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Capsicums are the feature crop out of my garden this week, and they are so much in season that even if you aren’t growing them, you should be able to get beautiful local ones at Farmers Markets.  I steer clear of the standard California Wonder – the variety you find in supermarkets. It’s lower yielding, shorter lived, more vulnerable to fruit fly, and less heat and drought tolerant than I need. My favourite varieties at the moment are Corno de Toro, Hungarian Yellow wax, and one I call Supermarket Flats because the seed came from some capsicums I bought in the supermarket, just because they were unusual and I hoped they might be non-hybrid. I think they are actually Baby Reds, and they are doing brilliantly for me.

So roast capsicums are the star in the  Tuesday Night Vego Challenge this week. Polenta goes really well with them, and of course, this time of year, I put zucchini in everything.

The Recipe

Makes two dinner serves, but can easily be doubled.

The Polenta

Lightly sauté

  • one finely diced spring onion (greens and whites)
  •  with 2 cloves of garlic finely diced.

Add

  • ½ cup of grated zucchini
  • ¼ cup finely chopped basil
  • ½ cup fine polenta
  • 2 cups water 

Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes till it goes very thick, like thick porridge. Then add 70 gm low fat feta, grated, and continue cooking, stirring, for just a minute or two to melt the feta through. (You can leave out the feta if you are avoiding dairy, and it will still work, but it does make it lovely and creamy). Taste and add salt to taste.  (It doesn’t need much – the feta is salty).

Turn the mixture out into an oiled small pie plate or tray. You want it to be  about 2 cm deep.  Use the back of a wet spoon to smooth the top. Put the pie plate in the coldest part of your fridge, or in the freezer, for about 10 minutes to set.

Roast Capsicum and Tomato

To do this in half an hour, you need to multitask and put the capsicum on to char while the polenta is cooking. You can skip this stage, but it is really worth doing.

  • Char the skin of some capsicums over a gas flame, or under a grill, or over a barbeque. I like a mixture of red and yellow, and how many depends on how big they are. Use tongs to turn until the skin is blackened and blistering all over. Quickly put the hot capsicums in a plastic bag or tupperware container or a small pot with a lid – something that will hold in the steam. Leave them to steam and cool until you can handle them. You should then be able to easily rub off the skin. Don’t worry if there are little bits of charred skin left – it adds to the flavour. Slice the capsicum open, discard the seeds, and slice the flesh into strips.
  • In a frypan, saute in olive oil one large or two small red onions, sliced,  and two or three cloves of finely chopped garlic. Add the capsicum and just a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.
  • Add  a good handful of halved cherry tomatoes and heat them through. You don’t want the cherry tomatoes to cook down, just heat up.

Frying the Polenta and Assembling

The polenta should be set. Turn it out onto a board and slice into slabs.  Heat a heavy frypan with a little olive oil up to very hot. Don’t put the polenta in until it is hot, or it will stick.

Fry the polenta till it is golden, turning once. Try not to keep turning it – you will get a better crust by turning just once.
Serve with the roast capsicum on top.

Are you doing the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge, or cooking easy, healthy, in season, weeknight vego recipes regularly? Links are welcome in the Comments.

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Have you noticed yet that I have a certain amount of experience with zucchini recipes? There is a Marge Piercy poem that I think perfectly sums up zucchini: Attack of the Squash People. I thought I had learned the lesson: One, no more than two, zucchini each planting break.

But then this year I discovered trombochino.  I like climbers in my fortress fenced up-gardens  – they maximise the use of space – and I really like trombochino. They taste pretty much like zucchini – a bit firmer and denser, like zucchini minus the middle bit.   But I don’t know whether it is just this year – it has been a perfect curcurbit year, cooler and wetter than usual but with the long, light days of summer – but the trombochino are triffid-like taking over the garden. I leave bags of them in the roadside mailbox. The chooks refuse to eat any more.

This is the third in the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge series. It’s an old favourite. It uses about 4 medium zucchini.  Eight if you double the recipe – it also makes good leftovers for lunch. Makes a small dint.

The Recipe:

Makes four large serves.

This can be done in half an hour but you have to really multitask at the beginning because most of the half hour is baking time.

