After the slowest start to summer in living memory my food garden has finally exploded into production. Until a week or so back, I was still gorging on sugar-snap peas – which really do live up to their name with exquisitely crunchy, tooth-achingly sweet pods, and the lesser-known bonus of delicious shoots and young leaves. My climbing butter and round-green beans are now replacing them with excellent crops of tender, sweet beans, heady with lovely grassy, green flavour.
My pumpkin/kamo kamo patch is spreading at an alarming rate, and looks set to smother most of the front lawn over the coming weeks. The plants grow so easily and produce such a bounty of delicious, long-lasting fruit that it’s worth the sacrifice of a bit of (frankly useless) turf each summer. As well as their fruitful female parts, pumpkins also produce an endless succession of gaudy male flowers. Now, if I was any kind of cook I’d be stuffing these with ricotta and deep frying them etc, and so forth every other night but really, who has the time these days?
Due to the very late start to the growing season, my tomatoes are only just beginning to deliver the goods. The majority of my plants are of the newish variety called Black Cherry. These produce trusses of small muddy-red, startlingly sweet and wallopingly flavoursome fruit. They’re just about the best tasting tomatoes I’ve come across. Lacking the off-putingly thick skin of other cherries, they are equally at home in salads, salsa, pasta sauces, or sandwiches and develop a fetchingly smoky quality once dried.
My peppers (Spanish pequillo) are loaded with fruit, but these won’t start ripening for a while yet. Right now the 30-odd plants are strewn with tight green, darkly glossy torpedoes. In coming weeks these will swell and ripen into the perfect pleasure of late-summer eating that is a full flavoured, sweet and spicy, sun-ripened pepper.
Once again, I seem to have planted too many zucchini, and I’m already finding it hard to keep with their conveyer belt cropping. I love zucchini when they’re small and crunchy, with their shy, nutty flavour. Unfortunately, they don’t stay that way for long. Mondays’ sweet little morsel will be an obscenely swollen beast come Friday. And no matter how you try to dress them, marrows really don’t make for pleasant eating. Fortunately my chooks aren’t so fussy, and seem to find marrow demolition the very best kind of fun.
While there are plenty of recipes which specialise in hiding zucchini in unlikely places ( cakes, muffins, fritters etc), I prefer to make the most of their flavour and crunch with the classic Italian preserve zucchini sott’oleo (zucchini under oil).
Thinly slice the zucchini, either diagonally or into rounds. Place in a non-corrosive bowl and salt liberally. Weight down either with bags of rice, a couple of bricks (wrapped in plastic!) or similar for approximately 24 hours.
Drain and discard liquid. Douse the zucchini generously with white wine vinegar. Repeat weighting process for approximately 12 hours. Drain and discard liquid again. Pack zucchini into sterilized jars with dried chillies, blanched garlic, dried oregano and/or rosemary and cover with oil (I use a mixture of 2 parts sunflower oil to 1 part olive). Carefully tease out any trapped air bubbles and ensure the zucchini remain covered with oil at all times. Seal and keep in a cool dark place. Will last for several months at least.
These are delicious served as a pickle, added to paella or tossed through pasta with garlic, chilli, crispy bacon, toasted almonds etc.
This method of preservation can be used for many different vegetables including aubergine, peppers, green tomatoes and mushrooms.
Enjoy, and tell us about your summer food highlights