Tag Archives: picnic

Goodbye to courgettes….

zucchini-537001_640The recent sunny days, yet cold nights of this lovely spell of early autumn weather have more or less put an end to the courgettes. Mine are hanging on in there, but I really don’t think I’m going to get much more fruit now. In any event, I’ve earmarked their current position for next year’s broad beans, which I like to sow in late October/November for an early and hopefully problem-free crop next May/June. I plant the variety ‘Aquadulce Claudia’, one of the best autumn-sowing varieties, and find they make a good start before the worst of the winter, regrowing all the more strongly next spring. In contrast, my neighbouring plotholder’s spring-sown plants never really came to anything in this late, cold and dry spring, so I felt doubly glad I’d opted for autumn sowing – plus it’s one less thing to sow next spring!

The courgettes haven’t been wonderful this year either, I must admit. I had seven plants: four green ‘Defender’ and three golden ‘Soleil’, but the yellow ones, in particular, were dreadful: the fruit set, but never grew to full size. The Defenders were fine, just not quite as bountiful as usual, which was fine, but meant I wasn’t giving them away left, right and centre as usual! Time to try some new varieties next year, I think… I still have three or four in the fridge, and have been meaning to note down my favourite courgette recipes, so here goes: better late than never!

Courgette Fritters – serves 2-3

I first tasted these many years ago in a trendy little restaurant (Randalls) in the back streets of Bollington, on the Cheshire fringes of the Peak District – divine! They are quite a last-minute thing to cook, so probably best not attempted for a dinner party, but if you’re cooking a family meal or informal supper where you can stand and cook/talk at the same time, these are a delicious way of using up a glut of courgettes!

250g medium courgettes

Handful dill (optional)

2 egg whites

2 level tbsp plain flour (can use rice flour for a gluten-free alternative)

Salt

Rapeseed or sunflower oil

Cut the courgettes into 5-6cm lengths, than half and quarter each length, so you have 4 batons. Place in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave to draw out excess juice over the sink.

Rinse and dry well in an old tea towel to remove salt.

Heat the oil in a large pan; I use a wok with a semi-circular tempura rack attached to the side and fill the wok until the oil is about 5 cm in depth. (You could, of course, use a deep-fat fryer, but I deep-fry so rarely that this method works equally well.)

When a cube of bread added to the pan sizzles and turns golden, the oil is hot enough to start the fritters.

In the meantime, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gradually fold in the flour and chopped dill if using. Toss the dried courgette batons in the egg and flour mixture and add to the hot oil in the pan one at a time, using kitchen tongs. Don’t add too many to the pan in one go, as otherwise the oil will lose its heat and the fritters won’t cook sufficiently quickly.

When golden brown and crispy, lift the fritters out individually with tongs and leave to drain on the tempura rack (or on kitchen roll) while you cook the rest, using as many batches as you need to avoid overfilling the wok.

Serve hot as a side dish and enjoy!

Courgette and Feta Pancakes – serves 4

Courgete and feta pancakesThis is one of those favourite recipes scribbled on a bit of paper in my trusty recipe scrapbook and one I turn to several times each year. I think it first appeared in my organic vegetable box when I was tragically between vegetable plots. We’d moved house, but not had chance to grow any veg or take on the allotment, and I discovered a lovely local box scheme in the next village. They didn’t deliver and you had to drive down a very rutted track to reach the farm, but it was worth it for the fantastic smell of fresh basil when you walked in! They always added a recipe sheet in the box and this, I think, was based on one of theirs.

4 cups coarsely grated courgettes

4 eggs, separated

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Handful dill (optional)

½ cup onion, spring onion or leek, grated or finely chopped

3-4 tbsp plain flour (gram flour works well for a gluten-free alternative)

Salt & pepper

Butter and olive oil for frying

Sour cream or crème fraiche to serve

Place grated courgette in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave to stand over the sink for about 15 minutes. Rinse well to remove salt and dry extremely thoroughly in an old tea towel, squeezing to remove surplus water.

Mix courgettes with egg yolks, feta, onions, dill (if using) and flour, then season to taste.

Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff, then fold into the courgette mixture.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large frying pan and add spoonfuls of the mixture to cook over a medium-heat. The mix is quite soft, but you should be able to turn the pancakes with a fish slice and palette knife when one side is cooked. Cook on the other side until golden and serve straightaway with sour cream or crème fraiche on the side.

In the height of summer, I serve these with a green salad and chopped cherry tomatoes, sprinkled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, garlic, a hint of sugar and seasoning – delicious!

My final recipe is another old favourite from the Sainsbury’s Sarah Brown Vegetarian Cookbook back in the 1980s. It’s a filling, yet delicious vegetarian main course and tastes good both hot and cold, so ideal for picnics or leftover working lunches the next day.