  • Oven on to heat up.  You need a fairly hot oven.
  • Kettle on to boil for water for pasta.
  • Food processor out.  You can do it all without a food processor, just with a grater and a blender or eggbeater, but I can’t promise half an hour.

Part 1: Pasta

Cook a cup of pasta in boiling water till just cooked. Don’t overcook it.

  • Macaroni, shells, or small spirals work best.

Part 2: The Crumble

Crumb

  • two slices of heavy wholegrain bread and mix with
  • two dessertspoons of olive oil and
  • a dessertspoon of grated parmesan.

I do this in my food processor. Leave the crumbs a bit coarse, not too fine.

Part 3: White Cheese Sauce

In a small pot, heat

  • a cup of low fat milk with
  • a cup of low fat cottage cheese and
  • 3 bay leaves,

till the milk starts to rise. It will curdle – that’s ok. Fish the bay leaves out.

While the milk is heating, tip the crumbles out of the food processor and (you don’t need to wash it), blend

  • 1 egg and
  • 2 big dessertspoons of plain wholemeal flour.

With the blender going, add the hot milk-cottage cheese mix. Pour back into the small pot and reheat, stirring with a wooden spoon, till it thickens. This will take just a minute or two.

Part 4 – Grated Zucchini and Feta

Grate

  • two packed cups of zucchini (or trombochino) and
  • 100 grams of low fat feta cheese.

Slice enough tomatoes to cover the top.

Assembling:

Mix the grated feta and zucchini into the white cheese sauce and tip the lot into a small baking tray.  I have a square, pyrex 21 cm dish that is perfect for bakes like this.

Cover the top with sliced tomatoes, then spread the crumble mix on top of them.

Bake in a medium hot oven for around 20 minutes till the top is golden and crunchy and the middle is hot all the way through.

Great on its own, or with a green salad, and makes good left-overs for lunch the next day as well.

Did your Tuesday Night Vego recipe feature zucchini too?  Feel free to leave links in the comments.

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gnocchi with zucchini and pesto

I’ve just realised a problem with the Tuesday Night Vego Challenge. Do I post it on Wednesday? After making it on Tuesday? Or do I post it on Monday? For readers to make on Tuesday?  I’ve decided to forgo logic entirely, and just post on Tuesday. I actually usually make things several times to get the recipe written down pat before I post them anyway.

I have zucchini and their close cousin tromboncino going nuts in my garden this time of year. It is compulsory in our household to have zucchini every day, I’ve given so many away that my friends are avoiding me, the chooks have gone on strike and refuse to eat any more.  This is the first year I’ve grown tromboncino (Diggers seeds) and I think they have upstaged Blackjack as my favourite variety. They suit my garden well because they grow into a climbing, rambling vine, like a very rampant cucumber. I can grow them up the fences of my fortress fenced beds and they provide a bit of shade for everything in the bed and maximise the use of fenced space – conventional zucchini take up a lot of ground room. But next year, I’ll plant just two or three vines all up for the whole summer!

I also have basil going nuts in my garden this time of year. It is one of the few leafy greens that will cope with summer. So I make pesto just about every week and we have it on sandwiches, in salad dressings, on vegetables. This recipe also uses lots of my lovely new season garlic, and the last of the early spring planted potatoes. We don’t eat a huge amount of potatoes – I’m not active enough to afford the carbohydrates. But the recipe is healthier than it might at first appear, with only one medium or two small potatoes for two generous serves.

The Recipe:

Makes two good serves.

With a bit of multitasking I can make this well within the half hour.  Please feel free to join in the Challenge –  fast, easy, healthy, in season, real food –  and add your link or recipe in the Comments .

Pesto:

You need a couple of tablespoons of pesto for this. I make it regularly this time of year and usually have some in the fridge. It’s just

  • 40 grams of nuts (macadamias, cashews, almonds or pine nuts), lightly toasted
  • 40 grams of parmesan
  • a cup, packed of basil
  • a clove of garlic
  • salt to taste
  • enough good olive oil to blend

If you haven’t got it made and you are making it, get it all ready then use the food processor to do it straight after the spuds. That way you don’t have to wash anything up, and it still gets ten minutes or so to mellow.

