Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Monster Marrow Chutney

Have you seen this zucchini that Aldrum grew?

It weighed in at 2.5 kilos. I think he might be trying to prove something.

Yes, honey, I'm very impressed.

But now I have to do something with the monster and I think a chutney is the only way to make a meal of this beast.

This is a very English-style chutney - quite fruity and mild and goes particularly well with a sharp vintage cheese.

Monster Marrow Chutney
1 over-sized zucchini (I used around 2.5 kilos), diced
4 green apples, diced
4 med onions, diced
1 cup brown sugar
500 ml white wine vinegar
1 cup sultanas soaked in vinegar
2 tbs salt
2 tbs powdered ginger

Bouquet garni:
1 tbs cloves
1 tbs whole peppercorns
1 tbs coriander seeds

Place the ingredients for the bouquet garni in a muslin square and tie tightly with string.

Combine the marrow, apple, onion and salt in a large bowl and leave for about 3-4 hours. The salt will leach a lot of the moisture and any bitterness from the marrow. Drain well.

Combine vinegar and sugar in a large, heavy-based saucepan on the stove and bring to the boil. Add the vegetable mix, the sultanas, ginger and submerge the bouquet garni.
Reduce heat and cook until the mixture has reduced to the point when, if you run a spoon along the base of the pan, the sea of chutney stays parted. This should take about 1-2 hours.

Bottle in sterilised jars and leave for two weeks to mature before eating. It will store for about a year, but once you've opened a jar, keep it in the fridge.

This quantity of vegetables yielded about 1.5 litres of chutney.

From the garden: monster marrow

Zucchini Schnitzel

Yep, the zucchinis are still coming...

I was running short on ways to make the most of our zucchini abundance and this seemed a simple way to jazz it up for a satisfying meal. Truly, you'd be surprised how filling these crunchy little rounds are. You could give it the whole tomato-sauce-and-melted-cheese treatment, as you might do with a schnitzel, but they went perfectly with just a sweet, spicy tomato relish (my sister-in-law's famous-but-secret recipe). You can even serve it, as I did, with the raw zucchini salad and almost believe you're not eating an entire meal of the same vegetable!

Zucchini Schnitzel

1 medium zucchini, sliced into 5mm rounds
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tbs Parmesan, grated
olive oil

Oil a shallow pan and place in the oven. Preheat oven to 180C.
Combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a wide bowl and the egg in another. Dip each zucchini slice first in the egg, then in the bread crumb mixture (you can repeat these steps if you want a thicker crust).
Place the zucchini slices in the pan and bake for about 10-15 minutes, check and turn over once the bottoms have browned. Continue to bake until both sides are brown and crispy. Serve immediately.

Note: You can add any flavourings you fancy to either the bread crumb or egg mix, depending on whether it is wet or dry. Try: curry powder, grainy mustard, paprika, herbs, chilli sauce, etc.

From the garden: zucchinis, egg

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cinderella's wheels...

Cucurbita maxima, moschata and pepo make up the pumpkin family, within the family are many siblings. There are Grey ones, Orange ones, Green ones, long ones, lobed ones, tiny ones and huge ones... Cucurbita pepo is the scientific name for the Zucchinis also, so many of the growing techniques used for the production of Pumpkins are the same as for Zucchini. The seed (pepita) is elliptical, about 10mm across, and should be sown (with the flat sides up and down) about an inch deep after the last frost or early to mid spring.

Pumpkins require a long growing season so in cold areas they will benefit from being sown early in a propagator and transplanted when the soil has warmed. Pumpkins like to be planted in a mound of earth well enriched with compost. They grow quickly and appreciate regular water. The leaves and flowers look almost identical to Zucchini, they mostly grow as a sprawling vine rather than a large bush though. The vines love to have room to ramble so planting them well away from each other (1-2m), or training the vines will help.

Pumpkins also have tendrils (left) like
peas, beans, etc. for climbing, and can be grown up a trellis or over a garden structure (you can support developing fruits in string or net bags).

Early in their life Pumpkins predominantly produce male flowers (right), which have no embryonic fruit behind the flower, female flowers (with fruit, below) come later. Pinching out the growing tips can force the vine to send out side shoots which will usually produce more female flowers. Hand pollinating may increase yield in areas with poor pollinator activity. It is quite common to get 4-6 fruit developing on a plant, but if you want larger fruit thin out a few, If you want competition sized fruit thin to only one fruit per plant and watch 'em go.

