RUNNER BEAN PICKLE
Makes 4-5 lb
2 lb runner beans (weighed after stringing)
1½ lb onions
2 rounded tbsps cornflour
2 rounded tbsps turmeric
1 tsp mustard powder
2 lb demerara sugar
1½ pints distilled vinegar
Finely chop the onions. Put in a large, heavy based pan with just enough olive oil to prevent them sticking. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and cook gently until they are soft and just beginning to colour. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, stir, turn up the heat and cook until all the liquid has been driven off and the onions begin to caramelise.
Whilst the onions are cooking string the beans and cut into ½” lengths (or cut strips diagonally across the bean).
Mix the corn flour, turmeric and mustard to a paste with a little of the vinegar and then set aside. Add the rest of the vinegar to the onions and when it comes to the boil add the runner beans. Boil hard for 15 minutes, by which time most of the vinegar will have evaporated, then add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Mix a couple of tablespoonfuls of the hot liquid with the slaked corn flour and spices, and then stir into the contents of the pan. Boil for about 10 minutes until thickened.
Allow to cool before potting and sealing.
Note: The mixture will thicken on cooling but if it is still too liquid add a little more slaked cornflour and re-boil.
ROAST TOMATO AND BASIL SOUP
Makes about 2½ pints
900g/2 lb tomatoes
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tsps salt
2 tsps sugar
freshly ground black pepper
2 tsps balsamic vinegar
2 pints chicken stock
basil (a good handful)
Cut the tomatoes in half through the circumference. Place them, cut side down, in an oiled roasting tin. Cook over a very low heat or in a low oven until the tomatoes have collapsed. This should take about 2 hours. (There should be no liquid in the pan, if there is, tip it away and continue cooking until no more liquid comes out of the tomatoes).
Meanwhile chop the onion and cook it gently in oil in another pan. This can be done in the same oven as the tomatoes. When the onion has softened but not coloured, sprinkle over the salt and then add the crushed cloves of garlic and continue cooking until this has softened also and all the water shed by the onions has evaporated.
Once the tomatoes have collapsed they can be combined with the onions in one pan, using the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan in which the tomatoes have cooked. Sprinkle the sugar and a good grinding of black pepper over the tomatoes and onions and continue to cook slowly for a further half an hour, stirring occasionally until everything is soft and thick.
Stir the hot stock into the tomatoes mixture and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
Remove the soup from the heat and add roughly torn basil leaves, keeping back a few to add fresh when the soup is re-heated.
Pass the soup through a fine blade of a mouli-legumes. This will combine everything smoothly and thoroughly whilst keeping back any tough skins. If you do not have a mouli-legumes pass the soup through a sieve having first combined it in a food processor or blender.
Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning. The amount of salt or sugar needed can vary considerably depending on the tomatoes.
The tomato and onion base can be prepared in advance and either kept in the fridge for a day or frozen before adding the stock. (I also freeze tablespoonfuls of this base in an ice cube tray for adding to casseroles).
When re-heating, remember to add some freshly torn leaves of basil just before serving.
A Californian proverb says…”never give your true friends zucchini in July”. Certainly once the courgettes start coming in earnest, usually early August here, but it depends on the weather, it takes a concerted effort to keep up with them. But keeping up with them is the most important weapon in dealing with a glut of courgettes. It’s easy to eat even a dozen finger sized courgettes, and they taste great then, but let them become longer than your hand and you’ve got problems. Despite the Californian proverb, even in these times when everyone seems to be a gardener, I can usually still find a genuinely grateful recipient of baby courgettes.
It might seem sensible not to plant too many seeds in the first place, but the main reason I grow courgettes is to eat their flowers, and for this I need at least four plants. Of course, to allow for failures, you plant at least a couple more and before you know it you have a glut. You can use courgettes for chutney, but they are a watery vegetable (technically fruit) with a mild flavour and to get the best out of them they should either be fried or roasted.
