Soupe au Pistou

I never like to admit it, but I am a bit behind on my veg box. I seem to have been so busy with work and kids and endless things that they need for school before the end on term, that I am constantly pushed for time. This is one of my favourite soups, a French version of the better known Minestrone. I first remember seeing Soupe au Pistou in Marie Claire magazine probably about 30 years ago, when the food writer was a little known guy called Nigel Slater. I can still remember the photos and it looked so simple yet sophisticated.

What is great is, although it takes a little time to make what with all the chopping, it uses up lots of veg. You can be experimental with the ingredients but I piled in heaps of onion, celery, carrots, courgettes and broad beans.

If you too are pushed for time you can buy ready cooked beans and even buy some good quality pesto rather than make your own.

Soupe au Pistou

Soupe au Pistou

Try to have all the vegetables diced about the same size, which makes for a nice presentation. Of course, you can vary the vegetables according to what’s available. If you wish to use canned beans, use 1 400g tin on haricot or cannellini beans. For vegans, leave out the Parmesan.

For the soup

1 cup (200g) dried beans (haricot or cannellini) or 400g tin of beans

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, peeled and diced, or 4 leeks, cleaned and sliced

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or dried oregano

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

2 medium courgettes, diced

200g shelled  broad beans

200g fresh shelled peas (or frozen)

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced or thinly slice

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

100g dried pasta; any small variety will do, such as orzo, vermicelli, elbows, or shells

For the pistou

1 large clove of garlic, peeled

pinch of salt

2 cups (40g) packed fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil

1 small tomato; peeled, seeded, and diced

1 1/2 ounces (45g) Parmesan cheese, grated

Rinse and sort the beans. Soak the beans overnight covered in cold water. The next day, drain the beans and put them in a large saucepan with the bay leaves and enough water to cover the beans. Cook the beans for about an hour, or until tender, adding more water if necessary to keep them immersed. Once cooked, remove the beans from the heat and set aside. Alternatively use 1 tin of canned cannellini or haricot beans.

In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions or leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the thyme or marjoram, diced carrots, zucchini, garlic, and salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are completely cooked. Add the cooked beans and their liquid, then the peas and pasta, plus 2 2l water. Bring the soup to a boil, and simmer a few minutes until the pasta is cooked. Bring a small pan of water to the boil and boil the broad beans for 1-2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into cold water to refresh. Slip the broad beans out of their outer shell. When the soup is cooked, check the seasoning and add the broad beans.

While the soup is cooking, make the pistou. Pound the garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle (or use a food processor) with a generous pinch of salt. Coarsely chop the basil leaves and pound them into the garlic until the mixture is relatively smooth.Drizzle in the olive oil slowly, while pounding, then pound in the tomato and cheese. Taste, and season with more salt if desired.

To serve: Ladle hot soup into bowls and add a generous spoonful of pistou to the centre and swirl gently. Keep extra pistou within reach because you’ll likely want to add more to the soup as you go.

Note: If the soup is too thick, thin it with additional water.

Courgettes

Courgette and Basil Risotto

I’ve always been a bit suspect of courgette risotto. Courgettes are such bland vegetable, I never thought that they would have enough to offer in the way of flavour for a risotto. But when I made the recipe for Slow Cooked Courgette Pasta with Lemon and Chilli I changed my mind. I don’t think I had ever had the nerve to cook courgettes down until they resembled brown goo, because they ended up looking so unattractive, but when I tasted them, I changed my mind. Who cared what they looked like, the unassuming, inconspicuous, somewhat tasteless courgette was transformed into something entirely different.

slow cooked courgettes and basil

A tasty, almost intense and delicious puree and with a little basil, lemon zest or chilli thrown in, it works fabulously in this risotto. It may not look the most attractive but just scatter with a few sprigs of basil before serving.

Courgette and Basil Risotto

Courgette and Basil  Risotto

Chicken stock is best for this risotto but vegetable stock is fine as well. If it is not home-made use a good quality cube like Kello. I have just added basil, but as I said, lemon zest and chilli work well too.

100g butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

100mls white wine

2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped

3 large courgettes, thinly sliced on a mandolin or food processor

1 litre stock – either home-made of from cubes.

