Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Raw Zucchini Salad

I had my doubts about eating zucchini raw. I don't know why, I guess it's just one of those entrenched preconceptions. Or maybe I was just used to bitter old store-bought zucchinis.

When I came across this recipe though, I thought I'd give raw zucchini a chance - it certainly worked out for my tomato sauce. I was pleasantly surprised. I think it's even my favourite way to eat zucchini now and makes a fabulously refreshing salad alongside grilled trout.

Raw Zucchini Salad
1 good quality zucchini
1 finely grated clove garlic
Grated rind of one lemon and juice of a half
salt (good quality salt is worthwhile here - I have a pink Himalayan one found at the local hippy shop)
cracked pepper

Combine the lemon zest, juice, garlic, salt, pepper and a few glugs of olive oil in a bowl (you want about twice as much olive oil as lemon juice).

Use a vegetable peeler to slice thin ribbons of the zucchini into the bowl. I imagine a mandolin would do a good job of this too; I used the largest side of a four-sided grater and got a reasonable result.

Toss to combine and serve immediately.

From the garden: zucchini, garlic, lemon

Friday, March 27, 2009

Zuck.. Zuchin... Zukee..... Courgettes!

Hello again! This post will be necessarily short on account of the chappy (shown left) who's taken up residence above the computer... Another argument for getting a laptop.

This post is on my favourite Veg to grow, Zucchini. The Zucchini plant (shown right) is a member of the Cucurbit family, same as pumpkins, melons, cucumbers etc. and is a beautiful, fast growing, summer plant, that produces masses of delicious fruit. It will grow to need an area of about a metre and responds well to some good compost incorporated into the soil.

There are several different types, my fave is the Black (beauty) Zucchini (avoid hybrids such as the F1 Black jack if you want to save seed). The seeds are large, about 10mm in length, and disc shaped. Please note I am not sponsored by the seed company shown left, however if they ever read this, leave a comment we'll sort something out ;0) Basil would also like it known that she is not yet sponsored by any dog food companies-->

Zucchinis grow as a short vine (shown left), if you are wondering if that's a pot around the base of the plant, in the soil, it is. One of the wonderful things 'bout living in a multicultural suburb like Brunswick is you pick up tips from the European gardeners around. Cutting off the base of a large pot and half burying it allows you to deliver water, compost, organic fertilisers etc. straight to the root zone and stops invasive plants, mint etc. from spreading.

As the plants grow you'll notice two different kinds of flowers. The male (shown right) has a single, pollen covered anther on the stamen, no embryonic fruit behind the flower, loves football and does not clean up after itself.

The Female flower (shown left) has a more complex ruffled stamen, an embryonic fruit behind the flower, lots of shoes and navigates poorly. Transferring the pollen from the male to the female is the job of Mr. Bee, or you and a paintbrush (see tickling tomatoes post).

The result of successful pollination is a swelling fruit (shown right) and a plentiful harvest (shown left). Both images here show fruit that would have been tastier when picked at about 15cm, however, once they start, you also will struggle to keep up with the harvesting and eating. The flowers are also a bit gourmet.

Zucchinis can suffer from several different issues. The most common I see is mildew, (shown right) which appears as a fine white powdery deposit on the leaves (be careful not to mistake dried shaving foam for mildew when using your grey water on the plants.... Hi Dad). Mildew can be avoided by not crowding your plants together (thus avoiding a humid micro-climate), keeping them healthy and well fed, and spraying fortnightly with a 1 to 10 full fat milk to water spray. If it does strike, bin the leaves affected (don't compost), spray with the milk solution, and wash your hands before touching any other leaves/plants. If you have to remove an entire plant, so be it, they will lose their vigour anyhow. Fortunately they grow quickly so you may get another in in time. Another problem to look out for is blossom end rot, look it up and make sure you don't get it confused with unpollinated fruit. It is usually caused by inconsistent watering.

I wonder if there is a recipe coming that involves Zucchini.....


Monday, March 2, 2009

Simplest tomato pasta sauce

In the heat of summer, the last place you want to be is in front of your stove and when the first trusses of tomatoes redden, you don't want their freshness and vibrancy muted by the process of cooking. Yes, this pasta sauce requires no cooking. It is simply the best of your tomatoes in their simplest form, surrounded by their greatest friends.

A good friend brings out your best qualities and helps you show your true colours. A tomato's best friends are salt, to draw out the sweetness; olive oil, to round out the tartness; and basil, to brighten the flavours. And with a preparation time of five minutes, this has to be the fastest way to enjoy the fruits of your gardening labour.

Oh, and be sure to slurp up the juice that has gathered in the bottom of your bowl - it is pure, liquefied summer! Come to think of it, this sauce would make a great cold soup - a gazpacho of sorts - and with a hunk of crusty bread, would make a fabulous meal.

Tomato sauce
5 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (they have to be the best tomatoes - soft, juicy and aromatic - there's no point doing this with those cardboardy, supermarket varieties)
a handful of basil leaves, torn
1 clove of garlic, crushed
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
grated parmesan or fresh ricotta

Place the chopped tomato in a medium-sized bowl and, with clean hands, dig in, sqeezing the tomatoes (this is the best bit), til they have a pulpy, lumpy consistency. Stir through the garlic, a good glug of olive oil, a splash of balsamic, basil and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve atop your pappardelle with a drizzle of olive oil and crumble over the cheese.

From the garden: tomatoes, basil, garlic