Thursday, 23 September 2010

Courgette Jam and the Sorry Tale of Asparagus Peas

I suppose that it's about time to gather in the summer harvest before finally having to admit that the autumn is here.  I feel like I’ve eaten every courgette dish imaginable and I’ve made plenty of chutney but the courgette plants are still producing. So I've used a few of the spare courgettes to make this simple but pleasing jam. Actually, calling it a jam is a bit misleading since it's based loosely on a French confiture de courgettes and is intended for serving with cheese, pâté or other savoury bits and bobs. Of course, there's nothing stopping you spreading it on your toast in the morning; after all breakfast in France is just a small lunch.

You can use up any overgrown marrow-like courgettes in this jam, but only use the fleshy outer parts and discard the seedy core for best results. You can vary the mix of dried fruit as the mood and market takes you, but a few figs are particularly nice. The amount given here should make 3 standard jars.
Courgette Jam 1
900 g coarsely grated unpeeled courgettes (this is the weight after grating)
750 g  jam sugar (the one with added pectin)
100 g sultanas
60 g dried apricots, chopped
60 g dried figs, chopped
the zest and juice of 4 lemons
4 tbsp pomegranate molasses
A small amount of finely grated fresh ginger (a piece about 1 – 2 cm should be plenty)

Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly in a large bowl, cover and leave overnight. This will blend the flavours, plump up the dried fruit and draw a lot of water out of the courgettes.

The next day, pour the whole lot into a jam or preserving pan. Bring to the boil, stirring to ensure that any errant sugar has dissolved. Boil gently until the jam reaches setting point. (Test using the old trick of saucers kept in the freezer. Put a drop of jam on a  cold saucer and push it with your finger after a minute – if it wrinkles, then the jam's ready.) How long the jam takes to reach this point will depend on how fiercely you boil and how much water was in the courgettes, but 20 – 30 minutes should be about right.

Let the jam cool a little then pour into warm sterilised jars.

Courgettes 3
The harvest of asparagus peas has proved a lot less useful. They turn up in a number of veg growing books as something a bit different that you might like to try. Well, I did try. They're reasonably easy to grow but despite the name they don't taste of asparagus or peas or anything else for that matter and they combine a lack of flavour with a rather unpleasant texture.

Not a plant I'd grow again but I have to admit that they're quite pretty.

Asparagus Peas

Friday, 10 September 2010

Courgette and Herb Soup

Courgette Soup 2
I'm willing to admit that this soup comes as an attempt to use at least some of the bumper crop of courgettes and herbs from the garden, but I think it tastes pretty good too.  Courgettes are good with other herbs like basil too if that's what you have to hand and if you don't have sorrel, then add a little more lemon juice instead.

This soup will work either hot or chilled, but if you're serving it chilled then you may want to increase the amount of lemon or sorrel forhillfarm oil that refreshing sharpness on a warm day.

Instead of reaching for the olive oil as I usually would, I used a little extra virgin rapeseed oil. These oils have a very pleasing nutty and slightly grassy flavour which works really well with courgettes. The one I used was Hillfarm extra virgin cold pressed rapeseed oil  but I've also been using Farrington's Mellow Yellow cold pressed rapeseed oil and that's an excellent product as well. Both these oils work very well in courgette cake too (told you that I had a lot of courgettes).

I was intending to make enough soup for 4 but actually ended up with around 5 servings but I don't think you need to be too precise about exact weights and amounts in this soup.

1 small onion, chopped
500 g courgettes, topped and tailed
400 g potato, peeled and cut into small dice
1 litre vegetable stock (a light chicken stock would be fine instead)
around 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
around 1½ tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
the stalks from the coriander, chopped finely
around 1 tbsp chopped fresh sorrel leaves
100 ml coconut milk
A little lemon juice

Start to soften the onion in a little of the rapeseed oil. After 5 minutes or so add the potato, stir it around and keep frying gently for a couple of minutes. Add the coriander stalks and pour over enough of the stock to just cover the potatoes. Cover the pan and simmer gently for 12 -15 minutes until the potatoes start to soften.

Slice courgettes into rounds – the thickness isn't really critical, but not too thin. Add the courgettes and the rest of the stock to the pan and simmer for another 10 minutes or until the courgettes have softened but not fallen apart. Add the coconut milk and all the herbs, give the pan a thorough stir and take it off the heat.

Leave the pan to one side to cool and infuse for at least 20 minutes before liquidising. Add salt and pepper after liquidising (it probably won't need a lot) together with a squeeze or two of lemon juice.

Courgettes 1

Monday, 6 September 2010

Blackberry Vinegar

It's the time of year to wander around the hedgerows, assuming that you can still find any, collecting blackberries – I suppose I should say brambles really. There’s nothing original about how I make blackberry vinegar but I find it's really useful throughout the year and especially during the winter to come. I use it in dressings, marinades and dishes like red cabbage.
Blackberries 1
The first time I made this I couldn't quite believe the amount of sugar that's traditionally added, but when you realise that this is more of a flavouring syrup than a vinegar then it makes sense. All you need is white wine or cider vinegar, sugar and blackberries and this is all you do……

Wash and pick over the berries, getting rid of any foreign bodies and other nasty bits and weigh them once they've drained thoroughly. Put the berries in a deep, non-reactive bowl. Traditionally you now need to add 1 pint of vinegar for every pound of berries – I'm a bit generous with the vinegar and add around 580 ml of white wine vinegar to every 450 g of berries. Stir the berries around in the vinegar briefly and give them a gentle crush. At this point you can add herbs, such as a few leaves of lemon verbena, but this certainly isn't essential. Cover the bowl and leave it for between 3 and 5 days – give it a quick stir every day if you remember.

When the time's up, strain the berry and vinegar mix through muslin. This may take a while but you are allowed to press the berries a little to force out the juice. Measure the resulting liquid. The traditional, and I think best, method at this point is to add 1 pound of sugar for every pint of vinegar – so 450 g of granulated sugar to every 570 ml of vinegar.

Pour the mixture into a non-reactive saucepan and bring it up to boiling point while stirring to ensure that the sugar dissolves fully. Simmer very gently for 15 minutes skimming off any nasty looking stuff that floats to the surface.
Blackberry Vinegar 1
Let the vinegar cool before pouring into bottles and admiring the colour. This should keep for many, many months, but I seem to use most of it up during the winter without really trying.

You can make raspberry vinegar in exactly the same way and very nice it is too, though personally I don’t find it as useful as blackberry.

Blackberries 4[3]