I begin with my recipe for deep-fried courgette flowers; you can include some baby courgettes if you don’t have sufficient flowers. They are a wonderful dish to nibble alongside drinks whilst sitting in the sun and entirely worth the little effort involved in growing courgettes. The recipes that follow are the others that form a regular part of my courgette cooking repertoire in July and August and if a couple of larger specimens escape notice and have to end up on the compost heap – who cares?!
DEEP FRIED COURGETTE FLOWERS
24 freshly picked courgette flowers (or a mixture of flowers and baby courgettes)
5 oz plain flour
2 teaspoons curry powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
8 fl oz sparkling mineral or soda water
Oil for frying
Whisk together the flour, curry powder and salt then add the sparkling water and whisk until smooth. Leave the batter to stand for at least 10 minutes (or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator).
Heat the oil to 190C.
Dip the flowers into the batter, rolling them to coat evenly then shake off any excess. Fry no more than 6 flowers at a time. Remove when the batter is golden and drain on kitchen paper. Season with salt and serve immediately.
If using courgette slices instead of flowers, slice them diagonally, about ¼” thick.
This is my preferred way of cooking courgettes as a side vegetable. I use a heavy ribbed griddle pan, but alternatively you could put them on the barbeque. A flat cast iron pan would also work, but you won’t get the attractive ribbed pattern.
Preheat the griddle pan whilst you prepare the courgettes so that it gets very hot before you cook.
Slice the courgettes lengthways. If they are long, cut the courgettes into shorter lengths first so that you have slices no more than 3″ in length.
Pour a good layer of olive oil into a shallow dish (the one you are going to use to serve the courgettes at table will be fine). Season with salt and pepper, then turn the courgette slices so that they are oiled and seasoned on both sides.
Lay the courgettes across the griddle turning them over once the bottom has good griddle marks across it.
Whilst the courgettes are cooking chop some herbs – mint or thyme both go particularly well with courgettes, but marjoram is another good alternative. Sprinkle the chopped herbs in the dish that you originally used to oil and season the courgettes – it should still have a little oil and seasoning in it. As soon as the courgettes are browned on both sides put them into the dish and turn them so that they become coated with the herbs. If you have a lot to cook you can keep them warm in the oven as you go, but you will need another plate for the initial seasoning if this is the case.
You can toss the cooked courgettes with a sprinkling of sherry or herb vinegar before serving if your wish.
Tian of Courgettes and Tomatoes
A Tian is a shallow earthenware baking dish – usually oval, but I also have a round one. The idea is just to place overlapping rounds of courgette and slices of tomato in alternate rows until the dish is full. Then season with salt and pepper and strew with herbs. Pour a good stream of olive oil over the top and then bake in a moderate oven for about an hour.
Once the vegetables are cooked they don’t actually go that far, depending on the size of your dish probably just enough for 2 or 3 people. If I need to feed more I use a slightly deeper oval dish, with a layer of lightly cooked onions and peppers as the base before the layer of courgettes and tomatoes as described above.
Usually when I am roasting courgettes they are part of a selection of vegetables, but it is useful to know this method of cooking them because they absorb far less oil than frying and the flavour is intensified as some of their water content evaporates. Just place slices or rings on an oiled roasting tray, season with salt, pepper and herbs and roast until they are golden.
3 courgettes (not too large)
3 tbsps flour
tbsp chopped mint
1 large spring onion
100g feta cheese
Grate the courgettes into a sieve placed over a bowl. Lightly salt and mix through. Leave for 15 minutes in which time a considerable amount of liquid will have drained into the bowl. Lightly press to extract more.
Mix the flour and egg to form a stiff batter.
Finely chop the mint and spring onion then mix these into the batter. Season with pepper and crumble in the feta cheese. Fold in the drained courgettes.
Fry tablespoonfuls of the mixture in olive oil, turning to brown both sides.