Quick

Courgetti

I am back! And although summer seems to be on its way out, today is the first day in what feels like ages that I haven't stared out of the kitchen window at drizzle. It was even suny enough to eat lunch in the garden and, to celebrate, this is what I ate.

courgettie spaghetti shrimps

Just four ingredients and not many more minutes to put together but delicious. All the components have a certain sweetness but it manifests in a different way for each: the courgette is nutty, the shrimps fishy and the tomatoes slightly tart. And butter isn't bad for you any more so even with the small amount I used to make things luxurious it's still super healthy.

Shrimp & Cherry Tomato "Courgetti" (serves 1)

Ingredients

  • small slice of butter (10ish grams)
  • 1 courgette
  • handful cherry tomatoes
  • 50g cooked brown shrimp

Method

  1. Turn the courgette into noodles with a julienne peeler or spiralizer. I used a peeler here because I prefer the the results: shorter, slightly thicker "noodles" that don't go quite as soggy. But either is fine. Discard the seedy centre - put it aside for soup or something. 
  2. Cut the cherry tomatoes into eighths. 
  3. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and add the tomatoes. After a minute put in the courgette noodles and, after one more, the shrimp. Everything should be heated through but the courgette should still be a bit "al dente". As soon as the shrimp are warm, seasone with salt and pepper and serve. 

Ifs And Ands

  • A squeeze of lemon wouldn't go amiss. Likewise some torn basil leaves to scatter over. 
  • You could replace the shrimp with prawns or scallops or but, if cooking from raw, they would have to go in the pan first. Flakes of cooked salmon would be nice too. 


Short And Sweet (And Sour)

Just a quick post today. I am feeling a bit "meh". It's grey and muggy and the house feels very empty without my brother and his family who were staying with us for all of last week. These agrodolce (Italian for "sweet and sour") peppers provided a much-needed shot of colour.

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peppers

They are nice scattered with rocket and basil as a quick side dish for meat or fish. Have them over pasta for a quick dinner or combine with torn fresh mozzarella as the topping for a green salad.

agrodolce peppers


Agrodolce Peppers (serves 6 as a side dish)

Ingredients

  • 3 red, orange or yellow peppers
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 1tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Method

  1. Core, deseed and chop the peppers into strips.
  2. Put the oil in a pan over a high heat. Add the peppers and the sugar. Stir to distribute the sugar then leave undisturbed for a couple of minutes. You want the edges of the peppers to begin to catch and caramelise but not to burn. (Depending on the size of your pan you may need to do this in two or more batches.)
  3. Turn the heat right down and add the salt and balsamic vinegar. Continue to cook over a low heat until the peppers are soft and the vinegar has mingled with their juices and reduced a little to form a syrupy sauce (about 15 minutes). Serve.

Ifs And Ands

  • Try different vinegars: red wine, white wine or white balsamic give interestingly different results.
  • Add some black olives, anchovies or capers for extra interest. 


All On A Summer's Day

One could make one’s own puff pastry and it would undoubtedly be delicious. But it would also take ages. So unless it’s for a really special occasion when the difference would be noted, I am generally in favour of using the ready made stuff.

Be alert to the possibility it might get arrested on weapons charges and change it’s name to P Pistry. That notwithstanding these are very, very easy. I pinched the courgette and pesto idea from my friend Julz who is a great vegetarian cook but now lives in New York so sadly I don't get to eat her food these days. They would be lovely with a salad: a balsamic-dressed tomato one with the courgette tart or green leaves with the tomato and mozzarella.

puff pastry tarts
puff pastry tarts

Puff Pastry Tarts: Courgette & Pesto or Tomato & Mozarella (makes 4)

Ingredients

  • 1 packet readymade puff pastry, either block or ready rolled
  • 1 egg

AND

  • 1 courgette
  • 3tbsp pesto

OR

  • 24 cherry tomatoes
  • 250g mozzarella

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
  2. If you have a block of puff pastry, roll it out to approximately ½ cm thick, if ready-rolled just lay it out. Divide it into four quarters. Put them on a baking tray.
  3. Score a line in the pastry to form an inner border, 2cm from the edge.
  4. Grate the courgette into a bowl and mix in the pesto. Spoon it onto the pastry, keeping within the line. OR Chop the tomatoes in half and tear the mozzarella into pieces. Arrange them within the line.
  5. Whisk the egg and brush a thin layer on the exposed pastry outside the scored line.
  6. Bake the tarts for 10-15 minutes or until they are golden brown with the sides risen. Serve straight away, perhaps with a few fresh basil leaves scattered on top.

Ifs And Ands

  • Substitute shredded spinach for the courgette or piece of red pepper for the tomato.
  • Goats cheese or feta would be lovely instead of mozzarella.
  • Plenty of other fillings would work to: mushrooms sautéed briefly in garlic butter, cheddar cheese mixed with finely chopped onions or softened leeks mixed with blue cheese.
  • Sweet fillings work too. Try fresh berries or roasted rhubarb and sprinkle some sugar on top of the egg-washed pastry before the tarts go in the oven. 