Gnocchi:

  • Scrub 250 grams of potatoes, chop and cook them, skin on, till they are tender.  Waxy potatoes like Dutch Cream, Kipfler,  Bintje, Nicola,  or Pink Eye are best. I used the  kipflers that I grew this year for these.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, heat your largest, heavy bottomed fry pan with a little olive oil. Fry about two cups of sliced baby zucchini with two or three cloves of chopped garlic till they just start to colour.
  • Drain the potatoes and put the pot back on with lots of water for boiling the gnocchi.
  • Process the potatoes with a food processor, or through a mouli or ricer, to get a smooth puree.
  • Blend with an egg, a good pinch of salt, and enough OO bakers flour (I use the bakers flour that I use for my sourdough) to make a smooth, kneadable dough. My faithful Braun food processor copes with the spuds, one egg, and about half a cup of flour to make a thick batter.  I tip another half a cup of flour on my benchtop, tip the potato mix on top of it, and knead it in.  Knead very briefly to make a smooth soft not-sticky dough.
  • Roll the dough into long snakes, about 2 cm diameter and cut the snakes into 2 cm slices. Use a fork to squash each gnocchi slightly, like the picture at the bottom.
  •  Cook the gnocchi in two batches in boiling water until they rise to the top. This will take less than a minute. Use a slotted spoon to take them out into a colander.
  •  Is the pan with the zucchini, garlic and olive oil still hot? Get it hot again and add the gnocchi. Cook, tossing gently,  for just a couple of minutes till the gnocchi get a little bit of colour.  I like to add a few handfuls of quartered cherry tomatoes at the end and just heat them through, then add two or three good spoonfuls of pesto.  Toss the pesto through and serve.

 

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stuffed zucchini flowers

For years I have wondered whether zucchini flowers were the new mushroom, as in the famous 70s feminist adage ‘Life is too short to stuff a mushroom’.  Now I know. The flowers themselves have very little taste; in fact there’s very little of anything to them. But there’s a textural phenomenon – a little bite of creamy herby filling barely warmed, inside a crispy tempura case. The zucchini flower is so barely there all it really does is separate them. But that’s enough.

You need organic flowers.  It would be all too hard, for me anyhow, if I had to wash and then try to dry them.  They are a bit fiddly – it took me about half an hour to make a couple of dozen of them –  but if you have lots of male zucchini (or tromboncino, or pumpkin, or squash) flowers in the garden, they’re a delicacy worth the fiddling.  I left a few males for the bees to do their thing, but there’s lots of bees, and pretty soon there’s going to be more zucchini than we know what to do with anyhow.

The Recipe:

This recipe is enough for around 24 small, male zucchini flowers – a good amount for four people with salad for lunch.  Three parts: the batter, the filling, and the cooking. You can make the batter and the filling in advance, but the cooking needs to be done right before eating.

The Batter:

Separate two eggs. (We use the yolks in the filling). Beat the egg whites with an egg beater until they form soft peaks.

Sift two-thirds of a cup of plain flour with a pinch of salt.  If you use wholemeal flour, discard the coarser bran you sift out.

Mix the sifted flour with two-thirds of a cup of milk to make a batter that’s just a little bit runny.

Let it sit while you make the filling, then, just before you are ready to cook, fold the batter into the beaten egg whites.

The Filling:

I use the food processor to blend together

  • the two egg yolks
  • 80 grams of low fat feta cheese
  • 4 dessertspoons of low fat cottage cheese
  • 1 spring onion
  • a cup (packed) of  herbs – I used lemon basil, mint and dill.

Assembling and Cooking

Strip any green sepels from the bottom of 24 zucchini, squash, pumpkin, or tromboncino flowers (or a mixture).  Don’t wash them – you want them dry.

Put a teaspoon of filling inside each one and twist the tops to seal them.  Don’t worry if they tear a little – just try to get all the filling covered with flower.  Fill them all before you start cooking because the next bit involves batter-y fingers.

Heat a heavy frypan with olive oil.  Dip each flower in the batter to cover it, then shallow fry in the hot oil, turning, till golden all over.  The oil should be hot enough that they fry quite quickly so don’t crowd the pan too much.  Drain on absorbent paper till they are all done.  Sprinkle with salt and serve.

They make a great light lunch with salad or finger food with drinks.

