stay firm at this stage.

In a large cook pot with lid, heat olive oil and gently cook onions until soft. Add carrots and celery, cover and sweat just a few minutes. Add mushrooms, then garlic, stir, add Tamari sauce and Mirin.

(Tamari is a more wholesome, unadulterated form of soy sauce (wheat free) and Mirin is a Japanese sweet rice (wine) seasoning, apparently ideal for sushi and tempura dishes.)

Now is the time to add the vegetable stock, how much depends on whether you prefer your stew with more or less liquid. I added enough so the top layer of vegetables were just above the sauce. Tamari is already salty so taste the veg stock for saltiness and dilute as you like. Bring up to heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Check the carrot and celery to see if cooked but not too soft.

Allow to rest awhile before serving and allow the flavours to sip into each other and the juices to become inky. Add fresh or dried Lovage before serving.

In my neck of the woods I didn’t find lovage, dried or fresh. Thankfully, Vala’s resourceful editor, Sarah sent a small consignment in the post from Bristol.

Having already put the word out a friend discovered a single plant, pot bound and struggling for life in a local garden centre and brought it round in the middle of my recipe testing. How’s that for timing?

I’m glad I got to taste it fresh, the flavour is like celery only sweeter. The roots can be eaten like a vegetable or grated on salad. It’s a vigorous perennial and needs a lot of growing room. I added about half of this packet to the stew but couldn’t really taste it; a handful of chopped fresh Lovage would complement and balance the strength of flavours exceptionally well.

Making Florencia’s recipe has been a lovely collaborative, co-operative triumph (in the true spirit of Vala publishing) and, as for the finished dish, I have to say I was skeptical about calling it a stew, when it has no meat. But this is a delicious, rich, flavoursome meal without the heaviness of meat. The combination of two different mushrooms provides interesting textures, as well as structure and picks up on all the complex flavours from the Tamari and Mirin. I should also add, get hold of the best quality olive oil you can afford as the mushrooms are greedy consumers of whatever you throw at them and you will be able to taste, and see the difference.

I will be adding this recipe to my list of favourite hearty meals; it would go well with a big dollop of creamy mashed potatoes served in winter. Can’t wait to see this recipe in Florencia’s book and discover what really goes on with those slugs!

 

 

 

 

 

Every Living Thing

In between showers this bank holiday weekend I moved the veg plants into their new homes: the Wall Patch (raised bed), the Salad Basket (trendy hazel wood patio container bought in a sale), overflow of potatoes (Amorosa x 2) tastefully planted in a flower bed alongside the Wall Patch and resembling a burial mound for a departed pet, complete with marker. There is also a Berry Bed (work in progress) for three flavours of currants awaiting a transplant. Note to self: don’t take on too much if as I have discovered you are a fair weather gardener or else put on the wet weather gear and get over it. As for the tomato plants and herbs they are all enjoying more space in the cool cupboard while I come up with an alternative address.

During showers I took to the sofa and carried on reading about a missionary who drags his family off to the African Congo in 1959, intent on taming every living thing:

‘But my father needs permission only from the Saviour who obviously is all in favour of subduing the untamed wilderness for a garden. He beat down a square of tall grass and wild pink flowers . . . and he began to rip out long handfuls of grass in quick energetic jerks as though tearing hair out of the world . . . to hack out a square dominion over the jungle, surely and soon to have tomatoes and beans coming out our ears.’

Well he didn’t get those things coming out of his ears instead it all ended in tears and a lot of things dying.

And I am trying to do the same, without the violence against nature, reading books (not all novels), reading the notes that came with my seedlings and¬†searching the internet. George Monbiot (vegetable evangelist and nuisance to the government) has lots of good advice: keep compost heap hidden at least 10 feet away from your veg or every living thing in the garden will come and help themselves to your food. And why wouldn’t they?

Learning by doing is my preferred method of going about things but a plan is good and taking time to get organised could pay off quicker than jumping in.

