Courgettes on the Grill

I’m sitting here writing this surrounded by buckets of courgettes.

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The sunshine, followed by an intense blast of rain, has sped up the growth and todays picking produced an interesting assortment of different shapes and colours.. Some are huge – it’s amazing how much a courgette grows each day if the conditions are good.

The weather definitely affects their production. The plants need a good amount of water and love sunshine. They are better cared for when we have a heat wave as I’m all up for an all over tanning opportunity. Standing in the garden spraying water is on my list of relaxing jobs. The days when it’s overcast and looks like rain are the worst because the watering doesn’t happen. Somehow my brain equates sunshine with watering, not clouds.

As the summer moves on so do the plants. They get bigger and begin to sprawl. We have eaten the first flush and are no longer hovering over the plants waiting for them to grow as there are other exciting vegetables maturing and sneaking into first place. This means that quite a few pass under the radar and get very big.

This all brings us to the annual courgette conundrum. We have been enjoying a variety of recipes – soups, salads, stews, pizzas, cakes etc.

I particularly like this salad of grilled courgettes. Very simple and easy to make and size doesn’t matter. Big, small and medium courgettes are all fine.

I use a cast iron grill pan for grilling which leaves funky looking griddle marks but a barbecue or regular grill would do the job too. The important thing is the heat. It must be hot. Whichever method you use it’s important to pre heat to sizzling.

Grilled Courgettes and Halloumi

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4-6 medium courgettes

200g halloumi

2tb sunflower seeds

2tbs pumpkin seeds

a big handful of mint, chopped

1 lemon, washed well

approx 150mls olive oil

salt and pepper

 

Cut the courgettes in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.. Sprinkle over a little salt and put into a bowl. Toss gently then leave for 20- 30 minutes. The salt will draw out some of the excess water. Put the courgettes onto a clean t-towel and pat dry. Wipe out the bowl and return the courgettes and toss with a little olive oil.

Heat the grill to very hot, griddle pan to very hot or have good barbie on the go.

Put the courgette halves on the pan/grill etc. Don’t overcrowd. Best to do in a couple of batches. Cook for 4-5 minutes each side. Less if it looks like it’s burning rather than a light char.

Put the cooked courgettes in a large clean bowl and leave to cool

Slice the halloumi – medium/thick slices – and rub a very little olive oil over them – too much and the cheese will burn.. Grill for a minute or two each side, until lightly golden. Put aside to cool.

Heat a dry frying pan then stir in the sunflower and pumpkin seeds, toast on a medium heat. Keep tossing the seeds so they cook evenly until lightly golden. Take off the heat, tip into a small bowl and leave to cool.

Slice the grilled courgettes on the diagonal into strips.

Slice the halloumi on the diagonal into strips

Put the courgettes and halloumi into a large bowl together with the zest of the lemon, juice of half, the chopped mint and a good glug of olive oil.

Grind a little black pepper over then toss everything together with your hands.

Taste. Add some salt if you think the flavour is a bit dull or more lemon juice if you think it needs further brightening up.

Eat warm or room temperature.

 


It’s pea time!

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Our peas are up and podding up nicely. They enjoy sun and rain, so have been steadily coming on.

We don’t grow too many real peas and truth be told half the time our peas end up in a serious muddle, the mange tout look very similar until a certain stage and often the ‘pea’ peas get harvested too early in a case of mistaken identity. We’re well aware of this problem but don’t seem to be able to get on top of it. Each year finds us humming and hawing and scrabbling around looking for the identifying markers that were carefully put in at the end of the row when the peas were planted. They mysteriously seem to relocate and confusion abounds.

Not many people grow regular peas anymore, there’s time involved and by the time enough are podded for dinner it’s easier to buy them frozen but it surely is a sweet treat. I like to eat them like sweeties, picking a few pods and munching away whilst gardening. They bring back childhood memories of sitting on the doorstep with my mum in the sunshine when I would help with the shelling and no doubt eat as many as landed in the colander.

