The Azores High brought great excitement and good weather to West Cork in July. For ten days it was like living in the Mediterranean. The beaches were packed and the sea full of people bobbing about, a rare and delightful sight. Families were moving in with plastic bathtubs full of picnic and kit and I felt I had been transported to another country. It began to feel the norm to get up and put my shorts on at every opportunity until the day the rain returned.
The culmination of the heatwave with the torrential rain was welcomed by gardeners and farmers alike and the courgettes sighed a breath of relief. For a vegetable that has a sunny reputation it needs a lot of water to happily produce. I have lived here for so long that I really should not be surprised about this nor how late it is before they arrive in abundance. And I must concede that everything seems happier with a little less heat and more water. I’d happily stand in the sunshine watering the garden but it’s not the same as a good dump of rain. All in all the garden is good, first sunshine and then rain seems to have done the trick, it’s all looking very green and happy
August brings home gardeners to the ultimate eat everything you have grown moment. After patiently waiting, weeding and watering there’s a rush on the ripening front. Peas, beans, kales, salads, fennel, beetroots, spuds, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, apricots, raspberries, blueberries. We’re drowning in some kind of food nirvana!
Here is a recipe from our friend Elisa of Syros in Greece which we enjoy this time of the year.
Gemista, which means ‘filled with’ in Greek, are ripe vegetables stuffed with rice and herbs then baked with potato wedges and olive oil. Tomatoes, peppers and courgettes all enjoy this treatment. It’s an ideal recipe to make for sharing, perfect for a big family dinner or entertaining. Once the vegetable preparation is done the dish goes into the oven for an hour, then comes to out relax for at least 30 minutes before serving. In Greece this dish is not served hot. Letting everything sit allows the juices to settle and flavours develop.
The tomatoes are very important in this recipe as it’s the juice of the tomato that cooks the rice. Big fat tomatoes are the ones to look out for. It doesn’t matter if they are misshapen or ugly as long as they are big. If you don’t grow your own or have a friend or relative that might share some with you try the farmers markets, failing that the supermarkets sell big tomatoes. As a general rule the more local the tomato, the tastier it will be.
This recipe makes enough for six hungry people but is easy to scale back if you would like to make less
Gemista – Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers
6 large ripe tomatoes
6 small bell peppers
12tbs arborio rice
50g pine nuts
150mls olive oil
bunch of mint
6 medium/large waxy potatoes
Cut the tops off the tomatoes with a small sharp knife and scoop out the seeds and the flesh with a spoon without tearing the tomato. Put the tomato tops and the empty tomatoes aside.
Roughly chop the flesh and seeds, keeping all the juices as far as possible then put into a bowl.
Cut the tops from the peppers, take out the seeds then put the peppers and tops aside
Peel and finely chop the onions. Heat a large frying pan, add enough oil to generously cover the bottom and when it’s hot add the onions. Cook on a medium heat, without browning, until the onions soften. Season with a little salt. Add the pine nuts and currants, cook for a couple of minutes more then add the rice, tomato juice and flesh and season with salt and pepper. Take off the heat. Chop the herbs and stir in then leave to cool.
Pre heat the oven 180c
Fill the tomatoes and peppers loosely with the mix and put the tops back on.
Place in an oven proof baking tray with high sides that will accommodate the vegetables snuggly.
Peel the potatoes and cut into wedges. Jam these in between the tomatoes and peppers. Drizzle everything generously with olive oil.
Bake for about 1 hour, until the tomatoes and peppers are soft and lightly charred.
Leave them to relax for 30 minutes before serving.