Very many tomatoes, runner beans and courgettes

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Sarah’s Dad continues to produce massive amounts of deliciousness from our veg patch – it’s ours in the sense that he does all the work until but we help enthusiastically with the harvesting and eating. During the last few weeks the flow has become a flood of tomatoes, runner beans and courgettes. The courgettes we’ve kept manageable by relentlessly picking them small which is anyway when they’re tastiest. The runner beans have been gourgeous. Again, we pick them when they’re still fairly narrow and very tender. They’re so sweet that Holly will eat them thinly sliced and raw. But the jewel of the veg patch is undoubtedly the tomatoes in the greenhouse: a majority of Gardeners’ Delight cherry tomatoes with a substantial minority of Marmande-style large ‘Legend’ tomatoes.

 So here’s a few thoughts for anyone labouring under a similar embarrassment of riches.

 Courgette and feta filo pie

Serves 6 to 8

 This was the first dish we ever cooked at my first ever café and I still think it’s delicious – and it uses plenty of courgettes. Grating all the courgettes takes a long time if you don’t have a food processor. Also, if you’ve got the time it’s really good served with patatas bravas (roast potatoes in a spicey tomato sauce). Just in case you don’t have a copy of my first cookbook ‘Food From the Place Below’ here’s the recipe for the courgette and feta pie:

 1.5 kg courgettes, grated
50ml sunflower oil
100g parmesan, freshly grated
175g feta cheese, crumbled
120ml white wine
1 small onion, very finely chopped
4 eggs

Salt and pepper

50g butter
1 pckt filo pastry, defrosted and chilled
50g pine nuts (optional, particularly as they now cost nearly as much as caviar)

To make the filling

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and then add the grated courgette.  Cook on a fairly high heat until the courgette is soft.  There will be a lot of liquid from the courgettes, so drain well or else cook over a sufficiently fierce heat in a sufficiently wide pan that the liquid evaporates.
  2. Mix the rest of the filling ingredients together, being sure to taste and season before adding the lightly beaten eggs

To assemble the pies

To make a filo pie you need to line the base and sides of a baking dish with layers of filo, fill it with mixture, and then give it a layered filo lid.  How you ‘patchwork’ the sheets to do this depends to a certain extent on the size (and thickness) of pastry sheets – and they vary enormously.  But generally:

Brush the baking dish with a little of the melted butter and then use sufficient sheets of filo pastry to line it one sheet deep.  Brush this with melted butter and add another layer of filo.  Repeat, so that the baking dish is lined, three sheets deep, with filo pastry.

Pour in the courgette and cheese mixture. Next, cover the filling with filo pastry, making a lid four layers deep and brushed with melted butter like the base.

Bake at about 200C / 400F and Gas 6 until they are golden brown – this should take approximately 40 minutes for a pie that serves eight.

Warm courgette and tomato salad

A sublime and simple dish that uses two of the seasonal glut vegetables

Serves 2 to 4 depending on what else you’re having.

Slice 3 or 4 big ripe tomatoes and turn very gently in olive oil, salt and pepper and then tear a few fresh basil leaves on top. Slice 2-3 medium sized courgettes (or one that has got away from you and is half way to being a marrow) and fry in a little olive on a high heat until they are browned on both sides but still somewhat firm. Put these on top of the dressed tomatoes. Eat straight away.

Pasta with runner beans, cherry tomatoes, feta and garlic

I’m sure we’re not an unusual family in eating pasta at least a couple of times a week so it’s essential to have delicious ways of using seasonal produce in pasta dishes which our medium-sized children (9 and 13) will also like. We’ve found runner beans to be popular with our kids (despite them being both vegetables and green), particularly when dosed with olive oil, butter, garlic and cheese. But then almost anything (except a Jaffa cake) is good when dosed with that combination of Mediterranean flavour.

Runner bean preparation

I used to sneer when fancy Japanese chefs said that vegetables tasted different depending on how they were cut but I’m now convinced they’re right and for perfectly straightforward reasons. Runner beans are a good example. With modern varieties, so long as they are picked young enough they don’t need stringing. In my view it’s essential to cut them very thinly (about 2 to 3mm to be precise!) on the bias. With a large, sharp, cook’s knife this can be done quite quickly. (I had a competition with my cousin-in-law Matthew the other day and I won: so a large sharp knife wins over one of those fancy runner bean slicing gizmos!) If they are cut any thicker then the inside of the bean won’t be warm by the time the outside is already overcooked. If cut properly thinly and then put in to a large pan of boiling water (even if the water is shared with pasta as in this recipe) they need no more than 2 minutes cooking. By the time the water has come back to the boil they’ll be ready to drain. If serving as a vegetable on their own (which we’re having at least every other day at the moment) just toss them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Perfect. And in my view they’re just as good lukewarm as they are piping hot. And lovely at room temperature too.

As in the salad recipe above the tomatoes in this recipe are not cooked, but just warmed by the freshly cooked pasta and runner beans.

Quantities in a dish such as this are entirely approximate and can be adjusted to suit your supplies.

Feeds 4

400g pasta e.g. penne
300g runner beans, thinly sliced on the bias (see above)
200g big ripe tomatoes, roughly diced
½ clove of garlic, crushed
100g decent quality feta, crumbled
About 12 basil leaves, roughly torn
Salt and pepper

50g grated parmesan
25g butter, roughly diced

1.Put a very large pan of salted water on to boil. When it’s boiling add the pasta. When it’s 2 minutes away from being ready (look on the packet for instructions which are generally quite accurate) then add the thinly sliced runner beans. As soon as the pasta is ready drain the whole lot. You don’t however need to drain it very thoroughly. Just a little cooking water left in will mix happily with the rest of the ingredients.

2. Meanwhile in a large wok or similar pan which is good for mixing put all the rest of the ingredients except the parmesan and butter. Stir everything together – off the heat.

3. Add the drained pasta and beans to the tomato mix. Put the wok back on the heat and continue stirring, once it’s nearly hot add the butter and parmesan and stir a bit more. Check the seasoning and then it’s ready to serve.

Offer more parmesan at the table.

Roast chicken with puy lentils and roast tomatoes

Since this blog post has now gone far too long I’m just going to describe very briefly what we had the other night. I boiled about 100g of puy lentils and drained them. I then halved about 100g of our delicious Gardeners’ Delight cherry tomatoes. I tossed the cooked lentils with the halved tomatoes and about 6 fat cloves of garlic which I halved (but left the skin on) and half a dozen sprigs of thyme.

On top of this lot I put a large free range chicken and sprinkled some salt on it’s skin. I then roast the chicken for about an hour and a quarter (half an hour in a hot oven and then a bit slower for the rest).

So we ended up with a roast chicken sitting on a delicious bed of chicken-flavoured tomatoey puy lentils. Since we were hungry we also had some roast potatoes and (of course) some runner beans tossed in a little olive oil as described above. It was all delicious and a perfect half way house between summer and winter eating.