Courgette & Lentil Gratin – serves 4-6

Courgette and lentil gratin

4oz red lentils

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tbsp tomato purée

2oz oats

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp chopped mixed herbs (basil, thyme, parsley or oregano all work well)

8oz courgettes, diced

2 eggs, beaten

1 tbsp wholemeal flour (or use rice or gram flour for gluten-free diners)

2 fl. oz milk

Salt and pepper

Handful basil, chopped

2oz Cheddar cheese, grated

Cook the lentils in twice their volume of water for about 10 mins or until soft. Beat with a wooden spoon, then drain off any excess liquid.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, then cook the onion and garlic for about 4-5 minutes until starting to soften. Remove from the heat, then add the cooked lentils, tomato purée, oats, lemon juice, herbs and seasoning. The mixture should be thick enough to hold together. If too wet, either return to the heat to dry off a little more, or add some more oats.

Press the mixture around the sides and base of a greased 8” flan dish.

Meanwhile, either steam the courgettes for a couple of minutes or cook them with a knob of butter in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. Drain off excess liquid if microwaving. Blend the eggs with the flour, then add the milk. Stir in the cooked and drained courgettes, chopped basil and seasoning.

Spoon the filling into the flan case, top with grated cheese and cook for 180°C (fan), Gas 5 for about 25-30 minutes or until set.

Serve warm or cold with a salad.

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Cheap and cheerful chard – and child’s play to grow!

Leaf Beet Swiss ChardBefore I had my allotment and was reliant on deliveries of organic vegetable boxes to keep me in fresh veg, I used to groan when my winter deliveries were full of chard. What on earth do I do with this, I would think – and inevitably it would often end up on the compost heap, unused and unloved…

Now I grow my own, Swiss chard is one of my staple winter vegetables and I’ve discovered lots of delicious ways of cooking it. Chard is extremely good for you: it is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, vitamin E and iron – and it tastes pretty good too! It’s also extremely easy to grow: I usually sow it along with my spinach and beetroot and early salad crops in late March/early April (weather permitting). It germinates relatively quickly, doesn’t seem to be attractive to slugs (hurrah!) and provides young leaves for salads in next to no time, followed by large leaves and stems that crop until the following year. It’s remarkably hardy, even more so than the perpetual spinach I grow it alongside, and as long as you cut down any chunky stems that threaten to flower, it really does keep on cropping and cropping. I have grown ruby chard and the Bright Lights series of multi-coloured stems (yellows and deep reds), but I think the standard white variety has the best taste and performance in the ground: I grew White Silver this year, but there are plenty to choose from.

Golden chardAs a general rule, you can use the leaves as you would spinach, but the stems are delicious too. They tend to need a bit more cooking, so remove the leaves and slice the stems thinly, giving them 5 or so minutes more cooking than the leaves.

So what to do with this miracle veg? I use it chopped in stir-fries or curries for extra green oomph, but it also makes a delicious Chard Gratin if you boil the stems for 5 minutes, then add the leaves to steam on top for a further 3 minutes. Turn into a shallow gratin dish and top with a cheese sauce (add freshly ground nutmeg and wholegrain mustard to taste!), then grate more cheese (Cheddar or Parmesan) on top, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cook in a hot oven (200°C) for 20 minutes or so – delicious with casseroles, roast meat or sausages! You can do the same with Savoy cabbage for an interesting variation, and of course you could add onions or leeks if you wanted to ring the changes…

Sarah Raven also has some delicious ideas in her Garden Cookbook, including this wholesome soup, which I’ve adapted slightly to suit whatever was in my plot at the time:

Chard and Coconut Soup

 350g chard (or a large bunch – whatever you have!)

1 leek, finely chopped

1 large potato, finely diced

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil (or mixture of butter and oil)

1 litre homemade vegetable stock (or chicken if that’s what you have!)

400 ml tin coconut milk

Freshly grated nutmeg

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper

Parsley to garnish

Prepare the chard by washing thoroughly (like spinach, it can be gritty), strip the green leaves off the stem and chop finely, then chop the stems separately.

Sweat the onion, garlic and leeks gently in the oil (or butter and oil) for about 10 minutes until soft, then add the potato and chard stems and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the leaves, stock, bay leaf, grated nutmeg and coconut milk, stir thoroughly and bring back to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until everything is cooked through. Allow to cool, remove the bay leaf, then whizz in a liquidizer until smooth. Season to taste and serve with fresh bread and parsley to garnish.

This should make enough for 5-6 generous helpings and freezes beautifully.

Another of my favourite chard recipes is a vegetable side dish with extra zing. It came originally from the recipe sheets that accompanied my organic boxes, so was actually my first introduction to the charms of chard!

Chard and Tomato Bake

Serves 4

Bunch of Swiss chard, leaves and stems washed and chopped separately as above

1 onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

200g tomatoes, skinned and chopped

Grated juice of 1 lemon

Handful of fresh (or frozen) breadcrumbs

Chopped herbs of your choice: oregano, basil or parsley all work well

75g grated Cheddar or Parmesan

Seasoning

Prepare the chard as above.

Sweat the onion and garlic in the olive oil for 10 minutes or so until soft. Add the chopped tomatoes and chard stems and cook for a further 5 mins, then add the chard leaves, herbs and grated lemon rind. Cook for a few minutes, then season, turn into a shallow gratin dish and top with the breadcrumbs and grated cheese.

