No green fingers

I’m not sure what’s become of my courgette plant. On Saturday when I last looked, it was standing strong, leaves aloft with a few signs of baby shoots and flowers – the promise of fruit – and today it is a twisted heap of limp, lying listless on the ground. To make matters worse, when I googled the problem, I was reminded that courgettes are ‘surprisingly easy to grow’…..grrrr.

I’m not sure if it was the cats or the slimers this time, but there are no dead slugs or snails in my carefully laid beer-trap (no, I’m not sorry, RSCPA,) and I’ve nothing equivalent for feline entrapment, so I guess I’ll have to lump it. One thing’s for sure: next year it’s going to be flowers, all the way – oh, and herbs seem to be ok. Vegetables just don’t seem to be my bag, and I haven’t got the energy for a Boggis/Bunce/Bean-style campaign against the plethora of pests on my block. Moreover, my potatoes are so tall they look like tomatoes (as has been pointed out several times); they resemble a healthy, leafy hedge, but alas, there are no goodies beneath.

A shame then, that I won’t have the glut of free courgettes I dreamt of as an excuse to make my new favourite thing, from Skye Gyngell’s How I Cook. We had this jammy marvel alongside a chilli-infused lamb shoulder and our green-fingered friend Joe’s new potatoes, freshly dug from his garden. They were so fresh they were crisp, like apples. I think I’ll leave the clever stuff to him.

Slow-cooked courgettes with mint

Serves 4-6

1 kg courgettes, trimmed

1 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped

1 dried red chilli

Sea salt

Handful of mint leaves, very finely chopped

Slice the courgettes into fine rounds (food processor slicer was practically invented for this). Put the butter and oil into a heavy-based saucepan and heat gently until the butter melts. Add the garlic and crumble in the chilli, stir once or twice, then cook for a few minutes until the garlic is soft, but not coloured.

Now add the courgettes with a good pinch of salt and put the lid on the pan. Cook over a low heat for 40 mins, stirring regularly to ensure that the courgettes do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Once cooked they should be very soft, almost fallen apart.

Stir in the chopped mint and serve warm.

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A big, green goodie bowl

I’m a lazy cook when the BSG’s away. Working from home means that lunch usually consists of perhaps a bowl of peas and a piece of toast and Marmite. And perhaps some cheese…or an egg. Or some Shreddies.

The key to lunch is that it’s quick – and though neither glamorous nor clever, the aforementioned ingredients happen to be amongst my favourite things to eat at any time. However, they can get a bit boring when repeated. We were given some cut and come again salad leaves by Ma BSG in the spring, which do exactly what they say on their (beautiful wooden wine) box. So, seeing as the plants seem to be growing despite my best efforts to the contrary, I decided to experiment with them and our rampant herbs recently in an endeavour to put some crunch into my lunch.

The results have turned out better then I could have imagined: it’s still quick, yet it’s also interesting and – dare I say it – healthy (though I’m not sure that was on the list).

IMG_2245Quantities are not important, it depends how big a bowl of goodies you feel like: every day should be different.

Frozen peas

Frozen broad beans

Mixed handful of soft green herbs; Chervil, Sorrel, Basil, Parsley, Mint…

Some young salad leaves (if you have them)

A grating of hard Italian cheese (the block in the back of your fridge that’s been there for ages)

A glug of greenest olive oil

A squeeze of lemon juice (and some zest if you’re feeling like a zing)

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the frozen vegetables according to packet instructions and drain, then toss in all the other ingredients and that’s it. For something more substantial, this would go very well stirred through some filled pasta.

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BSG anniversary

It’s been a year since the partnership between the BSG and his beloved Magimix was formally validated by the church of John Lewis. To celebrate this, we headed back to the scene of the festivities, to Norfolk for a long weekend. After the prolonged spell of warm dry weather the place seemed a whole season ahead of a usual May (and perhaps two ahead of what was last year’s May 8th – 9 degrees and horizontal drizzle). The hedgerows were festooned with lacy swathes of cow parsley, gigantic fishbone leaves hung from the horse chestnuts and a sweet smell pervaded the warm breeze. True, the ground looked parched and in desperate need of rain, but I was glad to miss it this time.

Sunny Norfolk

To celebrate this first anniversary, our first thoughts – naturally – concerned food. This is how we express, spoil, console and refresh ourselves and the prospect of concocting a feasting menu was terrifically indulgent and exciting. Yes, even more so than a roll-top bath and hot and cold running room-service in a sandy-bricked village in the Cotswolds…

Given the weather, how could we not visit Cookie’s Crab Shop? It was packed full of happy seasiders in their pack-a-macs. (NB: if you are shellfish-averse, tell someone before ordering the Royal Salad – the BSG spent half his lunch carefully halving his lunch, ending up with a mountain of smoked mackerel and rollmops opposite my crab and crayfish monolith.)

Impossible as it was to imagine ever eating again after such a feast, we managed an Italian beef stew, melting over some polenta laced with Fontina (thank you Antonio Carluccio), followed by something rather exciting we’d stumbled across in an abandoned Olive magazine (thank you Rosie’s mum): Pimm’s jelly. This one’s definitely for grown-ups, and will prove a winner for pudding at any barbeque. Furthermore, as if this wasn’t fun enough – it was still fizzy.

Pimm’s, lemon and mint jelly

(It doesn’t matter if you use sachets or leaves in this recipe – the below is leaves but I used a sachet of powder – whichever you can find. If it makes a pint rather than a litre, split the ratios accordingly, 7 lemonade: 2 Pimm’s: 1 water.)

10 gelatine leaves
Small bunch mint leaves
200ml Pimm’s
700ml sparkling lemonade
Chopped cucumber , strawberries, orange and lemon slices, to serve

Soak the gelatine in a bowl of cold water. Heat 100ml water in a pan, drop in the mint leaves and leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Take out the leaves, reheat, then stir in the gelatine until dissolved. Add the Pimm’s and lemonade and cool. Skim off any remaining foam. Pour into a 1-litre jelly mould and chill overnight until set.

Turn out onto a plate and surround the jelly with the traditional Pimm’s garnish.