Wait until the vine withers and dies, the fruit has developed full colour, and a hollow sound is produced when you tap the fruit before you harvest. When you harvest ensure you get a good (10-15cm) length of stem on the fruit and allow the fruit's skin to harden in the sun before storing for up to 6 months with some cultivars. Seeds can be saved when you prepare the fruit for eating for next years pumpkin patch, or you can throw them in you compost and watch them take off. Powdery mildew is the major threat to your crop (look at my post on Zucchinis for a milk spray recipe) and, less commonly, mosaic virus.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fire in the belly...

As far as I'm concerned there is no savory dish that cannot be improved by the addition of two ingredients, one is the tang of a squeeze of lemon juice and the second is the bite of a finely sliced chilli. So that brings us to today's post, chillis.

Chilli was one of Columbus' gift to the world from the Americas, although there are suggestions of a pre-South American history of chilli in Europe. It is a member of the Solanaceae family with tomato, eggplant, capsicum, potato, etc.

The heat in the chilli is provided by 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide or capsaicin, and I reckon I can taste every one of them 6 nonenamides. Heat, or quantity of capsaicin, is measured in scoville units which I think tells you the number of sips of icy water you need after a hot one (not the best solution, try dairy). Most people erroneously believe the Habanero to be the hottest, and although it is about 100 times hotter than a Jalapeno, the Bhut Jolokia or "Ghost Chilli" is about three to five times hotter then the hottest Habanero.

Chilli seeds (left) are about 2-3mm across and need to be propagated in warm (18-21C) soil. The usual rule of thumb of planting a seed applies - bury the seed 1.5 times its width, deep in a good seed-raising mix. Once up and running, chillis need very little special attention. Apart from some water and the occasional feed, the most important variable for success is temperature; they are a very warm-season crop.

Chillis make beautiful container plants, with the added functionality of being able to move them under cover if the nights turn cold. As the plants mature and you see the first suggestion of flower buds, you may want to give them a little extra potassium. An easy way to do this is to add some rotten banana skins to the soil or potting mix before transplantation.

Setbacks may include aphid attack (left), red spider mite attack, whitefly and/or verticilium wilt - but these are nothing pyrethrum, soap/oil spray, crop rotation or companion planting won't manage.

Seed saving is easy, let the fruit ripen, open it up and voila! **BEWARE though that if you plant hot and mild together the gene for heat is dominant so the progeny of your mild chillis may yield a sharp surprise!**

Depending on your taste, one to two plants is often said to yield enough for a family. As far as I'm concerned they can stuff that advice in their Scotch Bonnet, I go for six to eight plants for Sarah and I with a mix of Thai and Jalapeno (right).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Nothing is more satisfying in the kitchen than baking your own bread. And, if you've never done it before, it's easier than you think and never fails to impress your friends! This is a herb bread, so I could incorporate some garden ingredients, but you could just as easily leave the herbs out or add any other flavourings you fancy.

I use several 'proves' (allowing the bread to rise) in this recipe, which gives the bread a lighter, finer crumb, but this isn't as necessary if you're using the recipe for a foccacia or a pizza base. Another thing I find makes life easier, is to buy a large container of dried yeast, rather than the little sachets, and store it in the freezer. Ours has kept for at least six months this way.

Herb bread

4 cups plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
1 pint tepid water
2 tbs dried yeast
2 tbs sugar
1 tbs salt

Herb mix:
A handful of mixed herbs, such as thyme, sage, rosemary, chives, oregano, etc.
2 cloves of garlic (unpeeled)
1 pinch of crushed dried chillies
3 tbs olive oil
1 pinch salt

Make a well in the centre of a pile of flour. Carefully pour the water into the well and sprinkle over the yeast, sugar and salt.

Use a fork to work the flour into the water, continue til the dough comes together, so your hands don't get gooey when you stick them in.

Knead the dough with your hands, turning and pushing it into itself and adding extra flour as needed, til your ball feels smooth and silky and springs back when you poke it. This should take about ten minutes. Form it into a neat ball and score a cross in the top with a knife.
Place the ball in a large, floured bowl, cover with a tea towel and set in a warm place. Leave to prove for 45 minutes to an hour, til the ball doubles in size.

While the dough is proving, tear your herbs and place in a mortar and pestle with the garlic, chili, salt and oil. Pound to combine (you can easily remove the garlic skins once the cloves have been crushed), until the oil takes on the vibrant green of the herbs.

Remove the dough from the bowl and 'knock it back', meaning punch the air out of it. Knead in the herb mixture til well incorporated and, again, form into a neat ball, score the top and leave to prove til it doubles in size again.

Knock the dough back once more and halve it. Shape each half into a loaf (I plaited one and left the other plain) and place each in a floured loaf tin. Leave to prove again for another 20 minutes before baking in a hot oven for around 30 minutes or until the loaves have browned lightly and sound hollow when you tap them.
Serve with good butter.

From the garden: herbs, garlic.