It’s worth noting that peas began to deteriorate as soon as they’re picked, the sugar rapidly converts to starch, which is why frozen peas are so successful. If you can get you hands on recently picked peas they are delicious, but if they’ve travelled far it’s maybe not worth the effort.

There must be some massive pea farms out there somewhere, filling freezers worldwide with packets of neat green peas. I checked out the processing and came up with these interesting facts;

Peas are harvested, transported from the fields and frozen within 150  minutes, that’s only two and a half hours – 30 minutes picking by a machine called a ”viner’ which sucks up the peas from the field and removes the pods, 30 minutes travelling to the factory then 90 minutes to wash grade and freeze. It takes only 6 minutes to freeze a pea!

This all makes them the ultimate convenience vegetable, ready to use and very easy to prepare.

Here’s a recipe for a light and fresh pea soup, equally simple to make with fresh peas or frozen peas.  It can be eaten hot or, if the heat-wave comes, chilled. I like it with a little creme fraiche but that’s optional.

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Pea and Mint Soup

 

1 onion

1 medium potato

25g butter or olive oil

750mls vegetable stock

450g peas – fresh or frozen

a bunch of mint, roughly chopped

 

Peel and chop the onion. Heat a saucepan, melt the butter or add the olive oil then stir in the chopped onion. Cook on a gentle heat.

Peel the potato and dice small, stir in with the onion and add a little salt and pepper to season. Cook gently for ten minutes without browning. This slow cooking is important as it adds depth of flavour,

Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Cook for a couple of minutes, until the potato is tender then add the peas. Bring back to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes. Take off the heat, add the chopped mint and puree using whichever gadget you own – stick blender, liquidiser or food processor, until smooth. Adjust the consistency by adding some water if the soup is too thick and check the seasoning.

Serve either hot or chilled, with a little dollop of crème fraiche if you fancy.

Easy Peasy!

 


Rhubarb, Rhubarb

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The garden has speeded up big time in the past few weeks. The rise in temperature and some sunshine had all the little seedlings that were at the ‘Will I or Won’t I” live or die stage zoom into action and grow like mad. Suddenly the glass house wasn’t big enough to hold everything. There has been a frenzied potting up and transplanting out session and it’s looking good. Everything is thriving with the sunshine and rain treatment.

Taking into consideration that everything is a few weeks behind with the cold start there’s still a bit of a gap on the eating front. We have spinach and chard again in the tunnels and lots of young herbs in the garden but apart from that and the thriving clump of rhubarb it’s all potential. Potential beans, peas, spuds, fennel, kales etc., all settling in to their newly made beds outside.

The rhubarb is looking great as usual. It’s obviously happy and grows prolifically. The trouble is that apart from the initial excitement at a rhubarb tart or crumble it’s uses are quite limited. I do make a rhubarb and ginger jam which is delicious but with so much else to do jam making isn’t the top of the list.

I decided to play around and put the rhubarb in a salad. I googled for recipes but most called for roasted rhubarb, which might be delicious but not the texture I was looking for in a salad so I decided to try a light pickling and the result was very good, lovely sweet, sour and crispy and excellent together with beetroots, quinoa and orange.

Here’s the recipe, and I will be carting bunches of our rhubarb to the shop so if you fancy trying it without cooking pop in and pick some up

Beetroot , Rhubarb and Quinoa Salad

 

2-3 beetroots

1 red onion

2 stems rhubarb

1 orange

150g quinoa

2 tbs white balsamic vinegar

1dsp caster sugar

a bunch of mint – chopped

100mls olive oil

100g fresh goats cheese or feta – optional

 

Cook the beetroots. Give them a wash and tidy up the top where the greenery was then either rub them with olive oil and put in an oven tray and cover with silver foil and bake them for I hour to one hour and a half (180c) or put them in a saucepan and cover with water and simmer covered with a lid for 25=40 minutes. The cooking time will depend on the size of the beetroot. Test whether the beetroots are cooked by piercing with a small sharp knife. If it goes in with no resistance, the beetroot is cooked.

Measure the quinoa and water into a small saucepan. Add a little salt and bring to the boil then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 12-15 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed. Tip the quinoa into a large bowl and leave to cool.

