Friday, 26 August 2011

Hardstoft Herbs

I always forget just how busy August gets for me. There's not only the edible explosion that is the garden, but also the birthday of Ma-in-Law and myself (36! A square triangular number! 36! That's how many gallons are in a standard barrel of beer!).
I was very spoiled by MikeyFox, who took me out for a number of day trips this month. The first being to Hardstoft Herbs in Derbyshire. A herb garden set up in 1983 by the lovely Lynne Raynor & her husband Steve. In 1991 they opened an additional 3 display gardens at Hardstoft; the Lavender garden, the Pot Pourri garden & the stunning Physic garden.

I have been mulling over turning the front garden into a herb & flower garden (its currently a mish-mash of culinary herbs, edible flowers & the odd clump of salsify & beetroot), as since with the back garden & allotment up & running, I don't really need any more vegetable growing space (yes, I know it's a shock. It surprised me too!). But I would love to grow more medicinal herbs & wildflowers, so next years big project will be turning out front into something a bit prettier and a little less shambolic.

Visiting an established herb garden was such a great inspiration for me. Being able to see herbs & wildflowers at their full height & spread, what works well in full sun & what needs some shade really helps you when planning out your own patch, whatever its size. And seeing the height that some plants get too, whether they shoot straight up, or bush out, what spreads and what remains compact, was invaluable. It was also interesting to see how formal garden designs compare with informal ones. How you can take aspects of formal gardens (like box edging, brick paths & clipped hedges) & soften them into more relaxed affairs.
This is the main garden, and the original. It's a parterre, meaning it's a formal design with clipped hedge edging & level paths arranged in a symmetrical pattern. The garden is dotted with sculptures & beautiful little benches like this cartwheel seat. A beautiful place to sit & watch the world go by!

The Lavender garden is a real feast for the senses! A collection of over 40 varieties of lavenders, from the elegant Old English Lavender to the charming bract or 'bunny ears' lavenders. The colours were enchanting, from white to pink, even deep red! And the fragrance was heavenly. I will definitely be splashing out on some interesting varieties of Lavender, and plant for height & colour as well as fragrance.

Speaking of fragrance, the Pot Pourri garden was quite overwhelming! It was very popular with the bees too, and who can blame them? Scented Roses, Geraniums, Lemon Verbena & Mints all jostled around the central pathway along with more unusual herbs like Southernwood & Hyssop, as well as interesting flowerheads like Thistle & Teasle. I plan to grow lots of Southernwood, I love the camphorous aroma, and the feel of running my fingers through the feathery leaves.

And finally the Physic garden. I probably wouldn't grow many of the herbs from here, though it was fascinating to finally see herbs that I have read so much about, like Mandrake, Belladonna & Aconite. It was also interesting to see herbs like Tea Tree & Ginseng growing in the UK, and much more familiar herbs like Marigold, Rosemary & Peppermint, which I'm much more likely to have in my own herb garden! It also reminded me of the medicinal herbs I used to grow. My old garden was full of Wormwood, Goldenrod, Angelica, Sweet Woodruff, Feverfew, Echinacea & St John's Wort. And I look forward to growing them again soon.

Hardstoft Herbs also has a shop where you can buy many of the herbs on display in the gardens (though not Mandrake!). So I was allowed to run riot, and got myself a selection of lovely little plants to get me started!
So if you find yourself in Derbyshire on a sunny day, do go and say hello. It's a beautiful place to visit!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Savoury Bread Pudding

Bread & butter pudding has always been a favourite of mine. There's something about the soft, souffle interior and the crusty brown sugar & cinnamon dredged topping that hits the spot for me. I can't remember when I first thought about making a savoury version, but I'm pretty sure that beer was involved somewhere.

I'd like to say that over the years I have honed & refined this recipe into the masterpiece you see today (and called it Deconstructed Ploughman's Lunch or something poncy), but no, it's pretty much the same wet-weather or post-pub comfort food, the only thing that changes is the vegetables. I use whatever is in season to make this, so cold & bitter February means chopped kale or shredded cabbage. October is slices of pumpkin & chestnut mushrooms scattered with pecan nuts & crumbled Stilton. Right now its courgettes. This recipe uses round courgettes, because I really liked arranging the thick round slices between the slices of bread, but you can use courgettes of any shape and size.

