Courgette Eating 2012…

I ate the first courgettes from the garden last week.  This is so much later then usual, they’d normally be cropping from June onwards, after sowing seed indoors in April.  For regular readers, you might remember that none of my seed germinated this year.  I’d normally have courgettes Defender & Soleil on the go, so that I have a nice mixture of green and yellow skinned fruit, but this year I picked up two unnamed plants from the local garden store, they are cropping nicely, producing plenty of neat green fruits.

It’s a kind of tradition (for me!) that I make pasta with courgette, mint & feta with the first crop, partly because it’s delicious and partly because due to my ever expanding waistline, which I am attempting to shrink, pasta features so rarely on my table so it’s quite a treat.  The original recipe comes from Apples for jam by Tessa Kiros, but I make it slightly differently and prefer fresh mint to dried and spaghetti to angel hair pasta.

Courgette, mint & feta pasta

1 medium courgette (or 2 small)

1 clove of garlic, peeled and lightly squashed (so it stays in 1 piece)

1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

40 g feta

80-100 g (depending on how greedy hungry you are)

lemon juice, salt & pepper to taste

olive oil

I like to make up the ‘sauce’ in advance, as I eat separately to my boys and long before my husband is home from work, I need tea (or ‘dinner’ to non-northern folk 😉 ) to be quick and easy.

Slice the courgettes quite finely. Add to a bowl, coat in olive oil (if you do it this way, instead of oiling the pan and adding the plain courgettes, you’ll need less oil, you can always add more for flavour if you aren’t worrying about the calories), season (go easy on the salt as the feta is quite salty) add the garlic clove, mix together then fry in a large pan.  Make sure the garlic doesn’t burn, it’s really just there to flavour the oily courgette mixture and ideally let the courgettes brown a little by leaving them in a single layer in the pan and don’t overcook.  Fry in batches if you’re making a larger or double portion so you can get some browned bits.

Remove to a bowl, leave to cool.  Crumble your feta on top of the cooked courgettes, and add the mint and a good squeeze of lemon juice.  This is the stage I make up in advance and store in the fridge until I’m ready.

When ready, cook the pasta to the packet instructions, add the contents of the courgette bowl.  Check the seasoning and eat.

It’s such a simple dish but one I always look forward to.  I can imagine a knob of butter melted into the whole lot at the end tastes heavenly, but as above, I daren’t add any extra fat, I still have a lot of baby weight to lose (ha ha, my youngest is 5!!!).

Jammmmmmmm…

It’s that time of year again, when my maslin pan comes out of hiding and I find myself rooting around in the shed trying to find empty jam jars.  Sadly, the bloomin’ birds got first pick at my fruit bushes this year.  I noticed, one day, that the many wood pigeons that live in our garden were quite active, on further inspection, I realised it was because they were happily stripping my early ripening red currant bush.  I then noticed all the cherries had gone.  Bummer.  I swiftly netted the remaining (and later ripening) red currant bush and the blackcurrant bush and put a diary note into my calendar for next year to NET EARLIER!!!

The blackcurrant bush has provided a nice crop again this year.  We are due lots of rain, so I decided to bring in the ripe berries a few days ago, I combined the picking with a good pruning, removing one-third of the bushes growth as near to the base as possible.  This is the first time I’ve pruned the blackcurrant bush, it is still relatively new but from now on it’ll get pruned every year.  I made my usual jam and cassis, both recipes can be found in last years post.  I confess to a bit of an addiction to blackcurrant jam, is is the right side of tart for me and has become my morning favourite on buttered seedy toast.  I had hoped to try some new recipes, maybe some ice cream of even a cake but time was lacking and I didn’t want the fruit to sit too long, waiting to be used.

For those not familiar with the UK, Kent (the county we live in) is mainly an agricultural county and is mostly famous for its orchards and strawberries.  At this time of year, you can stop at many roadside stalls and buy punnets of fresh strawberries at a very reasonable price, so it’s always worth buying extra for making jam and these days, people are much more aware of eating and buying local food.

Local supermarkets are also getting in on the ‘buy local ‘and seasonal act.  British produce is proudly presented and often you are told not only the variety but also the grower and region on the packaging.  I bought 4 punnets of strawberries whilst we were in the village recently, I made certain they were from Kent growers, my only other concern was that they weren’t too soft.  The smell as I walked home was heavenly.  It turns out I’d picked up two varieties, both from local growers and I was amazed at the difference.  I had one punnet of Sonata, which although they smelt nice, tasted a bit watery and 3 punnets of Sovereign – Wow they were delicious!  I mean really, really amazing, the kind of full flavoured strawberries that make you glad you have almost and entire extra box so you can eat them whilst preparing the jam 😉

I used my usual recipe, it makes a softer jam, still set but with less sugar than shop bought and the method of leaving the strawberries overnight covered in sugar produced a jam with set jelly and some larger strawberry pieces.  Lovely.