Peel the red onion and slice finely. Sprinkle over a little salt and rub into the onion. The rings will fall apart.

Wash the rhubarb then slice , on the diagonal into skinny pieces.

Put the vinegar, sugar and a good pinch of salt into a bowl and mix until dissolved. Stir in the onion and rhubarb and put aside for at least 15 minutes.

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Peel the cooked beetroots and dice into equal sized cubes.

Peel the orange with a sharp knife to remove all the skin and pith then remove each segment of orange with a sharp knife by cutting each side of the segment, leaving the skin behind. Do this over the onion and rhubarb to reserve any juice.

Fluff the quinoa up with a fork, then add the beetroot, chopped mint and orange pieces. Lift the onion and rhubarb out of the bowl leaving the vinegar mix behind and add to the quinoa. Whisk the olive oil into the vinegar then pour over the salad. Quickly toss everything together , check the seasoning – it may need a little more salt.

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Serve with fresh goats cheese or feta crumbled on top or without if you want to keep it vegan and dairy free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Funky Vegetable Wraps

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These wraps are completely different. They’re made from only vegetables, ground almonds and pysllium husks. No gluten, no dairy, no eggs  and they are alkaline. Perfect for anyone on a restrictive diet that fancies a sandwich or wrap.

It is a recipe that I have been playing around with, inspired by a recipe from Green Kitchen Stories.

So far it seems that anything that I have in the vegetable basket, whizzed up with almonds and pysllium make perfect wraps. I have used beetroot, carrots, courgette and carrot, broccoli and carrot and for sure a cauliflower will work.

My measurements are still a bit vague but roughly speaking you need something like the following. Choose 1 combo plus the pysllium, almonds and salt

6 small beetroots, 2 carrots

7-8 carrots

1 head broccoli, 4 carrots

3 beetroots, 4 carrots, 1 courgette

half tsp salt,

2 tbs pysllium husks

2tbs ground almonds.

Wash or peel your vegetable selection and chop into small pieces. Put these into a food processor and whizz until finely ground.

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Add 2 heaped tbs psyllium husks, 2 heaped tbs ground almonds and half a teaspoon of salt. Buzz everything together then tip onto a large parchment lined tray – or trays – my tray is big 42cmx30cm.

Use your hands to spread the vegetable out evenly. Press down firmly and tidy up the edges.

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Bake at 190c for 10-15 minutes. The vegetable sheet should firm up. It needs to be firm enough to flip over on the tray.

Carefully, or should I say quickly and carefully, flip the wrap over and gently peel the parchment paper off. Put the wrap back into the oven and bake for another 5 minutes.

Cut the warps into appropriate sized pieces – depending whether you want to make sandwich or a wrap.

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We ate them with cannellini bean and almond hummus, avocado and salad. Absolutely yum!

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Quinoa, Butternut and Cauliflower Pilaf with Almond Sauce

I’ve been reading about alkaline diets recently , and even though we think we eat quite healthily, mostly gluten-free and vegetarian, there always seems to be an extra step – another reason to improve our diets. I invited some alkaline friends to dinner and played around with  a pilaf using quinoa instead of rice or bulgur. I wanted  to make something that was as delicious as the  original recipe but using alkaline ingredients.

I was worried the quinoa would be pappy and wet so I fried it with onions and celery and then cooked it for only 10 minutes and left it to relax. It was served it with roasted cauliflower and butternut with almond sauce drizzled over. The pilaf was perfect, a very slight nuttiness to the quiona and the roasted almonds gave a bonus crunch.

The almond butter sauce was alkaline riff on tahini sauce.  Tahini doesn’t seem to be on the alkaline list but the almond butter was delicious and worked just as well.