Savoury Bread Pudding

4 thick slices of good bread (or a stale baguette, or whatever you have to hand)
2 courgettes
2 eggs
200ml milk (or yoghurt, single cream or quark, depending on how decadent you're feeling)
30-50g cheese (I had some Spanish Manchego, so used that, but experiment - goats cheese, Stilton, chedder & mozzerella all work well in this)
salt & pepper
home made chutney (come on, you must have some!)

Preheat oven to 190C/375F/G4. Grease a baking dish.
Whisk together the egg, milk & seasoning. Set to one side. Spread the bread with chutney & cut into whatever size makes them fit in your baking dish (if you're using a baguette, you don't need to do that, just cut into slices). Slice the courgettes thickly. Arrange the bread & courgettes in the baking dish, poking & prodding until you're happy with how it all looks. Carefully pour over the egg & milk mix, making sure you cover everything. Leave to stand for 10 minutes (this allows the bread to soak up all the egg, otherwise you'll end up with bread pudding on an omelettey base. Still tasty, but kind of weird). Top with cheese & bake for 20 minutes, or until golden on top.
Serve with salad to assuage any guilt, and there's no shame in having seconds.

You can use any chutney in this, chunky or smooth. Ploughmans pickle & piccallili are favourites, and cut through the richness of the egg & cheese, but mustard or pesto work really well too.
Om nom nom!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Courgette & Tomato Chutney

MikeyFox & I went to the allotment on Sunday to harvest our onion patch (I've spent years trying to grow onions, and been disappointed with the results. In March I handed MikeyFox a bag of onion sets & told him to try - we harvested boxes and boxes of huge, perfect onions. Jammy sod!) and plant some leeks. One of the committee members sidled up to me & shyly asked if I could donate some chutney to the open day at the end of the month (I seem to have got myself a reputation of the Chutney Maker. Can't imagine why).
So since I haven't posted a chutney recipe in a while, and they're a great way of using up excess courgettes, here's a recipe for a favourite of MikeyFox, King of the Alliums.

Courgette & Tomato Chutney

1 kg courgettes (the seedy middles removed if they're quite large), diced
1kg tomatoes (red, green or yellow, whatever you have an excess of!), chopped
500g onions, chopped
500g brown sugar (you might want to use white sugar if you're using yellow courgettes)
400ml white wine vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
4-6 red chillis (or green for green tomatoes etc), more for a hot relish, less for a mild one.
1 ts salt
1 tsp oregano

Put the sugar & vinegar in a large pan. Bring to a boil & stir until the sugar is dissolved. If you don't like tomatoes skins in your relish, place the tomatoes in a large bowl & cover with boiling water. Leave for 10 seconds, then drain & plunge into cold water. Slip the skins off, and chop as usual. Add the remaining ingredients & simmer, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, for 1 hour, or until thickened & glossy (this can take up to 2 hours, depending on how wet the courgettes & tomatoes are). Spoon into clean sterilised jars & leave for 1 month before opening (having said that, we opened one jar straight away and thought it was delicious!)

This chutney is actually more like a tomato relish. It's great on burgers, sausages & fried egg sandwiches. If you like it spicy, add some chopped pickled jalapenos to the recipe too!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Torte de Calabacita (Courgette Torte)

There is a fair amount of confusion when it comes to words like torte, especially when people use it when they mean tart (a baked pastry case with a sweet or savoury filling that is open topped, instead of having a pastry lid). Torte is a Central European term for a round cake rich with eggs but containing little or no flour (and from the Italian torta meaning round bread or cake).

This savoury torte is actually a Mexican recipe, and is similar to the Courgette budin I've posted previously. It has a moist, firm texture with less of a quiches 'wobble'. It's also really easy to make, and behaves well in the oven (no bubbling over the dish or refusing to set in the middle). It's also really good topped with a handful of grated cheese before going in the oven, or with 50g of pumpkin seeds or some finely chopped garlic stirred into the batter.