Glug of extra virgin olive oil

Bunch of basil, finely chopped plus leaves for garnish

200g risotto rice

75g Parmesan, finely grated

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt half the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onion and a good pinch of salt and gently fry without colour until softened for about 10 minutes.  Add the rice and cook for a minute more and then add the wine. Keep stirring. It is banging the grains of rice together which releases the starch which makes your risotto creamy. Gradually start to add the stock a ladleful at a time When the liquid has just about been absorbed, add another ladleful of stock. Keep cooking like this for 20-25 mins until the rice is chewy but not chalky.

Meanwhile in another pan heap the courgette slices into a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of olive. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes, they should start to cook and reduce. Stir every so often and make sure they aren’t catching on the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 15 minutes, adding a dash of water now and then if it starts to catch.

Stir the courgette mixture into the risotto and adjust seasoning. Add the parmesan and the rest of the butter but do not stir, and leave to sit covered for a minute or two. Finally give the risotto a good stir and add the basil. Serve immediately.

Cooking down sliced courgettes

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Turlu Turlu

Good to my word, I tried out a fresh tomato sauce, just to see how it turned out. As far as I know, there are two schools of tomato sauce. The Italian version which consists of no more than olive oil, garlic and tomatoes and maybe a little basil, or the French version which can contain pretty much anything. I believe that this is because the Italian version relies heavily on superb ingredients, including very good tinned Italian plum tomatoes, so I decided to opt for the French. I used some onion, celery and garlic in my base, sweated down with olive oil and I added some wild dried Oregano. The results where certainly good enough for this week’s recipe of Turlu Turlu. This is a sort of Turkish Ratatouille, and just the sort of recipe I love. It literally means hotchpotch and can incorporate any number of different vegetables mixed with chickpeas, tomato sauce and lots of herbs. It is a great use up dish and I had a whole array of vegetables in the bottom of my fridge, which all went in, including beetroot, parsnips, red onions, red peppers, courgettes, sweet potatoes, fennel and carrots and of course, the tomatoes. But you could have added potatoes, squash, green peppers, cauliflower, aubergine or any other vegetable you have to hand.

veg for Turlu Turlu

This recipe seems a little more complicated than it is, but only because I insist on separating the vegetables up which cook better on their own. They need a lot of room and different times and this way, all your vegetables are perfectly roasted. It is worth the effort.

As for my tomato sauce – I am not sure it was good enough to just serve on its own with pasta but I will keep working on it and let you know how I get on.

Turlu Turlu 2

Turlu Turlu
Serves 4
1 red onions, cut into into 8 wedges through the root
1 large red bell pepper, de-seeded, and cut into large bit-sized chunks
1 head fennel, cut into into 8 wedges through the root
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into large bit-sized chunks
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into large bit-sized chunks
A few beetroot, peeled and cut into large bit-sized chunks
3 courgettes, cut into 1cm slices, slightly on the diagonal
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes, or to taste

For the sauce
6 Large ripe tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
2 small onions, finely sliced

1 tin chickpeas, drained
Freshly chopped coriander
Freshly chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Toss the red onion and red pepper with some coriander, cumin, chilli flakes, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Tip onto a tray and put in the oven. Toss the fennel with some coriander, cumin, chilli flakes, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Tip onto a tray, making sure as much surface area as possible is in contact with the tray and put in the oven. Combine the root vegetables – parsnips, beetroot and sweet potato. Toss with some coriander, cumin, chilli flakes, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Tip onto a tray and put in the oven. Toss the courgettes with some coriander, cumin, chilli flakes, salt, black pepper and olive oil. Tip onto a tray, make sure as much surface area as possible is in contact with the tray and put in the oven. You will have to check your veg regularly, and rotate veg to ensure even cooking, When your veg are cooked and a little caramelised remove them. Each tray will slightly different time. Meanwhile make your sauce. Sauté the onion and celery slowly in plenty of olive oil, for a s long as possible. Meanwhile, put a large saucepan of water on to boil. Cut a small cross in the top of your tomatoes. Add them to the pan of boiling water and boil for 1-2 minutes, until the skins begin to come away. Remove them with a slotted spoon and plunge them into a bowl of cold water. Remove the skins and roughly chop. Add the garlic to the onions and fry a minute more before adding the tomatoes. Cook down gently until the tomatoes have completely dissolved, Season with salt and pepper and oregano. Puree with a hand blender.