Quinoa, Butternut and Cauliflower Pilaf with Almond Sauce

 

1 medium cauliflower

1 lemon

olive oil to drizzle

125g blanched almonds

1tsp cumin seeds

salt

 

about 500g butternut squash or pumpkin

half a cinnamon stick

olive oil to drizzle

salt

 

2 onions

2 stems celery

olive oil to cover bottom of pan

a pinch of saffron, soaked in warm water

300g quinoa

half tsp ground allspice

450mls water or veg stock including the saffron infused water

a handful chopped coriander

 

2 cloves garlic

juice 1 lemon

1 heaped tbs almond butter

salt

water to thin

 

Heat the oven 200c

 

Put the saffron into a small jug or glass and cover with hot water. Leave aside to infuse

 

Cut the butternut into 1cm slices, peel and cut each piece into 2 or 3.

Put into a large bowl, drizzle with oil oil, season with a little salt and toss well. Break the cinnamon stick into 2, lengthwise then toss with the pumpkin. Tip into a roasting tray and put in the oven.. Shake very 15 minutes until cooked, roughly 3 times

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Wash the cauliflower, shake dry and break into florets. The bigger florets will need dividing. Put them into a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil, Zest the lemon, finely, over the cauliflower. Season with a salt and toss everything well together. Drizzle over a little more olive oil if needed. Tip the cauliflower into a roasting tray and spread out evenly. Put the almonds into the bowl and toss them in the residue of the oil then scatter on top of the cauliflower. Put into the oven and roast for 30 mins. Shake after 15.

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Peel and chop the onions. Heat a large skillet with a lid or a saucepan. Add a little olive oil and the onions. Cook on medium heat.

Cut the celery into 3 or 4 lengthwise then dice into half cm pieces. Add to the onion. Season with a little salt. Increase the heat so it’s all sizzling and then cook for five minutes without letting them brown.

Stir in the quinoa and the ground allspice and cook for couple of minutes, stirring all the time. Add 450mls liquid. This needs to be the saffron infused water plus water or vegetable stock to bring it up to the 450ml mark. Bring to the boil, add a little salt if you used only water, cover with a lid and turn the lowest simmer for 10 minutes. Take off of the heat but do not open the lid. Very important, no peeking as the quinoa needs to relax and absorb the steam.

Leave fro 5-10 minutes. When the veg are cooked, stir in the cauliflower and arrange the butternut on top.

Sprinkle a little chopped coriander over the top.

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To make the Almond Sauce

Put the juice of one lemon, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic and a big spoonful of almond butter into a bowl with a pich of salt and mix well. It will thickens as it mixes so have some cold water handy to thin it out. Thin with a little water at a time until you have a thick cream pouring consistency.

Serve alongside the pilaf to drizzle over.

Yum!

 

 

 


Spring Asparagus

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April and May, the garden shoots up. Everything that over wintered and that we have picked and enjoyed for so long is bolting. The spinach, chard and kales are shooting for the sky. They’ve done their job and are going to seed. We have baby stand-ins ready to take their place, they’ve been very shy about growing with the cold weather but as soon as there’s a bit of heat they will spring into action.

The baby salad leaves and rocket are shooting up too and being greedily enjoyed.

It’s also asparagus season, not that we have asparagus in our garden any more. We tried to grow it but never succeeded in growing more than enough for one persons dinner at a time. It would shoot up like an alien overnight and stand alone in the veg patch. We eventually dug it up in frustration.

However the West Cork asparagus is arriving, you’ll find it in the farmers markets. The short growing season and limited supply means a premium price but it is worth it and if you are lucky enough to buy some you’ll enjoy the flavour so much that you’ll never be impressed by the well-travelled version again.

Asparagus is best cooked simply.

One of our favourite ways to eat it is to trim the asparagus – I do this with a sharp knife, lightly running the blade across the asparagus spear until there is no resistance and the knife cuts through. Discard the tough end of the stems and toss the spears with olive oil, salt and black pepper. We then cook them on a hot grill pan, turning every couple of minutes until lightly charred. The same method would work under a grill.

Eat them as they are, with a mound of salad or dunked in butter, vinaigrette or hollandaise, it’s always a treat.

We came in from work last night, hungry and not keen to cook but there was a bunch of asparagus winking at me on the counter so I cooked up pasta with asparagus. It didn’t take too much effort and I shared a glass of wine whilst cooking – one for me, and one for the pot!