 

Buttered Up

As a mid-thirty-something I fall between generations X and Y, neither a Baby Boomer nor a Millennial. However, in food terms, I’m definitely of the olive oil generation.

Gastronomes of a certain age like to reminisce about how, until Elizabeth David came along, olive oil wasn’t used for cooking in Britain and was only available from chemists for softening earwax. Although it’s actually mentioned in Mrs Beeton so may well (like so many other things) have become scarce in the interwar years rather than never having been known on these shores at all.

Either way, it didn’t become the kitchen staple it is now until the late eighties or early nineties. Certainly by the time I started to poke about in my mother's kitchen olive oil didn’t seem particularly exotic. In fact it was positively overused. As if, having finally discovered the stuff, Brits decided they weren’t going to use anything else. It took a while to get out of the habit of wasting extra virgin stuff on frying things when it would have been far happier drizzled on a salad.

These days an unquestioning devotion to olive oil seems rather quaint. We’re expected to have a personally curated collection of oils. Sesame for stir frying, walnut for winter salads and so on. And that’s before you embrace the currently modish coconut and avocado oils.

All are wonderful, but it occurred to me the other day that with this oily abundance, we often forget just how delicious things are when cooked in butter.

I was reminded of this the other day, more or less by accident. I’d made some garlic bread the night before and had a bit of flavoured butter left over. Not wanting to put much effort into lunch, I spied some past-their-best tomatoes in the veg rack and fried them up in the garlic butter. And it was… a revelation.

It shouldn’t have been, I suppose. Marcella Hazan, the revered Italian cookery writer, is most famous for her tomato sauce recipe which contains a generous amount of butterI’d just forgotten quite how silky it makes everything.

This is barely even a recipe but still, if you’ve neglected butter in your stovetop cooking recently, it’s worth trying.

Remarkably Delicious Butter Tomatoes (serves one)

Ingredients

  • 10g butter
  • 1 clove garlic (optional but recommended)
  • handful of tomatoes

To serve

  • 1 slice sourdough toast

Method

  1. Halve cherry tomatoes and slice larger ones
  2. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat
  3. Add the tomatoes and cook until broken down and pulpy
  4. Season will with salt and pepper and serve on toast

Ifs And Ands

  • No embellishments necessary but basil leaves would go well. Or the addition of a torn mozzarella ball or crumbled feta make a more substantial lunch.
  • This would make a great quick pasta sauce too.
  • For a cold variation on the theme try melted, browned butter drizzled over sliced, fresh tomatoes as in this gorgeous salad from Food 52.
  • The butter itself can come in useful for all sorts of things so it's worth making lots and keeping it in a (sealed) container in the fridge for cooking other veg, stirring through pasta or just spreading on toast for a snack. Chilli, herbs or lemon zest butter would also be nice to have.

Green Summer Soup

This recipe seems like an good sort of place to start. It’s simple, healthy and infinitely variable. Also delicious. The preserved lemon and dill bring summer to the greens, like sunshine warming grass. 

It has depth of flavour but the yoghurt and sumac keep it light and elegant. I like it as a simple lunch (with plenty left over to freeze for another day) but it would make a smart starter too.

 

Green Summer Soup With Preserved Lemon And Dill (serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • approx 200g spinach (1 bunch or small supermarket bag)
  • approx 200g kale (1 bunch or small supermarket bag)
  • 1 ltr chicken or vegetable stock
  • pinch sugar
  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 2 handfuls of dill fronds
  • juice of ½ a lemon

To Serve

  • 4 spring onions
  • Greek yoghurt
  • sumac

Method

  1. Add the oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pan and sweat the onion over a low heat until soft, sweet and translucent. If you’re using bunched spinach or kale chop and sweat the stalks too.
  2. When everything is tender but not brown add the garlic. When you can smell it - only 20 seconds or so - add the kale, stock and a pinch of sugar.
  3. Simmer for a few minutes then add the spinach.
  4. When the spinach is wilted put everything in a blender with the preserved lemon and dill and whizz until silky smooth.
  5. Return to the pan, bring back to a simmer and season to taste with salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice. Don’t overdo the lemon. A squeeze should be enough to make it sing.
  6. Serve with a spoonful of yoghurt, very thinly sliced spring onions and a sprinkle of sumac.

If And Ands

  • I like the mixture of the two greens as it’s a bit lighter than kale on it’s own but avoids that over-irony flavour you sometimes get with spinach. Use just one if you prefer though. Or add any other greens that happened to be around. Leeks, courgettes or peas would all be nice. And wild garlic is season right now and would be delicious.
  • For a more substantial and creamy soup add a tin of cannellini or other white beans before blending.
  • Instead of yoghurt, serve with crumbled feta cheese on top.

Soupy Twist!