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I promised there would be more Muesli Bar Challenge recipes this year but there’s been too much else to write about.  But a golden zucchini that got away inspired me.  What do you do with a kilo of zucchini? This recipe is in my handwritten book as Wwoofer’s Zuke Bread because the original came to me from a wwoofer years ago.  It’s evolved a bit since then, and I’ve turned it into a muffin to make it more suitable for lunch boxes.

For those new to the site, the 2010 Muesli Bar Challenge was a whole school year’s worth of lunch box baking based on fresh food in season.  The recipes had to be healthy, robust enough to survive in a school bag till lunch time, easy enough for busy parents to bother making, and reviewed by kids as actually preferable to the junk food marketed as “muesli bars”.

Zucchini are right in season and they make a muffin that stays moist.  They have decent amounts of folate, potassium, vitamin A, and phytonutrients, but the main benefit is that they are a good source of fibre.  This recipe also features fresh ginger, which is a superfood – a powerful antioxidant with a whole big list of vitamins and minerals.  I added macadamias too, just because they are just coming into season and gorgeous at the moment but you can leave them out.

The Recipe

(Makes 9 muffins)

Mix together:

  • 1 cup grated zucchini PLUS  ½ cup diced zucchini
  • ¼ cup sultanas
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon crushed fresh ginger (use a garlic crusher)
  • 3 dessertspoons of honey
  • 3 dessertspoons macadamia or other mild flavoured oil
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup wholemeal self raising flour
  • (Optional) ¼ cup chopped macadamia nuts

Spoon into the cups of a muffin tray, filling quite full.  Bake in a medium-hot oven for around 20 minutes until they start to brown, they bounce back when pressed and a skewer comes out clean.

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We stopped in at a fish shop on the way home from visiting our daughter at the coast yesterday.  I had just bought a half kilo of squid, thinking calamari, when I noticed they had snapper frames at a ridiculously low price.

Snapper are listed as a sustainable catch, and I like the idea that, when you hunt an animal for food you really should eat all of it.  So I bought two head-and-backbone frames for next to nothing, and this is the result.  Of course then we had to invite people for dinner.  The recipe fed four of us, generously, served with crusty bread, and with the spring vegetables from the garden and the rich, smoky paprika flavoured fish stock it was very good.

The Recipe:

I don’t think my fish stock recipe is in the chef’s manual, but it works.  I just put the frames in my large pressure cooker, cover with water, and pressure cook over a very low flame for an hour.  Then I strain the stock, pressing down with a potato masher to get the last of the juice, and leaving the the heads and bones for the compost.

To 1 ½ litres fish stock (from 2 snapper frames), I added:

  • 2 onions, diced
  • 6 cloves of my new season fresh garlic roughly chopped
  • ½ cup shelled young broad beans
  • 5 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 jar of peeled tomatoes
  • 6 stalks of cavallo nero kale diced
  • 4 bay leaves
  • a heaped teaspoon of smoky paprika

I simmered this for 20 minutes or so, then added

  • 3 zucchini, diced
  • 6 small new season potatoes quartered
  • handful of dill, chopped
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and black pepper

I simmered this for another 10 minutes until the potato was tender, then added the half a kilogram of squid, cut into rings, brought it just up to the boil again, then turned it off.  By the time I had bowls organised, the squid was cooked.

Served with warm crusty bread.

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Cooking vegetables in my mother’s generation meant boiling them until they gave up.  I am an eldest child, my partner is a youngest, so his mother was a generation older.  Her version of chokos was boiled until they liquified. No wonder  as kids we weren’t great fans of vegetables!

It is amazing how much food culture we learn, for good and bad, as children.  Few of us boil veggies silly these days, but still the tendency is to serve them, more often than not, steamed or boiled as a side dish.

Nowadays I quite often make a meal that features vegetables as the main, not the side dish, and I very rarely use any water that will be drained off.  If you garden, fresh vegetables are so gorgeous that it is hard to improve on just serving them as themselves. One of the very first posts I did in this blog was Roast Vegetables as Themselves. This time of year, there are so many greens so perfectly in season that greens as themselves are worth a recipe.

This is the way I most commonly cook green veggies, as a side dish and quite often as the main with some haloumi sticks or good bread on the side.

