Fact of the Week

Forced rhubarb in season now. Don't miss out!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Courgette deficit

3 July 2010
There is a courgette deficit in south-east London.  Or more precisely, in my particular corner of south-east London, where despite begging, cajoling and imploring the courgettes are stubbornly refusing to grow. 

Last year, courgettes formed the mainstay of my summer diet.  I grew four plants (three in the ground and one in a pot) and the resulting crop fed friends, neighbours and colleagues alike from June right through to the end of September.  My naughty little sister, who was in residence throughout that period, was treated to an almost exclusively courgette based diet (her protestations - she does not like courgettes - did not unfortunately prompt her to cook).

Allium sphaerocephalon
The superfluidity of courgettes forced me to be creative in the kitchen; courgettes were chopped, peeled, diced, sliced, roasted, steamed, blanched, boiled and baked and formed the basis of salads, pasta, couscous, fregola, frittata, savoury cheesecake, quiches, tarts and cake.  And still the courgettes kept on coming.  I ate the flowers stuffed with ricotta, mint and lemon or mozarella, anchovy and basil and fried in a light batter, I indulged in tender, young baby courgettes no longer than your thumb and I still had enough full sized courgettes to sustain me and my naughty little sister (so long as I could tolerate the complaints) week after week the whole summer long (our courgette consumption was such that not one courgette became a marrow).

However, for all their faultless productivity, the courgette plants grew long and leggy.  They sprawled untidily, trailed over the edges of beds and across paths, ensnaring neighbouring plants in their tentacle-like leaves.  So when the time came to sow this year, I eschewed my heavy cropper from last year, Firenze, in favour of Diamante Nero, which described itself as being 'compact' and 'ideal for a small plot'.

A male flower
The germination rate was poor (I should have read the signs and sowed some faithful Firenze at that stage) and their growth since has been indiscernible.  Of my three plants (after last year I decided that four plants was excessive.  I can now only dream of a courgette glut), two have barely progressed past their dicotyledons (the first two embryonic leaves produced by the plant on germination) whilst the third has made a modest effort to grow.  It has a handful of leaves, each one no bigger than a ramekin dish, and has teased me with three male flowers (courgettes produce male and female flowers but only the female flowers produce fruits). 

I have learnt my lesson.  I will never again sacrifice a plant with a proven track record on the altar of horticultural order.  With dinner so dependent on my evening harvest, my priority is productivity, not prettiness.  I am reminded daily of my ill decision: each courgette free harvest is as disappointing as the one the night before.  Others have suffered from my mistake too: Supercook Kate who relied on me for her courgette plants (in exchange for aubergines in the great south-east London plant swap); and friends and colleagues who will not this year be sharing in my surplus.

The first tomatoes
In other news, the rocket, chard, french beans and lettuce are doing well; the tomatoes have the first red blush of summer; and the beetroot, aubergines and peppers are making slow but steady progress. 

3 July 2011 
Three puny plants continue to stare up at me from the vegetable bed where three spiny, dark green, hairy leaved vines should be, jostling with each other for space in which to stretch their glossy green limbs.  If I could rewind the summer, I would welcome their rangy, sprawling predecessors with open arms. 

The courgette deficit has forced me to cook new recipes from the produce currently on offer in the garden.  Below is a warm salad recipe I put together last Friday (assisted by a campari (or two) at the wonderful Frank's Campari Bar).  The earthiness of the baby chard and beet leaves compliments the warm new potatoes, whilst the roasted tomatoes, french beans and hard boiled egg offer a taste of a mediterranean summer. 

Salade Royale

New potatoes
French beans
Anchovy fillets
Baby chard, beet leaves
Cornichons, finely chopped
Dressing: 1 tbsp smooth Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 tbsp olive oil, water.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.  Quarter the tomatoes, sprinkle them with dried oregano and drizzle with olive oil.  Slow roast in the oven for 1 hour.
To make the dressing mix the mustard, vinegar and olive oil, gradually add water until you have a thin dressing.  Season with salt and pepper.
Half the new potatoes and cook in boiling water.  Drain and whilst still warm pour over the dressing. 
Hard boil the eggs in boiling water for 7 minutes.  Run under a cold tap to stop the cooking process.  Peel and cut into quarters.
Steam the green beans until just tender.
In a bowl, mix the capers, chopped cornichons, anchovy fillets, leaves, beans and potatoes.  Add the tomatoes and egg and carefully stir to combine.  Add extra dressing to taste. 

A fanfare of lillies?