Courgette & Tomato “au Gratin”

Courgettes are one of those vegetables that needs help. There is no getting away from it – they are bland and watery. You can guarantee that if someone tells you they make a delicious courgette soup, pasta or risotto, there will be something else key in there to help the courgettes along: garlic, cream, butter, cheese or herbs, something to lift its dullness to a new height. They also benefit from grilling or frying which will intensify their flavour and helps caramelise their natural sugars. They do however have great texture and take on other flavours well and are best used as fresh as possible, so don’t push them to the back of the fridge; use them first and they will reward you.

I also got a free bunch of basil in my Medium Vegbox (less roots) this week. I just whizzed it up straight away with some good extra virgin olive oil using a hand blender. This will keep in the fridge now for at least a week and can be used to elevate all sorts of dishes from pasta to soups, marinades or sauces.

Talking of hand-blenders, it is time for my “Gadget of the Week”. Please invest in a good one. Do not be tempted by the economy range version for £5.00. It will last a month. Instead, invest in the best and it will reward you with years of hard work and save you hours of washing up. They are particularly good for pureeing a small amount of something and can make light work of even ginger and lemongrass. Also, it is just so much easier to blend a soup straight in the pan than have to decant it into a liquidiser. Rant over!

Courgette and Tomato au Gratin

Tomato and Courgette “au Gratin”

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

5 ripe beef or large tomatoes

4 courgettes

6 tbsp olive oil

Bunch of basil

2 clove garlic

40g parmesan cheese

40g parmesan

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 350F, 180C, gas 4. Top and tail the courgettes and slice them thinly, on an angle to get a larger surface area. Put them into a bowl and toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Heat a grill or griddle pan or use a frying pan. Either grill or fry the courgette slices on both sides until tender. Slice thinly the tomatoes thinly.

Very thinly slice the garlic, (A mandolin is good for this.) Whiz up the basil and the remaining olive oil until you have a smooth sauce.

When you can handle the courgettes, start layering the veg. starting with the courgettes put a layer almost standing up at the end of your gratin dish. Next almost cover them with a layer of tomatoes but leave the top still showing. Keep going, adding some garlic slices between each layer. Push the layers together to give you more room to a add more. You want to get in as much as possible. When finished, season with a little more salt and pepper and drizzle basil oil generously over the top. Mix the grated parmesan and the breadcrumbs together and bake for 30 minutes in the oven until golden on top.

Cougette and Tomato Gratin

Baby Spinach, Wild Rice, Broad Bean, Grilled Asparagus & Courgette Salad with Crispy Onions

Finally for this week, another really delicious salad and a meal in itself. I am back to grilling veg again and although I know that grilling courgettes maybe a bit laborious, I cannot think of a vegetable which is more elevated by this simple process. The rather tasteless courgette absorbs the smoky flavours of the grill and is transformed into something quite exceptional.

The crispy onions are another favourite of mine and are such a marvellous addition to so many dishes. You can make up a batch and they will keep crispy for up to a week in an air-tight container. The oil, which you can re-use each time you make a batch, also serves as a delicious dressing and gets more intense the more times you re-use it.

I love adding a couple of handfuls of shelled broad beans to my salads. Their pale green colour so quintessentially says “spring” so get them whilst you can because along with the asparagus, they will be finishing soon.

I love the chewy texture and nutty taste of Wild Rice and it is super good for you too. It is a little hard to get hold of so stock up on it when you see it because it is one of my salad ingredient staples.

Crispy Onions

Crispy Fried Onions

Thinly slice a few large onions. Cut off the top end of the onion and peel the rest of it. Slice as thin as possible. A Mandolin is really good for this or you can use a food processor. Place a saucepan on a high heat and add about an inch of vegetable oil. You don’t want to use too much oil as the more intense the flavour the better. Heat the oil to 180⁰C using a thermometer. Add the onions slowly and deep fry until light golden brown. Be careful not to burn, stirring regularly, especially in the corners where the onions will cook most quickly. Remove with a slotted spoon, straight into a colander lined with kitchen paper over a bowl. Break up any clumps and leave to crisp up. Season lightly with salt. When cool pour the oil into a bottle for further use.

Courgette, Asparagus & Broad Bean Salad

Baby Spinach, Wild Rice, Broad Bean, Grilled Asparagus & Courgette Salad with Crispy Onions

Serves 2 as a main

A Couple of handfuls of baby spinch (washed)

200g broad beans

1 bunch asparagus

50g Wild Rice (try Tilda)

2 courgettes

Crispy fried onions (see above)

Olive oil

Sea salt

First put your rice in a saucepan with plenty of cold water and a good pinch of salt. Boil gently for about 20 minutes until pleasantly chewey to eat. Drain. Meanwhile put another pan of water on the boil. Snap amy woody end off the asparagus and drissel with a little olive oil and sea salt. Slice the cougette into flat ribbons. A mandolin is brilliant for this, otherwise use a sharp knife. The slices should be about the thickness of a £1. Heat your grill or light you BBQ. Once the water is boiling add the shelled broad bean and boil for about 2 minutes. Drain and immediately refresh in cold water. Whilst you are grilling the courgettes and the asparagus, slip the broad beans out of their skins. Put the drained rice in a large bowl and add a tablespoon of the onion oil and a large pinch of salt. Taste it and notice how the flavour has come alive. Add the spinach and broad beans and gently mix. Tip onto plates and pile the courgettes and the asparagus (cut into 3cm lenghths) on top and finish with some crispy onions.

Asparagus