Just before your final tray of veg is ready, add the chickpeas and tomato sauce to the tray and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Then remove and add all your veg together. Stir gently to avoid mushing up the veg. Allow to cool slightly before adding your herbs. Serve warm or room temperature.

Turlu Turlu 3

Fillet of Wild Salmon and Vegetable Bake with Lemon Mayonnaise

There was just a hint of Spring in my veg box this week. I got a medium box (less roots) and the courgettes, fennel and cime di rapa all reminded me of my allotment in a few months’ time. Along with the ramano peppers (which I could never hope to grow) and the sunny, but very cold morning, I could almost feel the promise of the warmer, longer days ahead.

I thought I would share a really quick and easy recipe this week. Often when I have been working all day (which for me of course means cooking) the last thing I feel like when I get home is prepping a whole lot of veg. But I am loathed to give the family processed food, especially when I have spent the day making sure someone else’s family eats well. This is a great recipe for using up lots of veg, which also keeps kids and adults happy alike and it is none other than “a bake”.

A “bake” really doesn’t conjure up a good image for me – vegetable bake, tuna bake, cheesy bake – just the names fill me with repulsion. But there is no reason why a bake should not be a beautiful thing and happily, it is always all cooked in one pan, which saves on washing up as well.

Fillet of Wild Salmon and Vegetable Bake 3

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to it my kids, aged 9 and 11, they are happiest eating nothing more complicated that some meat or fish, some potatoes and some vegetables. But it is so important to keep it varied, interesting and full of flavour for the adults. So this first recipe is just very simply a selection of all your family’s favourite vegetables, baked all together with a lovely piece of fresh wild salmon.

Choose a selection of seasonal vegetables which compliment, rather than overpower the fish. This week’s selection of fennel, ramano peppers and courgettes, along with some cherry tomatoes and potatoes left over from last week’s box, were perfect. This dish also makes a great alternative to a roast at the week-end especially when entertaining. If you want to impress, make a lovely sauce to serve along side it. I made a simple lemon mayonnaise. Don’t be scared of mayonnaise, it is easier than you think. But I have given you a couple of other alternatives. Salsa Verde , Salmoriglio or a delicious Anchovy and Rosemary Sauce to drizzle over your fish, are a few of my other favourites from my River Café days.

I only eat wild salmon, when in season, as I find farmed salmon is too fatty for me. There seems to be a good supply of sustainable Alaskan Wild Salmon available, very reasonable and full of flavour. Obviously I would prefer to shop more locally than Alaska so If you are worried about your carbon footprint then at least make sure that the vegetables are locally sourced. One last tip about salmon: don’t overcook it. As soon as you see white liquid coming out of the salmon, that is albumin and it’s a protein, and is a sign you’re your salmon is done. Remove immediately from the oven and your fish should be still pink and juicy inside.

This bake works well with sausages as well and can take a heartier selection of veg. Think butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips, red onions, carrots or beetroot, along of course with the veg I used for the fish. It is a really good way of using up vegetables at the end of the week from your veg box. Come to think of it, if you have got a lot of veg to use up, you can always leave out the fish or meat and just have the baked veg. It is just delicious on its own.

Fillet of Wild Salmon and Vegetable Bake

Fillet of Wild Salmon and Vegetable Bake with Lemon Mayonnaise
2 generous slices of wild salmon, with or without skin
2 bulbs fennel, trimmed of excess outer leaves, save fronds
2 courgettes, cut into ½ inch slices on the diagonal
Large handful of cherry tomatoes
Couple of handfuls of new potatoes, boiled in salted water until cooked
Extra Virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
Cut the fennel into 4 or 6 pieces lengthways, depending on size. Cut the potatoes in half or if very small leave whole. In a large baking dish toss all of the vegetables with 3-5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Make sure the tin is big enough. If the vegetables are too crowded they will sweat instead of bake. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Try and make sure that the potatoes are facing down and that the fennel and courgettes are also flat side down. The more surface area that comes into contact with the bottom of the pan, the easier the vegetables will brown. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Remove the pan from the oven and push the vegetables to one side. Season the salmon with salt and pepper and place it in empty space you made in the baking dish. Return the dish to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes, based on thickness of the salmon. Scatter with the chopped fennel
fronds.