Cook in a hot oven (200°C) for 15 minutes or until golden.

Delicious with sausages, chops or roast meat.

My final suggestion for chard is another ever-so-slightly adapted recipe from Sarah Raven, again from the Garden Cookbook, but I first had these on a visit to one of Sarah’s fabulous garden Open Days at Perch Hill, East Sussex, luckily not very far from me at all!

Chard and Feta Parcels

1 leek, finely chopped

25g butter

200g chard, leaves only, finely chopped (or spinach)

200g feta cheese, crumbled

100g Parmesan, grated

Handful of sultanas

1 egg, beaten

Freshly ground nutmeg

Salt and pepper

1 packet filo pastry sheets

Extra melted butter

Sesame or poppy seeds to sprinkle

 Cook the leek in the butter until soft, then add the finely chopped chard for a few minutes. Take off the heat and add the crumbled feta, Parmesan, egg, sultanas, nutmeg and seasoning, mixing well.

Take one sheet of filo pastry and cut into 10 cm wide strips. Brush on one side with the extra melted butter, then put 1 tbsp of the chard mixture in the top right-hand corner and fold over into a triangle, then keep folding the triangle alternately down the length of the strip, ending up with a triangular parcel, several layers thick. Transfer to a baking tray, brush with extra butter and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Repeat with the rest of the pastry until you’ve used up the chard mixture.

You can freeze at this stage, or cook the parcels in a hot oven (200°C) until golden brown.

Scrumptious with a salad for lunch or delicious picnic fare – I’ve taken these to the tennis championships at Eastbourne as part of our “posh” picnic – perfect!

Plot with chard Jan 2015

Perfect Picnic Fare – Apple-icious!

Apple treeLast weekend’s Radio 2 Festival in a Day in Hyde Park was the perfect opportunity to pack up a picnic and relish the delights of outdoor eating. We always take a “posh” picnic to this kind of event, along with Wimbledon and Eastbourne tennis championships, and once you’ve set the standard, there’s no going back. Cheese sandwiches and a bag of crisps just won’t cut the mustard!

At this time of year I’m invariably inundated with apples, both at home – Katy – and down at the allotment, where I’ve an ever-bountiful Bramley tree, Greensleeves (my least favourite), a Cox type (variety unknown, but also a prolific fruiter with lovely, large, red/green fruit) and a small Spartan with its characteristic deep red to purplish apples. After last year’s bumper harvest, I thought this year wouldn’t be anywhere near as good, but I’ve had surprisingly healthy crops. The Greensleeves is the only one with very few fruit, and as I’m considering taking it out over winter to make more room for soft fruit on my downsized plot next year, it’s probably no bad thing.

With plenty of apples to go at, my menu for last Sunday was self-evident: a delicious sausage and apple plait, which is one of my family’s favourite picnic treats, and a spicy apple shortbread, which always goes down well with a flask of tea mid-afternoon. Take a box of salad (do NOT add dressing beforehand if you want to avoid soggy leaves!), fresh ciabatta, some upmarket crisps, olives (sadly left behind in the fridge in our case…) and a bottle of nice, chilled wine or beer, and you have the makings of a veritable feast!

Sausage & Apple Plait

350g ready-rolled puff pastry

3 tbsp semolina

500g good sausagemeat

75g Cheddar cheese, grated

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large cooking apples, grated (add lemon juice to stop browning)

Pinch of paprika

Handful of sage leaves, chopped

Seasoning

1 egg, beaten

Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Roll out pastry to a rectangle measuring 26 x 26 cm, neaten edges. Gently mark 3 strips lengthways without cutting through the pastry. Cut the side strips in diagonal sections at 2.5 cm intervals, leaving the centre strip intact. Sprinkle the centre with semolina to stop the pastry becoming soggy during cooking.

Mix together the sausagemeat, onion, apple, cheese, paprika, sage and seasoning. Place the mixture evenly down the centre strip. Dampen the outer strips with water and plait over the filling, folding each strip alternately over the next from each side. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle over sesame or poppy seeds if wished. Transfer carefully to a greased baking sheet.

Bake in the hot oven for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 150°C and cook for a further 40 minutes. Serve warm or cold – delicious!

Spiced apple shortbread

75g butter, softened

40g caster sugar

75g plain white flour

40g semolina

1 large cooking apple, grated

125g sultanas

½ tsp mixed spice

2 tbsp soft brown sugar

1 tsp lemon juice

Icing sugar and lemon juice to ice

Grease a shallow baking tin (18 cm square).

Mix first four ingredients in a food processor or beat with a hand whisk until the mixture forms a ball. Press into the greased tin and prick with a fork. Bake for 15 mins at 180°C or until just golden.

Mix the grated apple, sultanas, spice and brown sugar and spoon onto the cooked shortbread. Cook for a further 15 mins or so, then remove from oven and allow to cool.

Mix up a simple glacé icing with a couple of tbsp sifted icing sugar and lemon juice added until a drizzling consistency is reached. Drizzle in diagonal lines over the shortbread and set before serving, sliced into squares. Leo and Popy in long grass summer 2014