Torte de Calabacita

100g butter
2 eggs
450g grated courgette (see! It uses up lots of courgettes!)
1 cup brown rice flour (or white rice flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Grease a 1lb loaf tin, springform cake tin, ovenproof dish or whatever you're planning on using (I used a cazuela, being awkward and all).
Beat the butter in a bowl until light & fluffy. Beat the eggs in one at a time, adding a little of the rice flour with they need encouragement. Add the flour & baking powder & mix. Next goes the grated courgette & salt. Mix & pour into the prepared dish. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the torte is firm to the touch & golden on top.
This is traditionally served with creme fraiche whipped with salt & pepper (but then again traditionally this dish also has an unnerving amount of sugar in it too), but tomato salsa & black beans also works well too.

Om nom nom!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Mole de Cacahuate

You may already be familiar with mole (pronounced mo-lay, and has nothing to do with burrowing mammals), the Mexican sauce (from the Nahuatl mulli meaning 'sauce'). When people think of mole, they usually think of mole poblano, the most famous sauce, and an absolute bugger to make, as it contains over 20 ingredients (containing at least 3 types of chilli, cinnamon and chocolate amongst other things). But there are many mole sauces out there, from the Oaxacan* black mole (around 30 ingredients, some of them deliberately burnt) to the vibrant green mole verde (made with tomatilloes). This is the easiest mole recipe I know (easy is a relative term here. Lets just say it's a mole you can prepare while still holding a conversation, or even drinking a cup of tea). Traditionally its served over chicken, but I like to stir into it roasted pumpkin, pinto beans, mushrooms or french beans. For today, it has grilled courgettes & chestnut mushrooms stirred into it.
This makes enough for 6, though the paste freezes well. I usually make the whole recipe, and freeze half the paste once its been blended, then defrost it & heat up in a pan with 60ml of red wine & 250ml vegetable stock (and yes, I have a whole drawer in my freezer littered with little hummus tubs full of mole paste!)

Mole de Cacahuate
2 Ancho chillis, stem & seeds removed
2 chipotle chillis, or 2 tsp chipotle paste
2 cloves garlic
1/2 onion, peeled & sliced
225g tomatoes
2 tbs oil
1 cup peanut butter (this is a cheat, I should say 1 cup peanuts, which are then roasted & ground. If Diana Kennedy is coming over for dinner, do that. Otherwise, peanut butter is less of a faff)
1 slice dry white bread (or 2 heaped tbs panko)
1 tbs red wine vinegar
850ml vegetable stock
125ml red wine (or water)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbs brown sugar
pinch of allspice

If you have time, toast the ancho chillis. If not, put in a small bowl & cover with hot water. Leave to soak for 10 minutes. Roast the tomatoes, onion & garlic cloves for 5 minutes under a hot grill until they start to blacken. Put the tomatoes, garlic, onion, drained ancho chillis, chipotle chillis, bread, allspice & cinnamon into a blender & pulse. Add the peanut butter & 350ml of vegetable stock & blend until smooth.
Heat the remaining 1 tbs of oil in a pan. When hot enough to make a drop of the chilli puree sizzle, add all the paste & stir until the mixture darkens & thickens, which should take about 5 minutes. Add the wine (or water) & stir. Add the remaining stock & stir. Simmer on a low heat for 30 minutes (a good time to prepare whatever is going with it!), adding a little water if it gets too thick. Finish with seasoning & the brown sugar.

This rich, nutty sauce goes well with squashes, grilled aubergines, beans (both green & podded) & mushrooms. Or even grilled tofu or seitan.
Serve with rice, pickled red onions, queso fresco (or quark) or avocado slices.

Om nom nom!
*Yes, Thomasina Miers, that's Oaxaca, not Wahaca. Chump.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Courgette & Lavender Cake

I love the use of vegetables in cakes (not just because you can claim that a slice is one of your 5-a-day, but because shredded carrot, courgette, beetroot or pumpkin gives such an interesting texture & moistness to a cake) this is a recipe I've been fiddling around with for a while now. I originally made it with parsnips, but the combination of parsnip & honey made it prone to burning if left in the oven too long (and I mean 20 seconds too long, not 5 minutes or anything!), so here is a version made with courgettes instead. It's not a cake as we know it, as it's made without butter or margarine, the fats coming from ground almonds instead, which along with the courgette gives it a rich, moist texture.

