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.

 

 

 

Riverford Calling …

Forget Avon and Tupperware parties think Green and Wholesome. Think Lunch with friends on the house!

There have been many delicious and surprising happenings since starting out with my weekly organic veg box. 

The most recent one was, when Riverford Organic Farms came calling and invited me to host a lunch. They provided the food, (organic veg in boxes, delivered the day before) the cook and six recipes, all I had to do was gather up a dozen, or so friends. Well that wasn’t too difficult and better still, my friend, Sarah offered her lovely big kitchen, as the place where we would all gather to watch the action, chat and chop, if required.

Sancha, arrived sharply at 9.30 with her own knives, wrapped in something like a jewellery roll, naturally I was curious, a bag full of kitchen cupboard food items and a head full of interesting recipes planned for our menu of the day:

To start with Crushed Cumin Carrots Crostini as finger food followed by: Sweet Potato & Barley Salad, Smoky Sweetcorn Salad, Leek & Cabbage Gratin, Cauliflower & Feta Salad and Roasted Broccoli & Romanesque. Here’s two of the recipes that Sancha prepared:

To make the Carrot Crostini (or Bruschetta) start with slices of sour bread, place on a baking tray and sprinkle with a little oil and place in a medium oven until baked crispy. If in a hurry make toast. Take a large bunch of carrots, wash, trim and cut into batons, layout on a roasting tin, sprinkle with crushed cumin seeds (first, bash them about a bit with pestle and mortar) and a little olive oil and roast until caramelised for about 25 minutes at 180 C. Lightly toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry frying pan. Mash the roasted carrots roughly with a fork, add pine nuts, spread on bread. Top with fresh mint and a little fresh lemon juice. Very delicious and very unexpected, who would have thought of mashed carrots on toast? This would go down very well served with a crisp Italian white wine as an aperitivo … Ooh yes let’s have one of those and soon!

Sweet Potato & Barley Salad was an interesting combo of flavours, colours and textures and very wholesome too, what’s not to like?

Take: 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed, 1 tbs olive oil, 250g pearl barley, 200g cherry tomatoes, 1 head of broccoli, floretted and steamed, 1 small red onion, 1 tbs capers, handful of pitted black olives, 1 bunch of basil chopped.

Dressing: 5 tbs Balsamic vinegar, 6 tbs olive oil, 1 tbs Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.

Place sweet potato on baking tray, drizzle with oil. Bake at 180 C about 25 minutes until tender and slightly charred edges.

Rinse barley in cold water, boil for approx. 30 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Drain.

Make the dressing. Add to cooked barley, stir and leave to cool. Add remaining ingredients and serve. This is one of those dishes that can go on for days. Make a large batch, keeps well in the fridge for fast food lunches or meals on the run.

Smoky Sweetcorn Salad

Leek & Cabbage Gratin and Cauliflower & Feta Salad in the foreground.

Pudding (off menu) was an impromptu affair made with my home grown apples, a sprinkling of crumble, one I made earlier and served with a big jug of hot custard, out of a convenient carton … we tried not to have too many cooks in the kitchen!

If you’re interested in hosting a Riverford lunch and spreading the word about cooking and eating organic vegetables, even trying your own veg box (be part of the revolution), Riverford would love to hear from you. Contact Kirsty Hale, Riverford Cooks organiser at the farm on 01803 762019 or email kirstyhale@riverford.co.uk.

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.

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?