Lemon Mayonnaise

Lemon Mayonnaise
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Zest of one lemon,
juice of half a lemon
100mls rapeseed oil
50 mls extra virgin olive oil

Place the egg yoke in a bowl and add the mustard, the lemon zest and the juice of half a lemon. Add a good pinch of sea salt. Whisk very well, using an electric whisk if you have one. Don’t worry if you don’t, you just have to work harder. Very slowly add the rapeseed oil, especially at the beginning. Keep whisking until all the oil is amalgamated and them slowly add the olive oil. Check seasoning.

(If your mayonnaise splits, add a tablespoon of boiling water in a large metal bowl. Very slowly whisk in your split mayonnaise. It should come back together. Then add your remaining oil just as normal.)

All sauce recipes below are adapted from The River Cafe.
Salsa Verde
I vary this recipe according to what I am serving it with. I prefer to go easy on the mint as it can end up tasting a bit toothpasty and instead I opt for basil, dill, chives or the fronds from the fennel tops. Just get a good tasting balance.
1 large bunch Flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 bunch Mint leaves
Very good extra-virgin olive oil
3 Garlic cloves
100g Capers
50g Anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Red-wine vinegar

In a food processor chop the garlic, capers and anchovies. Add the mustard and vinegar, season and add some olive oil and purée until well amalgamated. Add all the herbs and whiz and more olive oil to achieve desired consistency.

Salmoriglio
In a pestle and mortar, pound 4 level tablespoons fresh Thyme or preferable fresh Marjoram or a very good quality dried Oregano with 1 teaspoon sea salt until completely crushed. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Pour 8 tablespoons of very good, peppery extra virgin olive oil slowly into the mixture. Add a little freshly ground black pepper.

Anchovy and Rosemary Sauce
2 tbsp. fresh young rosemary leaves, very finely chopped
12 anchovy fillets
Juice of 1 lemon
150mls very good extra-virgin olive oil

Place rosemary leaves in a mortar and grind as finely as possible. Add anchovy fillets and grind to a paste. Add lemon juice, mix well, and then, stirring constantly, add oil, a few drops at a time. Transfer sauce to a small bowl.

Fillet of Wild Salmon and Vegetable Bake 4

Grilled Chicken with Almond Dressing, Avocado and Vegetable Salad

It is not only Omega 3 which provides good fats. Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats are also good. A moderation of saturated fats is also acceptable from whole milk, coconut oil and grass-fed meat but tran-fats should be avoided at all costs in commercially baked goods, packaged snack foods, margarine and commercially prepared fried foods.
To make sure you are getting enough good fats (Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated) stock up on avocados, olives, nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews and walnuts), seeds (sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds), flaxseed and fatty fish.
Luckily I had a couple of Avocados in my box this week so I set about making up a new salad. I am particularly pleased with the salad dressing which turned out really creamy and fresh, I just used tarragon, which always goes well with chicken and some basil for added zing. I also like chicken cooked in this butterflied method as it cooks in minutes as it is so thin, and stays really juicy and tender. Finally, of course you can add any other vegetables you have to hand and your salad leaves are up to you too. I used a mixture of rocket, watercress and a few sprigs of mint mixed through the green Batavia lettuce in my box this week.

Chicken Salad with Almond Dressing 2

Grilled Chicken with Almond Dressing, Avocado and Vegetable Salad
Dressing
50g almonds, soaked
A few sprigs of what herbs you fancy – coriander, basil, parsley or tarragon, leaves picked
100ml extra virgin olive oil

2 x 150g chicken breasts
Zest of a lemon
Dried oregano
Extra virgin olive oil
Mixed salad leaves and maybe a few sprigs of herbs
1 bulb fennel
1 carrot
1 small courgette
1 ripe avocado
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
lemon wedges, to serve

For the dressing drain the almonds, add the olive oil, the herbs, a good pinch of salt and pepper and some water and puree with a hand blender until smooth and creamy. Add more water to get a good consistency and check for seasoning.