Strawberry Jam

Makes approx 5-6 jars (320ml)

  • 1.25 kg Strawberries (don’t wash them)
  • 900g Jam Sugar (with added pectin)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp butter

Put 3 saucers into the freezer.  Make sure jars are ready and clean (I put them in a dishwasher).

Hull the strawberries and cut in half or quarters if very large.  Add them to a preserving or large pan along with the sugar.  Mix gently then leave covered with a clean tea-towel for a few hours or overnight.  This allows the sugar to mostly dissolve and keeps the strawberries whole.  In the morning, most of the sugar will have dissolved and they will look like:

Put your jam jars, plus lids on a clean tray in a moderate oven to sterilize – approx 150 degrees C (or if washed in the dishwasher, remember not to take them out until you need them so they stay warm and sterile).

Warm the pan over a very low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved (v. important.  You don’t want any crystals left), this can take a while, try not to stir too much.  Add the lemon juice and turn the heat right up to bring everything to the boil.  Keep stirring to stop any jam burning on the bottom of the pan.  

Once at a ‘rolling boil’ time for 8 minutes then remove the pan from the heat.  Place a small teaspoon of jam onto one of the saucers from the freezer, chill briefly then push with your finger, if the skin crinkles the jam is ready, if not, boil for a further 3-4 mins and check again with a new cold saucer for a ‘set’.

Remove from the heat, skim off most of the scum and stir in the butter to disperse any last bits.  Leave for 20 mins to settle then pour into clean still warm sterile jars.  Cover with a wax disc and seal.

Ok confessions time.  I wrote this post optimistically on Sunday morning, before boiling up my jam.  I didn’t use sugar with added pectin, I only had granulated in, this was a mistake!  Although you can make jam with regular sugar (and some fruit has such a high pectin level nothing extra is needed), but in this case it was a great big fail.  After the first 8 min boil, there was no set, I boiled for a further 5mins, then decided to give up and accept I’d made a nice fridge jam.  I could have boiled for longer but I know, from experience, that it can ruin the jam, at a certain point the colour goes very dark and it just isn’t as nice, I’d rather have a loose jam, with a shortened shelf life (I always keep opened jam in the fridge anyway) then an over boiled one.  Live and learn.

So, I have 4 large jars of jam that need to be eaten first….guess who’s going to be making scones this weekend 🙂

June Eating 2012…

In-between sunshine and showers I dashed out into the garden today to feed the tomatoes with Tamorite and the potatoes, courgettes, squash & cucumbers with watered-in blood, fish & bone.

The boys joined me and started looking for things to eat, we are WAY behind schedule here, apart from rhubarb this is our first munching from the garden this year.  The boys ate lots of raw peas and alpine strawberries direct from the plants and we picked some radish and cucumber to try.

The peas are a minor miracle for us as F hates cooked peas, he wont eat them at all but last year we discovered that he loves raw peas.  Sadly, my pea plants have never really taken off, so I have a mix of sugar snap, petit pois and some random mange tout variety picked up from the local B&Q that were on offer once.  All got badly munched by early slugs but some have survived and are giving the boys a sweet little crunchy green treat.  I’m a bit sad not to have enough to actually cook a big bowl full, but we should have enough to add a few raw to salads as the plants continue to grow.

The cucumbers have decided to survive after a very rocky start.  I planted the seeds indoors in early spring, they germinated but became very lanky very quickly so I moved them into the greenhouse and planted more seed as backup.  I now have 7 plants growing in various stages of distress, not look entirely happy but they are producing fruit.  The varieties this year are:

  • Burpless Tasty Green
  • Tiffany F1 Hybrid
  • Cucino

The above shot contains one of the Cucino fruit, these are small mini cucumbers, perfect for C to munch on (our resident cucumber addict).  I appreciate the above photo makes our first produce look a bit pathetic, but let me reassure you that’s because we’d eaten a lot of it before I thought to take a photo.

I’m off to search out new cucumber recipes, as we’ll have at least one a day to eat from now on, if the weather continues as it is 🙂