Thursday, 6 August 2009

When it comes to weeding my plot is far from pristine, but the advantages of not scouring every square inch are never more apparent than in high summer when a large number of self seeded plants appear. I love the surprise of foraging for unexpected vegetable guests.

This year great clumps of jagged leafed wild rocket have sprouted alongside my rows of pink fir apple potatoes and chioggia beets. Next to the dark pink cosmos are several broad leaved orache plants and some purslane (seeds borne on the wind from my neighbour's plots). The wild rocket has been scattered over thin crusted pizza bianca and the orache has been cooked with spinach, pinenuts, raisin and squid in a sour sweet Greek stew.

By far the greatest number of self seeders are flowers. As well as the returning sunflower and borage plants; white cosmos, deep egg-yolk orange marigolds and red, pink and yellow nastursiums have all sprung up where last year's seeds fell. There are poppies (both corn and California), a long row of echinacea, their petals growing downwards like a skirt and the colarette dahlia's are here again in all their paint-streaked glory.

Above all else August is all about the relentless production of squash and courgettes. I have four kinds growing patty pan, a yellow (soleil) a pale green striped courgette (verde di Italia) and a dark green (nero di milano). For those of you overwhelmed by courgettes here are a couple of recipes from my book to help you through the glut.

Courgette ceviche

Ceviche is a South American way of eating raw fish ‘cooked’ in citrus dressings. You can apply this process to the very tenderest of courgettes, sliced into ribbons and dressed instead with balsamic or sherry vinegar and fresh herbs. Eaten raw like this, alongside charcuterie, they make a very elegant start to a meal. This recipe really needs to marinade for at least an hour (30 minutes at a pinch) to let the flavours develop.

1 small courgette per person, topped and tailed and sliced into thin ribbons (a potato peeler gets the thinnest strips). For a very colourful effect use a mixture of yellow and green courgettes or summer squash.

Approx. 150ml dressing, made with 3 parts extra virgin olive oil to 1 part balsamic or sherry vinegar (I tend to slosh my dressing into a teacup measuring by eye).

small bunch of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped (summer savoury or marjoram would also be nice)

sea salt and pepper

Make the dressing, reserving a few leaves to garnish with. Place the courgettes in bowl and pour over the dressing. Mix well, cover and leave to marinade at room temperature.

Slow-cooked courgettes with lemon and mint

On the Greek island of Sifnos we came across a family run seaside restaurant where we ended up eating almost every night. The children played on the beach in the moonlight whilst we drank endless tin jugs of very cold white wine. This salad of braised courgettes was one of several vegetable first courses, along with the horta and salata horiatiki, that they offered. For this salad you really do need the smallest courgettes and as such is ideal for the home grower who can pick them whatever size they want (picking them small also avoids a glut). When you get bored of mint try dressing it with parsley.

Serves 4 as a side dish

8 – 10 small courgettes (10cm maximum)

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed roughly with the flat side of your knife

6 tablespoon of olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons finely chopped mint or parsley leaves

sea salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180ÂșC/gas mark 4

Top and tail the courgettes. Take a large heavy bottomed casserole and arrange the courgettes in a single layer. Throw in the garlic. Season and pour over a cup of water (200ml) and 3 tablespoon of the olive oil. Put the lid of the casserole and bake in the oven for one hour (turn over the courgettes half way through).

Take the casserole out of the oven, remove the lid and allow the courgettes to come to room temperature. When you are ready to eat them dress with the remaining oil and the lemon juice (add the latter gradually and adjust according to your own tastes).

Sprinkle over the mint and serve. Eaten with fresh bread and feta, this dish makes a light and simple lunch.

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