Take each chicken breast and cut it through the from one side to the other, stopping just short of the edge. This is difficult to explain so please follow link. Unfold the chicken breast and lay flat. Season with salt and pepper, dried oregano and lemon zest on both sides. Drizzle with olive oil.
Shave the fennel, courgette and carrot with a mandolin. Peel and thinly slice the avocado. Dress the salad and shaved vegetables with a little olive oil and a small pinch of salt. Arrange on plates. Heat a griddle pan of just a large frying pan. Arrange the avocado on the plates with the salad. Grill the chicken on both sides until just cooked. Place on top of the salad. Drizzle with almond dressing and serve with a wedge of lemon.

Chicken Salad with Almond Dressing

Harissa Roast Vegetables with Coriander and Preserved Lemon Cous Cous & Tahini

This week I opted for a medium veg box less roots, and I have to say, I haven’t been quite so excited about my vegetable selection for a while. Sometimes I struggle for inspiration, for what to conjure up with yet more vegetables, but this week I could have used up my box three times over. The sight of parsnips and Brussel sprouts fills me with joy and is one of the few things I really look forwards to about winter – shorter days, central heating, layers of clothes, colds, mud and rain – no thank you but seasonal winter vegetables, being earthed up after a whole summer in the ground – now that’s a treat.

I started by putting nearly the whole box in one dish. A Moroccan inspired Harissa Roast Vegetables with Coriander and Preserved Lemon Cous Cous. I put in the red onions, the parsnips, the aubergine, the cauliflower and the courgettes. Then I threw in half a butternut squash I had left after making last week’s muffin. Had I had carrots, sweet potato or peppers in my box, they would have gone in too. You could serve this with Cauliflower Cous Cous, my obsession of the last few weeks but this week I was yearning for the real thing.

When it comes to Harissa, they vary in heat, so be careful. My favourite is Rose Harissa which is packed with flavour, without being overtly hot, so you can use generously.

Roast Veg in Tray

Harissa Roast Vegetables with Coriander and Preserved Lemon Cous Cous & Tahini
Serves 4
½ butternut squash, squash into bite-size pieces (you can leave skin on the squash, it’s up to you).
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into large bite-sized chunks
3 courgettes, thickly sliced 1 ½ cms
½ cauliflower broken in to large florets, each cut in half
4 garlic cloves, leave skin on
2 red onions, peeled and cut into wedges through the root
1 aubergine, cut into large bite-sized chunks
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp Ras el Hanuot
2 tbsp harissa paste
6 tbsp. Olive oil
2 tbsp. Tahini
1 lemon
200g couscous
Bunch of fresh coriander
4 small preserved lemons, seeds removed and finely chopped
Sea salt

Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Mix the harissa with 5 tablespoons of the olive oil, the Ras el Hanout and the cumin seeds. Add a teaspoon of salt. Use this to coat the vegetables before roasting. It is important that they have enough room, spread out on baking trays. Some veg, such as courgettes and aubergines benefit from having a tray to themselves if you want to make sure they brown. Root vegetables such as parsnips and squash which cook in similar times can share a tray. They cauliflower, onions and garlic cloves go together on another. Roast for 15 minutes before checking and moving around the veg to ensure even cooking. Check again after another 15 minutes and remove or give longer. They should all be golden brown and tender.

Meanwhile, make the Tahini dressing by very simply adding the juice of half a lemon to the Tahini with a large pinch of salt. Stir in enough water to make a smooth, creamy consistency. Check seasoning and add more salt or lemon juice to taste.

Meanwhile put couscous into a large bowl and put the kettle on. Mix the final tablespoon of olive oil in with the cous cous and a large pinch of salt. Massage the oil into the cous cous and then cover with boiling water. Set aside for 10 mins. Fluff up with a fork.

Meanwhile, chop your coriander and preserved lemons and add to the cous cous when ready. When the roast veg are ready, toss together, check seasoning and pile onto of the cous cous. Drizzle with the Tahini sauce.