The Recipe

Very simply, use very fresh broccoli flowerettes, peas, snow peas, celery, silver beet, kale, zucchini, and or any other green vegetables in season. Trim them and put them in a pot with a tight fitting lid.  Add a little swig of olive oil or a small knob of butter and just a little pinch of salt.  If you like,  crush in a couple of cloves of garlic and a good grating of black pepper.

Squeeze in some lemon juice – for this bowl of greens I used the juice from half a small lemon.  Add a very small amount – a dessertspoon or so – of water.

Put the lid on the pot and cook for about 3 minutes.  Every 20 seconds or so, hold the lid on tight and give the pot a good shake.  Try not to peek or you will let the steam escape.  Ideally by the time they are cooked there is just a nice little amount of juice as sauce and a hint of caramelisation in the pot.

Like the roast vegetables, it really needs nothing else.  With some fingers of haloumi cheese and some good bread this is a meal all on its own, and it’s really worth just appreciating vegetables as themselves.

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This is a riff on Mollie Katzen’s Green Green Noodle Soup, with a little bit of “Green Eggs and Ham” inspiration.  Polenta is ground corn and not hard to make if you grow corn in summer. In fact, it is probably the grain staple most suited to  my climate. It’s medium GI and a good source of fibre, minerals and B6.  Its creamy texture and fairly bland flavour make it loved by kids, so this could be a good way to convince kids that green is good. It also makes it a good carrier for flavours.

If you grow your own corn for polenta, it will take 40 minutes or so to cook. But if you use the fast cooking polenta that is the kind commonly sold, this recipe comes together in literally half an hour, and it’s worth it.

The Recipe:

All the vegetables in this recipe are diced fairly fine.

Saute in a little olive oil (adding in more or less this order)

  • 2 zucchini
  • 2 – 3 spring onions (whites and greens)
  • 3 – 4 cloves of garlic
  • a bunch of spinach or 6 – 8 silver beet leaves stripped from the stem and chopped
  • half a cup of chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil

As soon as it is all wilted, add ½ cup of polenta and 2 cups of water.

Cook, stirring frequently for 10 minutes or so until it is thick and creamy.

Crumble in 80 grams of low fat feta cheese and cook for a minute or two to melt it through. Taste and add salt to taste.

At this point you have two choices. You can leave the vegetables as they are, or you can blend the mixture till they fleck the polenta, or blend thoroughly so you have green polenta. Kids seem to like the smooth texture and interesting colour of green polenta, but I like the flavour textures of it unblended.

Lightly grease a shallow metal pan and spread the polenta mix in it so that it is about 1.5 cm thick. Pop this in the freezer for a few minutes. It will set in literally 5 minutes and you will be able to tip it out onto a board and cut it into squares or triangles.

While it is setting heat some olive oil with a little knob of butter in a heavy pan. Fry the squares of polenta on a high heat for a few minutes on each side until they are browned and have a crisp crust. (You’ll get a better crust if you can restrain yourself to turn them just once.)

They are great as a main feature with a tomato-based sauce and a salad, or as a side dish with meat or chicken, or as the base for a poached egg.

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One has to love a bloke who can bake, especially when he’s your son!

Hola mama,
I’m pretty sure everything is about right on this recipe. I made it by feel but I tried to measure stuff, wasn’t entirely successful with the measuring but the muffins are good.

Makes about 12

  • 1 ¾ cups wholemeal SR Flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup mixed veg (I used roast pumpkin chopped in small cubes, finely chopped zucchini and some sundried tomatoes)
  • 100 g Feta
  • ¼ cup Pine nuts
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¼ cup butter, melted

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C .

2. Mix the flour, baking powder and nutmeg in a bowl.

3. Add the veg, feta and pine nuts and mix well.

4. In another bowl combine the egg, milk and butter and mix this well.

5. Add the egg mix to the flour mix all at once. Using a fork, stir and fold the ingredients together only until it is all moist. Do not over mix, this is the main secret of good muffins!

6. Spoon the mixture into muffin tins, filling them about two-thirds full and bake for approximately 20 -25 minutes. They are ready when golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

7. Place muffins on a wire rack to cool. These are best warm.

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