Friday 23 August 2013

Making Time!

Sorry I have been away a while from my blog. Sometimes life just gets in the way!  And once you get out of the habit of making time for something, you very quickly fill it with something else.

Everyone said that if I took on an allotment, that everything else would suffer, but after 5 years of waiting on the councils waiting list I could hardly turn it down. I was convinced that my growing vegetables would purely enhance my cooking and blogging, and my life would become one unified harmony of sewing seeds, reaping and harvesting; at one with nature and the seasons, creating new recipes with wonderful fresh vegetables, cultivated entirely by my me. 

In reality it had been an all consuming, totally absorbing, battle against nature. Too much rain and the lack of sun, then too much sun and not enough rain along with the catastrophic damage caused by slugs and pigeons and finally the ever ongoing, ever growing trauma of weeds, weeds and more weeds. 

But I am proud to say, considering what I inherited three months ago, which was nothing much more that a patch of land, covered in grass and waste high in weeds.....

..... with a little help from my family, but it has to be said - not a lot (but thank you Hughie for putting up my shed) ...

 ... I finally managed to plant something and ....

.... would you believe it, I have actually managed to grow something .... fact a few things ..... masses of courgettes.

So here are some courgette recipes - the first is for the tiny baby courgettes - deep-fried whole in a light, crispy batter and delicious with a Anchovy and Rosemary Sauce. The second recipe is for when the courgettes are just a little bigger but still have the flowers attached (although it is perfectly delicious just with the courgettes). I have to admit that in the past I have always found courgette risotto a little bland but with the addition of a little tarragon and some lemon zest this version really comes alive and is transformed into something really tasty. Finally, something for when the courgettes grow slightly larger- a Tagine, which I came up with for my last cookery lesson, which had a Middle Eastern theme. Once again I was faced with the challenge of trying to make a rather bland vegetable sing and I think that this Tagine really does work.

So there you go - three "Recipes from the Allotment" to make up for my leave of absence and I promise to follow with many more, as I anticipate my next glut - will it be tomatoes, chard, cucumbers, potatoes or spinach? Depends on the weather... and the slugs and the pigeons..only time will tell!

Risotto with Zucchini and Zucchini Flowers
adapted from The River Cafe cook book
(Serves 4)
8 small young zucchini with flowers
2L chicken stock or 4 Kello stock cubes dissolved in 2 liters of hot water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g butter at room temperature
1 medium onion, peeled and very finely chopped
200g risotto rice
200ml extra dry white vermouth or white wine
100g parmesan freshly grated
Fresh Tarragon

Zest of one Lemon

Prepare the flowers by removing the stamens and sepals. Tear each flower vertically into 4 strands. Brush to get rid of any dust or insects but do not wash. Slice the zucchini into fine discs. Heat the chicken stock and check for seasoning.  Melt half of the butter in a large heavy bottom pan and gently fry the onion until soft about 10 minutes. Add the rice and stir until the rice becomes totally coated. Cook for a minute or two before adding the wine. Stirring all the time, wait first for the wine to be absorbed before adding 2 or so ladlesful of hot stock or just enough to cover the rice and simmer, stirring until the rice has absorbed nearly all the liquid. Continue to add more stock as the previous addition is absorbed, stirring all the time. After about 15 minutes add the zucchini slices along with the last two or three ladlefuls of stock.
The zucchini should have a little bite and the rice should be chewy but not floury.  Remove from the heat. Finally add the flowers, the tarragon, the lemon zest, the rest of the butter and the Parmesan   Cover and leave for a few minutes. Finally give the whole risotto one last stir and serve.

Deep Fried Zucchini Flowers
adapted from The River Café “Classic Italian” Cook Book

Makes 12

12 baby zucchini with flowers attatched
½ cup Tipo 00 flour – or plain flour will do
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Warm water
1 egg white
½ teaspoon sea salt

3 cups sunflower oil for frying

Mix flour and salt in a medium sized bowl. Add oil and enough water to make a thick paste.
Loosen paste with warm water until the mixture has the consistency of very thick cream. Let batter sit for 30 minutes. 
Beat egg white until it holds stiff peaks. Gently fold into flour batter.

Heat sunflower oil in a large deep frying pan. Use a cooking thermometer to heat oil to 180C
Brush any insects from the flowers and remove the stamen and sepal from inside the flower. Cut the courgettes through lengthways until near the flower but not too close so that the courgette remains in tact. Dip the courgette and its flour into the batter. Drop them into the hot fat and fry until golden. Approximately 2 minutes per side. Turn over and repeat. Don’t crowd the flowers – fry in batches of 4. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
Serve immediately.

Courgette, Chickpea and Preserved Lemon Tagine
Olive oil (or Argan oil if you have it)
3 Courgettes (cut into 1cms half moons)
Two onions, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoons of Ras-el-Hanout or more to taste
2 heaped teaspoon of cumin
2 heaped teaspoon of Harissa
Tin of good quality Plum Tomatoes, chopped
Large pinch of saffron
1 can of chickpeas, drained
Two preserved lemons, seeds removed and chopped
One small bunch coriander, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a tagine. Fry the the onions.  Cook for about 10 minutes until soft and just about to brown. Add the garlic and the Ras-el-Hanout, the cumin, the harissa and a generous amount of salt and pepper.  Fry for a few minutes to release the spices. Next add the courgettes and fry for a few minutes more. Next add the tin of tomatoes, the saffron and the chickpeas and bring briefly to boil. Reduce heat. Cover, but leave a crack for steam to escape. Simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes or so until the courgettes are tender. Add the preserved lemons and the Coriander.  Adjust seasoning adding more salt or pepper if necessary. Serve with Cous Cous.

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