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.

Meals on Fire

I make no apology for another Thai inspired, heat inducing, salad. The days are still chilly. This one starts with home grown broad beans and my new favourite vegetable: kholrabi `Azur Star’ from the veg to grow box.

What a nice tidy habit it has sitting there waiting to be plucked out of the ground and straight into a salad. Even the leaves won’t go to waste. It has to be one of the best convenience foods you can grow.

I have to say Jim’s broad beans didn’t look that appetising, all covered in black aphids but close up the infestation is only superficial and the beans inside are perfect in their blankety bed.

I pushed a few of the smaller beans whole, through the bean slicer (brilliant invention) and increased the bean count with a handful of nice fat beans from this week’s veg box.

Peeling the kholrabi and slicing into thin strips was a joy (cooks call it julienning) it’s oh, so fresh. I added a tin of organic chick peas to give more substance and texture, and combined all together with a salad dressing based on the Thai Som Tam recipe:

Take: 1 tbsp roasted salted peanuts, or 1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter, 1 tbsp lime juice, red chillies, chopped and de-seeded according to how much fire you like in your salad, 1 tbsp fish sauce and a clove of garlic, chopped. 1 tsp of chilli jam or sugar/honey to sweeten.

Slip all the goodies into a jam jar and shake rattle and roll until all the flavours have turned into one big party, make sure the lid is on tight, otherwise make a less frenetic version and frisk it all up in a bowl.

To finish I sprinkled a few chopped leaves from my Vietnamese coriander plant. This dish has all sorts of potential to be be played up or down on flavour. Just pick a country and run with your imagination. Let me know if you do … every cook has their own favourite dressing, I’d love to hear yours.

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!

 

A Right Royal Salad

Here’s another recipe on trial (ahead of publication) from Flo’s book Feeding Orchids to the Slugs.

I’m making Quinoa Salad. Of course I resist the correct pronunciation which is keen wah salad and say it the way I read it in English: Queen Noah Salad. I shall adopt this one as not only is it a rather special dish but the ingredients remind me of another exotic dish, the middle eastern pilaf which you’ll find versions of all over the world. Anyway on with Flo’s recipe.

Take: 2 cups of quinoa, quarter of a cup of unsalted, shelled pistachios, 1 medium red onion, slice thinly, two thirds cup of olive oil, grated zest and juice of 1 orange, half a cup of unsulphured dried apricots, chopped, 2 handfuls of rocket or baby spinach, salt and pepper.

Roast the pistachios to bring out their flavour, either in a medium oven or dry roast them in a frying pan for a few minutes. Roughly chop and set aside.

Zest and juice the orange. Slice the apricots and leave to soak in the orange juice.

Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under flowing water until it runs clear. I cooked 2 cups of quinoa in 2 cups of boiling water and simmered until all the water had gone. I didn’t salt the water. You want to keep the tiny seed grains whole and avoid overcooking into a mush. It should be tender with a grainy texture, like couscous. Spread out on a baking tray and rake over with a fork to let the air dry it out as it cools down and stops cooking.

Fry the sliced red onion in olive oil, cook in a heavy based pan, until brown and a little crispy and caramelised. Leave in the pan with the oil to cool.

In a serving bowl combine quinoa, onion and oil from the pan and pistachio nuts. Drain the apricots, add to the salad. Use the juice to combine with the olive oil, zest and seasoning, mix well and pour over the salad. Add the rocket or spinach leaves to the salad or serve separately. The colour, texture and flavour of rocket combines well with the ingredients. I also think mint would complement the flavours. The orange juice and zest in this recipe is a masterstroke as it cuts through the sweetness of onion and apricot whilst bringing out the earthy flavour of the quinoa.

As with pilaf, quinoa salad can be served hot or cold, on its own or with another dish such as a meat or vegetable tagine. Don’t know why but the finished dish looks very feminine on close inspection. If you click on the photo above to enlarge the image, you’ll see what I mean. The quinoa seeds have expanded into a ripe fullness and released a little tail sprout not unlike frogs spawn (don’t let that put you off). Intriguing . . . and then there’s little wisps of orange zest, pieces of apricot, red onion and green pistachio nuts. Colourful, complex, mysterious and delicious. Well deserving of the title: Queen Noah salad.

Flo says if you’re lucky enough to find red quinoa, buy it. It’s even more delicious than the pale version you’ll find in supermarkets and health food shops. Quinoa has been identified as a super food due to it’s nutritional value. It works well as a lean alternative to cereal and pasta based salads.

Flo’s book is due out in November. Meanwhile I’ll be reporting next on her Lentil Cottage Pie.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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.