So here’s my plan for the Wall Patch and one for the Salad Basket.

 

This is how it looks on the ground and the plan was made after planting (courgettes on the left, broad beans on the right) because that’s the way round I discovered the free trial for planning on the Veg Grow website.

I like the way it provides a space to hold the whole project all together and I can see at a glance order out of chaos, meaning all my scribbled notes and good intentions are now in one place. It’s free for a month and then ¬£15 annual subscription if I decide to go with it.

Box to Grow Challenge

As if whole veg in a box delivered to my doorstep weren’t enough I’ve now taken on the challenge of growing my own veg starting with the Riverford box to grow kit.

Somewhere in-between Devon and my door step the box has taken a bit of a shake up as the seedlings were all over the place when I opened the box.

After some salvage work and re-settlement into pots I think most will survive. (Each seedling appears to be growing out of a chocolate brownie.) Apart from the lettuces, spring onions and tomatoes, it’s hard to tell what’s what as the scramble in the box doesn’t match the layout on the paper plan. Ho hum . . . all part of the fun!

Anyway as far as I know the box contains: courgette, beetroot, rainbow chard, green cabbage, mustard, khol rabi, cucumber, rocket, red and green batavia lettuce and spring onion plus tomato plants and 2 packets of seeds: radish and sugar snap peas. Plus herbs: parsley and coriander, a few Charlotte potatoes and a few of something else I can’t remember. I have a list somewhere . . .

Last week I picked up a few wooden boxes from the local wine shop for growing-on the seedlings before they’re big enough to transfer into the veg bed. After that I’ll use the boxes for re-homing the herbs and then they can be put out in the garden.

Ten days on and most of the plants are getting along fine in the outdoor cupboard. The herbs from Norfolk have moved out of my kitchen onto the bottom shelf (except the Vietnamese Coriander who only goes out when it’s warm sunny). So far only two plants (in pots) out of the box haven’t made it, by a process of deduction they must be cucumbers.

Last but not least, here are a couple of seedlings grown from the Riverford organic Kabocha pumpkin that I served up Japanese style back in February. How marvelous! It feels great to have a hand in the circle of life. So far so good.

Last word: It’s official the water company supplying my part of Hampshire have announced a hose pipe ban. There goes another challenge to the veg to grow: how to collect and save water for the plants.

A Potato by Any Other Name

Before I discovered potatoes had proper names and real character traits like the Amorosa that ended up in a cake all because of certain fleshy attributes, the full extent of my knowledge about potato varieties ran from Jerseys, King Edwards, Whites to a Maris Piper. A potato was a potato and a boring, tasteless one at that unless it was a Jersey.

Now organic potatoes arrive in brown paper bags clearly labelled as to what’s inside and where they come from and then I find out from the Riverford newsletter that there’s a reason why a particular variety is available at certain times of the year and how best to cook it. And then I discover that I can taste the difference between my Cosmos and my Amorosa, organic of course. The potato is my new best friend. RESPECT!

When I told Jim, my neighbour I was chitting potatoes to grow in my garden, he gave me a pat on the shoulder and a big smile. Welcome to the club, he said. To date, I’ve been given a dozen dwarf broad bean plants and lent two books.

Jim said he’d never heard of the Amorosa and we didn’t find it in his book, Potato but we did find the other variety I’m growing: Red Duke of York from the Netherlands originally, born 1842 and quite rare. Apparently not unlike the Amorosa in appearance, also from the Netherlands (now growing in Hampshire and perhaps in my garden too if the specimens from my veg box are successful) but a relative newcomer: long, oval very red skin with light tasty yellow flesh. I shall compare and contrast in due course.

Last word: There are 36 pages of named potatoes from around the world in the Potato book, starting with Ajax and ending with Yukon Gold. In the middle of all that is the Red Pontiac. If you can name a nail polish Black Cherry Chutney, there’s no good reason not to name a potato after a car.