Tag Archives: zucchini

In my veg box this week – first courgettes and peppers of the year, pak choi

26 Mar

Even though I’ve been getting a veg box for a couple of years now, it’s still really exciting every week when I get home and find it on my doorstep. Some weeks, the mystery and anticipation of bringing it in and unpacking it makes it feel like Christmas morning. Today when I picked up the bunch of bananas and found my first courgette of the year underneath it, I actually squealed with joy. I know I’ll be sick of courgettes by September (especially as I grow my own), but the first few every year are always a real treat. Numerous gluts over the years have resulted in hundreds of ideas for courgettes, but I think my absolute favourite is to add them to scrambled tofu. Yes, courgette for breakfast, I’m a real vegetable addict.

Other treats this week include:

Pointy peppers
Another exciting first of the year. These long red peppers look like giant chillies, but are sweet and fruity rather than hot. They’re another great addition to scrambled tofu, but I think this week they’ll be going into a salad or pasta dish.

Pak choi
Pak choi is a glorious green! The stems are sweet and juicy, the leafy part is similar to spinach. It’s lovely steamed, and incredible stir-fried.

Also received this week: cauliflower, yet more beetroot, onions, pears, kiwis, oranges, bananas.

 

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Two-soup Sunday, part one – any veg minestrone

18 Aug

I love soup. It’s healthy, filling, usually cheap, easy to make, requires minimal thought and co-ordination, and best of all, you can put pretty much anything in it. Making soup is a lovely calm activity for a gentle Sunday morning, and if you make a massive batch you’ll have a couple of days worth of packed lunch for work too.

Minestrone is the King of versatility. It surprises me that most recipes give a set list of vegetables with precise quantities. Surely it’s more fun and more practical to just throw in whatever seasonal vegetables you have to hand?! It does make my recipe look a bit strange, but that’s just how I like to do things. The point is, if you open the fridge and feel a bit baffled by the random selection of veggies inside, minestrone is a quick and tasty solution.

Recipe (serves 4-6)

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • a couple of cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped (completely optional, but almost obligatory in the Veg house)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or any other herb that works well with what you’ve got)
  • diced fresh veggies – a dinner plate piled fairly high is about the right amount (or 2 carrots, 2 courgettes, 1 red pepper, and a handful of broad beans if you want to follow a list)
  • 120g small pasta or broken spaghetti
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes (400g)
  • 1 tin any kind of white beans (235g drained weight)
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan with the lid on, sweat the onion in the oil over a medium-low heat for up to 10 minutes, without colouring.

Add the garlic, chilli, herbs, and vegetables, and sweat with the lid on for another 5-10 minutes, again without colouring.

Add the pasta, tomatoes, drained beans, stock, and tomato puree, and simmer for a further 15-20 minutes, until the pasta and vegetables are tender.

Check the seasoning and serve. Top with croutons, cheese, toasted pine nuts, or pesto, or enjoy it naked.

This keeps well in the fridge for a few days but be warned – the pasta will gradually soak up the liquid and it will become less soupy over time, but still utterly delicious!

Growing vegetables without a garden

1 Jul

Home-grown vegetables taste infinitely better than those bought from a shop. Here’s my top three reasons why:

  • Freshness. The flavour of many vegetables degrades with every second that passes. Produce from a shop is at least a couple of days old, potentially weeks or months old. If you grow your own you can eat them within minutes.
  • Breeding. Commercially-grown vegetables are generally bred to be uniform in shape, size and colour, because sadly that’s what consumers and supermarkets want. If you grow your own, you can choose seeds and plants that are bred for flavour.
  • Ownership. If you put time and effort into creating something, it increases your appreciation of the end result.

As a big vegetable fan, it makes sense that I would have a go at growing my own, and getting the best, freshest veggies I can get my muddy little hands on. I’m not going to let a minor detail like not having a garden stop me. We did have an allotment for a couple of years, but it is too time-consuming if you work full time – I’ll leave that sort of thing to my Mum, who is retired and has two amazingly well-kept and productive plots.

There’s plenty of different things you can grow in containers, even in a small space. We have pots and tubs outside our door and outside our kitchen window. Here’s a selection of what I’m growing at the moment.

Broad beans and courgettes (zucchini). I’ve got these growing in two old recycling containers, with drainage holes drilled in the bottom. Courgettes are very greedy plants, so there’s a generous amount of chicken manure in there to help them along.

 


Potatoes. We’ve been growing spuds in a patio potato bag for a couple of years now, with great success. It’s really easy, you quarter-fill the bag with compost and nestle the chitted seed potatoes about halfway down. When green shoots start to show through, cover over with compost, repeat until it reaches the top of the bag (this takes a few weeks). As with spuds grown under the ground, as soon as either the fruit sets or the foliage starts to die back, the potatoes are ready. If in doubt, stick your hand in the compost like a lucky dip and grope around to see if you can find any potatoes. I’m growing pink fir apples this year, which are my favourite potatoes ever – they’re knobbly, waxy, earthy, nutty… heaven!

 
Strawberries. I’ve already mentioned that home-grown tastes better, but wow… strawberries are proof of this. If you’ve never tried a real home-grown strawberry you need to find some and do it. You will never go back to the bland, watery supermarket offerings again.

 

 

 

Herbs. It’s great to get home from work, think “oh, I need a bit of rosemary for my roast potatoes,” and to be able to snap off a sprig before I even get in the front door. Here we’ve got lavender on the left, and rosemary on the right. We’ve also grown thyme in the past. Any woody herbs should work well in a pot.

 

 
Garlic. If you want to grow something easy, garlic is a great way to start. You get a whole bulb of garlic (from a garden supplier, not a supermarket), break it into cloves and stick them in a bit of compost in a container. Six months or so later, each clove will have turned into a whole new bulb of garlic. Let the skins dry out and they’ll keep for months. Here you can see the scapes (flower stalks) are starting to grow. If you cut the scapes down, the resulting bulb will be much bigger, and you can cook with the scapes too, they’re a bit like spring onions or chunky garlic chives.

Harissa spiced roast vegetable pasta

17 Jun

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I’ve not posted very much over the last few weeks because I’ve been super busy at work, which completely saps my creativity. Things are calming down now, and I’ve finally got my cooking mojo back! I’ve been celebrating today with this simple spicy veggie pasta (recipe below).

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Recipe (serves 2)

  • A selection of veggies. I used onion, tomato, aubergine/eggplant, and courgette/zucchini. Other good options include squash, sweet potato, pepper or fennel.
  • Two tablespoons oil
  • 150g wholemeal pasta
  • 1 tablespoon harissa paste, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree

Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Chop the vegetables into roughly bite-sized pieces, transfer to a roasting tin, toss in the oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and starting to brown around the edges, around half an hour.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Drain and return to the pan. Add the harissa and tomato puree and the roasted vegetables. Mix well, adding a splash of water if it looks a bit dry.

Serve with some tasty protein, such as beans or marinated grilled tofu. We were feeling slightly less classy than that today, so we topped it with some vegetarian hot dogs. Yum.

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