The result was delicious so here’s the recipe and another quick way to use asparagus.

Put a large pot of water to boil when you begin cooking this recipe so that you can co-ordinate cooking the pasta. Read the pasta package for the cooking time as this differs with the different varieties. We used a corn, quinoa and rice linguine – gluten free and very tasty – just don’t overcook it.

 

 

Asparagus with Linguine

Serves 2

 

1 bunch asparagus

1 small onion

20g butter

20mls olive oil

a small glass white wine

200mls cream

250g linguine – you could use spaghetti or tagliatelle

freshly grated Parmesan cheese to serve

 

Peel and finely chop the onion.

Heat a pan then add the butter, olive oil and onion. When the onions are sizzling season with a little salt then turn the heat to mediumWash the asparagus, shake off any excess water, and trim the ends of each spear by gently running a sharp knife across until there is no resistance and the knife cuts through. Do this to each spear and discard the tough bits. Chop the stems into 1cm pieces but keep roughly 10cm at the tip. Cook the 1cm pieces in with the onion for a few minutes then add the tips.

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Increase the heat and cook quickly for a minute or two but don’t allow it to burn. Add the white wine and allow the alcohol to bubble off then stir in the cream.

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Bring to the boil then cook without boiling over for a few minutes to thicken. Take off the heat and toss together with the pasta. If the sauce is ready before the pasta don’t keep cooking, just leave it aside until you are ready otherwise the asparagus will overcook.

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Spring Stinging Nettle Frittata

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Spring is here and the nettles are back!

Like most edibles that grow we are most enthusiastic when they first arrive. One minute we’re scrabbling around searching for the baby plants, the next there is a veritable jungle standing three feet high.

They are a bonus in the kitchen but a curse for gardeners. In my case it’s a perk to be able to use something so pesky.

Young nettles are tasty and tender. The part of the plant that needs to be picked is the tip – a bit like picking tea. If you are careful they won’t sting you but if you’re in a hurry or in doubt wear a pair of gloves. Either way use a pair of scissors to snip the tips from the plants.

Nettles are a specialty of the Northern hemisphere, they don’t grow in Australia nor anywhere that isn’t fertile and wet which rules out quite a lot of the world. Their prolific growth in Ireland proves they are very happy in this climate. If you have a nettle patch that bugs you or is getting out of control just keep cutting it back and it’ll eventually get exhausted and give up.

Before you do that, and whilst they are young and tender you might enjoy this months recipe. Each year we seem to have some kind of nettle culinary craze. We’ve made pestos, herby Greek pies, smoothies and soups and this year we’re on nettle and herb frittata with local buffalo ricotta cheese. I put in fennel weed, parsley and chives, which are growing in our garden. Use whatever herbs you can get your hands on, soft green ones are best – parsley, chervil, basil, mint or chives…… Wild garlic would be good too if you could make it down to the woods.

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Nettle, Herb and Ricotta Frittata

1 onion

25mls olive oil

6 eggs

1litre of young nettle tips

a big handful of any herbs – fennel, parsley, basil, chives etc

150g buffalo ricotta

salt and pepper

Peel and chop the onion. Heat a small non-stick pan and add enough olive oil to barely cover the bottom and then add the chopped onion. Turn the heat to medium and gently cook the onion until it softens. Season with a little salt. Stir in the nettles, keep the heat on medium and cook gently until the nettles wilt and soften.

Chop any green herbs that you are using.

Crack the eggs into a bowl, season with a little salt and pepper whisk them to mix then stir in the chopped herbs and wilted nettles. Break the ricotta into clumps and gently stir in, don’t over mix, you need a little lumpiness.

Put the pan back on the heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. When the pan is hot pour in the nettle and egg mix then turn the heat to low and cover with a lid. Cook gently for three to four minutes. The frittata should be setting. Put the grill on hot and pop the frittata under to finish. Don’t leave it to go too golden, just a little. It’s better a little soft than overdone as it’ll continue cooking off the heat the heat.

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