Courgette & Lavender Cake
200g courgette, grated
100g honey
2 eggs
75g spelt flour (or rice flour if you want a gluten free cake)
50g ground almonds
juice & rind of 1 lemon
1 very heaped tbs lavender flowers
2 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/G4. Line a 1lb loaf tin with baking parchment.
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs & honey until light and fluffy (it should only take a minute or two, no endless whisking this time). Add the remaining ingredients & whisk until well combined. If the batter looks runny, add 1 tbs spelt flour (courgettes can vary in their water content). Pour the mixture into the tin & bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove from heat & leave to stand in the tin for 5 minutes or so before attempting to extract it.
If you're in the mood for a drizzle cake combine 3 tbs sugar & the juice of a lemon in a small pan, warm through & pour over the cake (though I like the cake just as it is).

Om nom nom!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Stuffed Baked Zucchini

I usually use the word 'courgette' (finding certain celebrity chefs obsession with Italian cuisine a bit tiresome), but as this is a recipe from my Italian penpal Gio, it seems appropriate to go with zucchini for once.
This recipe uses round courgettes - gah - zucchini, though you can get away with using the long varieties too.

Gio's Stuffed Baked Courgettes
4 zucchini or summer squash
1 tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 tomatoes, peeled, deseeded & chopped (or 1 cup of passata or leftover tomato sauce)
1 cup cooked rice (or spelt, wheat berries or a blend of grains)
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven 200C/400F/G6. Halve the courgettes & scoop out the centers. Chop them coarsely & set to one side. Place the courgette halves on a baking tray & cook for 10 minutes. While the courgettes are cooking, fry the onion in the olive oil in a pan. Add the chopped courgette flesh & tomato & cook for about 5 minutes. Add the rice & stir until warmed through. Add the paprika & season. Fill the courgettes with the mixture, and return to the oven for 20 minutes.
Serve with salad or as a side.

This is a really good way of using up leftover pilau, Mexican rice, paella, risotto or any other grainy dish.
Om nom nom!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


It's August! Already! Which means only one thing - courgettes everywhere!

So if you planted one too many courgettes in your garden, you might be running out of things to do with them (tell me about it - including the pattypans & summer squashes, I have 21 of them in my garden!) You can freeze them for the months in the year where they're overpriced & watery in the supermarkets, which is a doddle. Just chop them up (remove the seeds of the big 'uns so they don't collapse into a watery mush during cooking) & fry them in a little oil, or roast them in a hot oven for 20-30 mins. Leave to cool & tip into plastic bags or containers & chuck in the freezer. In the grimmest parts of January, they'll still be perfect for pasta, risotto, lasagna or whatever it is you like your courgettes in. (or you could just do what my Mother-in-law does & give them to friends, family & anyone too slow to work out that you've just dumped a carrier bag of marrows on them!)

So over the next few days I'll be posting some recipes & ideas for what to do with them all. For starters, here's something really simple. So painfully simple I hate to even call it a recipe

Lemon Roasted Squash
3-4 courgettes, pattypans, summer squashes, you get the idea (I used crookneck squash, which I grow because they're so damned pretty)
1 lemon
1 tbs olive oil
50g diced feta
2-3 small bulbs of garlic (optional)
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/G6. Halve the courgettes (if you have round or bulbous squashes, scrape the seeds out to leave a hollow for the feta) & place in a shallow baking dish with the garlic bulbs. Add the oil, the juice of the lemon, salt & pepper & toss until the courgettes & garlic are well coated. Scatter (or tuck into cavities) the feta over the top & bake for 30 mins, or until the courgettes are tender & the feta browned. Halve the garlic bulbs & squeeze over the courgettes. It will be buttery & sweet, and nothing like fried or raw garlic.
For a bit of variety, scatter with a handful of chopped oregano, mint or parsley. Or use mozzerella or goats cheese, or combine grated hard cheese with panko or breadcrumbs & scatter over the top before baking.

Om nom nom!