Cous cous

Slow Cooked Courgette Pasta with Lemon and Chilli

Courgettes are another vegetable that are in abundance in the boxes right now and on recommendation, I tried out a recipe from Riverford’s website, for Slow Cooked Courgette Pasta. It really did turn out to be quite delicious. I just made a couple of changes, using lemon zest instead of juice and adding a pinch of chilli. Make sure you really give the courgettes enough time to cook down properly. You can decide how creamy you want the finished dish at the end. Balance the amount of crème fraiche with pasta water to get your desired consistence. Finally, the choice of pasta is up to you but we are particularly enjoying Rummo’s Linguini in our household at the moment but Riverford stock some organic varieties too,

Cougettes slow-cooked raw

Slow Cooked Courgette Pasta with Lemon and Chilli
Serves 2
500g courgettes, very finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Lemon zest
Pinch chilli flakes
1-2 tablespoons crème fraiche
200g pasta of your choosing
Parmesan or pecorino

Heap the slices into a sauce pan with 2 tbsps. of olive. Add a pinch of salt and cook on a low heat for about 20 mins, they should start to cook and reduce. Stir every so often and make sure they aren’t catching on the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another 15 mins, adding a dash of water now and then if it starts to catch. Meanwhile cook your pasta. Season the courgettes with salt, pepper, a pinch of chilli flakes and the lemon zest. Stir in the crème fraiche, some good olive oil and a dash of the pasta water to loosen. Mix with the drained pasta and top with a generous grating of cheese.

Courgettes slow cooked

Roast Courgette, Red Pepper and Tomato Stew.

I had no idea what I was going to cook this week when I got my veg box from Riverford. To tell you the truth I still had quite a few courgettes left from last week, which were playing on my mind. Courgettes can get a bit tiresome, when thinking up new dishes and that is why I decided that it is always best to stick with the classics. One of my favourite courgette dishes is Ratatouille and I had some peppers and onions but just no aubergine. In fact I had so much courgette and peppers that I decided that rather than bulk it out anymore, I would just leave the aubergine out.

As much as I love it, I never used to make Ratatouille much, first of all because it always seemed very time consuming, both in cooking and cleaning, and secondly because it always used so much olive oil, which was both costly and fattening. Then a few years back I had a revelation. Why not, instead of frying the vegetables, which is messy and also uses a huge amount of oil, try roasting them instead. Nowadays, I simply toss the vegetables in oil and chuck them in the oven. Same result, much less time and half the fat. So not really Ratatouille at all – here it is, my Roast Courgette, Red Pepper and Tomato Stew.

Ratatoiuille close up

Roast Courgette, Red Pepper and Tomato Stew.

4 large courgettes
2 red or yellow peppers
2 Small onions, red or brown, peeled and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 Tin plum tomatoes
Olive oil
Small bunch basil or dried oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 180 C.
Cut off the courgettes ends, then across into 1cm slices. Cut the peppers in half, remove the seeds and any white membrane, then cut each half into 3 pieces and chop into bite-size chunks. Toss the courgette with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay out on a baking tray and put in the oven. Toss the peppers in olive oil, salt and pepper, lay out on a roasting tray and add to the oven. Cook until golden brown. The courgettes will need turning half way through and the peppers stirring regularly to ensure even cooking. Meanwhile add some olive oil to a heavy bottomed saucepan and cook the onion for 5-10 mins until soft and beginning to caramelise. Add the garlic and fry for a further min. Add the tinned tomatoes and half a tin of water and stir well to break up. Add some salt and pepper and either the basil, finely shredded, or the oregano. Turn the heat right down and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid catching. If too thick, add a little water. Taste the sauce and season. When the vegetables are ready, add to the sauce and check the seasoning. Either serve hot or cold.

Courgettes 2

Courgette, Lemon & Poppy Seed Cake

Finally this week, a challenge to deal with the glut of courgettes in my fridge. I have done several other recipes over the last few weeks, but the kids always complain about courgette. The solution was obvious. A delicious Courgette, Lemon & Poppy Seed Cake which I often make at my Riverford Lunches. It is a big cake and there is always some left to leave behind for the host to say thank you.

