The plot thickens: Mark Hix cooks with home-grown vegetables
Courgettes, marrows and sweet Victoria plums are growing in abundance in the vegetable patch in Sussex and have provided fresh inspiration for our resident chef this week.
The idea of using home-grown vegetables, herbs and fruit is immensely appealing. Even though I haven't got my own garden, I am really enjoying cooking with the produce from the vegetable patch of my partner Lara's parents in Sussex. The veg garden is lovingly tended by Di, who looks after and cooks for the family; and it provides the perfect platform to create an interesting meal. The last couple of times I've been down, I have taken girolle mushrooms and formed the rest of the meal around the garden – and I'm not sure if anyone noticed, but some of the meals didn't include any meat at all. When you are confronted with courgettes, leaves that are about to bolt and super-sweet Victoria plums, why do you need meat on the supper menu?
Courgette rosti with a fried duck's egg and chilli
While I was at the village shop buying the Saturday papers recently I noticed it was selling a plant laden with tiny red chillies and decided to buy it for Lara's parents, Camilla and Ed. This is a great brunch dish to kick-start the day.
1 floury potato weighing about 200-250g, boiled in its skin, cooled and peeled
1 large or 2 small courgettes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ducks' eggs
2-3tbsp vegetable or corn oil for frying
A couple of good knobs of butter
12 or so small chillies or a couple of medium to large ones, sliced
A handful of Greek basil sprigs or larger leaves, tornf
Grate the potato and courgette into a bowl, mix well and season.
Heat a non-stick individual blini or frying pan with a little oil.
Add a quarter of the potato and courgette mixture to the pan, gently pressing it with a spatula or fish slice and then mould it into a rough circle if you are using a large pan and cook for about 3-4 minutes until crisp.
Then flip it over, add some butter to the pan and cook for the same amount of time until crisp; keep warm in a low oven. Repeat with the other three portions of the courgette and potato mixture.
Meanwhile, fry the chillies in the butter in a separate pan until they soften and put them to one side.
Fry the ducks' eggs in butter, and then serve the eggs on the rosti with the chilli and basil scattered over.
Baked Victoria plums with ricotta and honey
When plums are ripe and falling from the tree, it's handy to have a few dessert ideas up your sleeve. A lovely creamy ricotta and some good-quality clear honey complements these nutty, crumble-topped plums perfectly.
8 large Victoria plums, halved, de-stoned
4 large tablespoons of good-quality ricotta
2-3tbsp clear honey
For the topping
½tbsp brown sugar
40g hard butter, chopped into small pieces
24-30 cobnuts or hazelnuts, shelled and roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. First make the topping: put the flour, oats, nuts, brown sugar and butter into a bowl and rub together with your fingers to a breadcrumb-like consistency.
Place the halved plums on a baking tray and spoon the crumble mixture evenly on top.
Place the plums in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the plums have softened and lightly coloured and the topping is golden.
Leave the plums to cool a little then transfer them to a serving plate or individual ones and spoon over the cooking juices.
Spoon the ricotta into the centre and drizzle over the honey.
Pickled cucumbers and fennel flowers
Makes approx a 1-litre kilner jar
When your fennel has gone to seed it's a shame not to use the flowering or seeded heads in a pickle. You can use large cucumbers or the small ridge cucumbers for this. Serve with cheese or any smoked fish or meats.
1-2 large cucumbers, halved lengthways and the seeds scooped out
300ml white wine or cider vinegar
3 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2tbsp caster sugar
6-7 heads of flowering or seeded fennel tops
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
Slice the cucumbers thinly; put them in a bowl. Bring the vinegar, shallots and sugar to the boil, season, remove from the heat, leave to cool, then add the fennel flowers. Pour over the cucumbers and leave at room temperature for an hour, stirring every so often. Transfer to a sterilised kilner jar and refrigerate or leave in a cool larder if you are going to keep them for a while; or in a covered bowl in the fridge if you are using them within a few days.
Grilled marrow with pesto
Before the marrows get too large, it's a good idea to barbecue them or cook them in a griddle pan to get a slightly charred flavour. If you have a decent patch of basil, get it harvested now – then you can blend it into a pesto, put it into jars to toss into pasta during the winter months, or just spoon over simply grilled vegetables as I have done here.
1 small to medium-sized marrow
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for brushing
For the pesto
20g pine nuts, lightly toasted
50g-60g fresh basil leaves and any soft stalks
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
A good pinch of sea salt
100-120ml extra virgin olive oil
6tbsp freshly grated parmesan or pecorino
Put the pine nuts, basil, garlic, salt and olive oil in a liquidiser and coarsely blend. Add the cheese and blend again briefly.
Cut the marrow into 6-7cm lengths, then cut down into 1cm-thick slices. Preheat a ribbed griddle or barbecue, season and lightly oil the marrow slices and grill them for 3-4 minutes, or less, on each side – until tender but not mushy.
Serve the marrow hot or warm with the pesto spooned on top.
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