Preservation orders

Sometimes summer means too much of a good thing. So put a little away for a rainy day, says Mark Hix
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Indy Lifestyle Online

We live in a land of plenty. But that doesn't meant we should waste food. I know I come across as a stingy bugger, making meals out of ingredients that are almost ready for the bin, and hosting fridge-clearing parties to palm my mates off with all the bits and bobs (and gallons of red wine) that have accumulated over weeks of shoots for this magazine. But I firmly believe that a big part of good and clever cooking is knowing how to make great meals out of whatever you have to hand, and using every available scrap. Farmers and gardeners know that when you grow food everything comes at once, and you have to find ways of using a glut of produce. Just because there's lots of it doesn't mean it's less worthwhile. You can't have too much of a good thing.

In the past, homemade jams and chutneys were ways of preserving surplus fruit and vegetables to make them last into winter. They help us recall the pleasures of another season. There's nothing like the taste and smell of strawberry jam to remind you of the juicy fresh fruit you ate with cream in summer. Now, as well as these ways of preserving, just-picked fruit can be kept in the freezer for months.

And we have so many other homegrown seasonal vegetables to make the most of. After all, 50 years ago, nobody had masses of basil on their windowsill, and my grandfather's Dorset garden didn't have runaway rocket that needed using up - both situations you could easily find yourself in today. And even if you don't grow your own, there's such an abundance of fruit and veg that you can load up at markets and make a success of the excess while the sun shines.

Strawberry purée

Most people would call this a coulis, but it's not a word I really like. Restaurants often use coulis for saucing desserts and tarting up plates with feather patterns and zig-zags - which has given it a pretentious reputation. But because, unlike jam, the fruit isn't cooked for a coulis, the taste is fresh and intense.

Make coulis with bargain trays of strawberries from markets or from the results of a pick-your-own expedition, if you end up with more than you can eat. The great advantage of a purée is that you can keep it frozen in small batches, sweetened as much or as little as you like, and then use it for fruit fools, mousses, ice creams and sorbets. Most fruit can be puréed. Just put in a blender, with or without sugar, and then store in the freezer in little yoghurt pots or plastic containers for six months or more. It's that simple - there's no need for a recipe.

Pomodoro sauce

Makes about 1 litre

This is the kind of pasta sauce made by Italians at the end of the summer tomato harvest to store in the larder for the cold winter months. Recipes vary from household to household and some may contain lots of garlic and herbs while others will be blended like the passata you buy in supermarkets. You only have to look at all those different tins of tomatoes with various herbs, such as basil and oregano, for an idea of what happens to the glut of plum tomatoes in Italy. I'd recommend blanching the tomatoes before cooking - otherwise you end up with lots of chewy bits of skin in your sauce.

6 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed
150ml olive oil
1tbsp oregano leaves
3kg good flavoured tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently heat the garlic and oregano in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes until soft, without colouring. Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil, season and simmer gently for 40 minutes. Freeze the sauce in useable quantities, or, while it's hot, fill sterilised Kilner-type jars. To seal the jars for storage plunge them into a pan of boiling water, bring the water to the boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Leave the jars to cool in the water.

Rocket pesto

If you grow your own herbs, you need to keep them trimmed so the plants don't bolt. Surplus leaves can be preserved by blending with olive oil. These herb purées can then be tossed with pasta or served with grilled meats, fish and vegetables. That's what salsa verde is - an uncooked green sauce with parsley and other herbs, oil and optional anchovies, capers and mustard. The principle is the same with pesto, but it's usually made with basil.

A couple of years ago the cookery writer Anna Del Conte brought me a jar of her rocket pesto. It's a great idea and a perfect way to use those bolting rocket leaves near the end of the season, or to preserve a bumper crop that you'd never be able to munch your way through. Anna combines the rocket with parsley, not basil, as the flavours wouldn't complement each other.

If there's no parsley to hand she also has a delicious recipe for turning rocket into a dip. Whizz together 100g rocket leaves, 2 cloves of garlic and 50g of walnuts, then mix with the same volume of ricotta. Anna recommends this with roast courgettes and aubergines.

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
50g handful of flat parsley leaves
100g handful of rocket leaves
60g lightly toasted pine nuts
200-250ml olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-11/2 tbsp grated pecorino, or Parmesan

Put all the ingredients, except the pecorino, into a liquidiser and blend to a coarse purée, stopping the machine every so often and scraping down the sides so everything is well blended. Don't add the cheese unless you're going to eat it straight away.

You can keep the pesto in airtight or Kilner-type jars in the fridge for up to six months. When you're ready to eat it, add the cheese to suit your taste.

Green bean chutney

Makes about 1/3 litre

There are only so many ways of using up a glut of runner beans. Serving them as a salad with vinaigrette is a short-term alternative to having them hot with butter, but chutney is the best long-term solution.

2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
Black seeds from 15 cardamom pods
1 tsp ground cumin
1tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2tsp chilli flakes
120ml vegetable oil
2tbsp granulated sugar
100ml white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
750g runner beans, trimmed and cut into 1-11/2 cm chunks

Gently cook the onion, garlic and spices in the vegetable oil for 3-4 minutes without colouring until soft. Add the sugar and vinegar, season and simmer for a couple of minutes. Add the beans, cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove from the pan, leave to cool and store in sterilised Kilner jars in a cool place for up to a couple of months. If you want to keep the chutney longer, the jars should be vacuum sealed like the pomodoro sauce.

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