I think you have to be quite careful with these cake recipes including vegetables, to make sure that the vegetable is really adding something to the cake and not just there for conversation sake alone. I have worked quite hard at perfecting my carrot cake, my beetroot brownie and my parsnip and maple syrup cake so I hope you find this one no exception. Anyway, it fooled the kids. My daughter suspiciously asked me what the green bits were, so I told her they were pistachio nuts.

Courgette and Poppyseed cake 1

Courgette, Lemon & Poppy Seed Cake

30g Poppyseeds
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
80ml milk
250g unsalted butter
280g light soft brown sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
200g self-raising flour
80g ground almonds
250g courgettes, topped, tailed and coarsely grated
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
For the Frosting
220g icing sugar
25g unsalted butter
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
2-3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
A 23cms springform cake tin, buttered and base-lined

Preheat the oven to 170-180 degrees C. Put the poppyseeds and lemon zest in a small bowl. Heat the milk until hot, stir in the poppyseeds and lemon zest and let it cool. Cream together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Bear in the egg yolks, one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract, flour and ground almonds. Fold in the courgettes and the poppyseed mixture. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff. Fold into the courgette mixture. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes until firm to the touch. Cool the cake in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out on to a wire rack. When completely cool, sift the icing sugar into a bowl, make a well in the centre and add the still hot melted butter. Start to mix adding lemon juice to make a spreadable frosting. Add lemon zest and then spread over the cake. Leave to set before serving.

Courgette and Poppyseed cake 2

Vegetable Fritters

As always in late summer, I am overrun with courgettes and spinach so it was really nice to find a recipe which combines the two. They are also a good way of using up any broccoli including purple sprouting, peas, sweet corn, carrots, beetroot, cauliflower or a favourite of mine – Jerusalem Artichokes. You can vary the spices and herbs accordingly. I tried several attempts to perfect these fritters and turned to Japanese Tempura recipes to fine-tune the results. Another variation is Pakora, an Indian version made with gram flour, the batter encases the vegetable which is cut in larger pieces and results in a crisp outer shell and the vegetable inside is almost steamed, onion bhaji being the most famous example.

It is fun to choose a fitting dip to accompany your fritter of choice. You can go Asian, try a salsa – verde or rosso, a yoghurt based dip or a flavoured mayonnaise add some chilli or try guacamole. But if you are short on time, they are just delicious with a wedge of lemon or lime.

The feta can be replace with the more traditional Robiola cheese but it is hard to find. If you have never paid a visit to Vallebona I strongly recommend it. As a supplier to some of the best Italian restaurants in England, they have a beautiful shop in the middle of the most unpromising site of Weir Road Industrial Estate in Wimbledon. As soon as you walk in the door you are overwhelmed with their wonderful array of fabulous cheeses, meats, wines and breads all sourced fresh from Sardinia. Go on a Saturday and they have tasting. I have to warn you that it is not cheap, but I guess food this good is always going to come at a price. They now are open for pre-booked lunch and pop-up dinners. I haven’t been, so let me know if you go.

Courgette Fritters 1

Courgette, Spinach, Feta and Herb Fritters
It is possible to replace the flour with something gluten-free such as buckwheat flour but add ½ tsp of baking powder to add a little lightness.
4 courgettes (approx. 500g)
1-2 handfuls of true spinach
3 spring onions (finely chopped)
20g Parmesan (grated)
150 grams feta cheese
1 small bunch dill
Zest of a large lemon
50 grams self-raising flour
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs (beaten)
Vegetable oil (for frying)
Coarsely grate the courgettes. Put in a bowl with the chopped spring onions. Add the chopped dill, parmesan, lemon zest, flour, egg yolks and season well with salt and pepper. Stir well and then crumble in the feta and add the spinach. Whisk the egg whites into firm peaks and gently fold through the courgette mixture. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and drop dessertspoons of the mixture into the hot oil, flattening the little cakes down with the back of the spoon as you go. Keep them quite small so they are easy to flip. Cook these little patties for about 2 minutes each side until golden, and then transfer to kitchen paper and then a couple of waiting plates.

Courgette Fritters 2