Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Using up Zucchini

We're suffering a bit of a glut of the delicious Romanesco Zucchini. Even after doling them out to neighbours, they keep accumulating.

So I revisited an old recipe for Spaghetti con Zucchini.

Very very simple. Take your trimmed zucchini and an old-fashioned box grater:

Grate the zucchini using the biggest holes on the grater:

Drop a good knob of butter and some peeled, chopped garlic into a large pan:

When the butter has melted and taken the flavour of the garlic, toss in the grated zucchini and stir it around. The key is not to cook down the zucchini to a pulp. It should have texture to it. The process should take no longer than five or six minutes:

Season the zucchini to taste, then drain your cooked pasta - you can use spaghetti, linguine, bucatini, any of the thinner pastas - and add it to the zucchini in the pan:

Stir thoroughly to mix very well.

Then serve:

I've tried it with and without parmesan. I think parmesan renders the dish gluggy.

All it needs is a grinding of black pepper and a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Go for it.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tomato Genetics

They're weird things. Particularly when it comes to Heirloom tomatoes.

This is a Cherokee Chocolate, fresh from the vine today:

It's a lovely mahogany-brown colour. Here's the underside:

It's also a delicious tomato - earthy, juicy, with just a touch of sweetness.

It's a tomato with a fascinating history. This is its very closely relative, Cherokee Purple:

And they're extremely closely relatives. Because Cherokee Chocolate literally sprang from the loins of Cherokee Purple.

A number of years ago, Craig LeHoullier, an American grower and heirloom tomato expert, discovered a mahogany-brown tomato on his Cherokee Purple plant. Intrigued, he saved seeds from the brown tomato and grew them out the next season. Again, he saved seeds from the brown tomatoes that eventuated and grew them out the following season. Eventually, he stabilised the tomato variety now known as Cherokee Chocolate.

All the result of a spontaneous mutation of the colour gene in a Cherokee Purple tomato.

Lo and behold, the magic didn't stop there. Subsequently, one of Craig's Cherokee Chocolate plants threw up a green-when-ripe tomato, now stabilised and named Cherokee Green.

I have my fingers crossed for the Tomato God to work his genetic tricks in my tomato patch.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

First Toms

It's been a strange tomato growing season.

Well, so was last year. Last year's summer was achingly hot and bone dry. My tomato crop was miles below par - not much fruit and a lot of it stunted. I wasn't alone. Adriana, who runs a commercial market garden just outside the town walls, had exactly the same problem. She didn't have enough tomatoes - or any other vegies, for that matter - to supply her regular customers.

This year, spring was the coolest and wettest in either 20 or 200 years. Depending to whom you speak. Suddenly, though, in mid-June, the daytime temperatures shot from an average 18C to around 30C. We somehow missed the 20s altogether.

The result? The plants that had started to set fruit were all right. Those that hadn't, struggled in the sudden, intense heat. End result? They weren't setting fruit:

The luckier ones did:

The yellows on the top RHS are Jaune Negib, a French heirloom. They're a very early variety - usually around 60 days from planting out - and their major flavour attribute is a lovely creamy aftertaste. Most very early varieties - Stupice and the like - are usually flavour-deficient because, developing and ripening quickly, as their genes insist they do, they simply don't have the time to develop real flavour or complexity. They're really only worth growing if you have a very short growing season and later varieties aren't viable. Jaune Negib, though, is rare amongst very early varieties because they do have something to offer in the flavour department. Even if I only grow them for L'artista to turn into yellow tomato chutney.

The gold/orange pair - one its usual golf-ball size, the other a freak midget - at the bottom are Jaune Flammée, yet another French heirloom. A lovely, much overlooked tomato with a fresh, very tangy flavour. The surprise is that they matured as early as they did. Normally they take longer than Jaune Negib.

The two red cherry tomatoes are actually conjoined Camp Joy (aka Chadwick's Cherry):

Siamese tomatoes. Take two tomato blossoms extremely close together, have them both fruit at the same time, and the resultant tomatoes can fuse together. Grow enough tomatoes and you'll see plenty of conjoined ones. These two are smaller than the usual Camp Joy, hence they ripened earlier than Camp Joy usually does. They normally takes up to 75 days. Here's one ripening on the vine:

I've grown most of the well-known cherry varieties over the years and I keep coming back to Camp Joy (aka Chadwick's Cherry) for their genuine flavour, reliability and huge crops.

Now I have my fingers crossed for the stragglers to start setting fruit.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Meanwhile, Up on The Top Terrace

The air is thick with the sounds of stuff growing in the shadow of the medieval fortress wall.

Brussel Sprouts and Sweet Corn:

Watermelon (on the left, being grown for Lorenzo next door) and Jap (aka Kent) Pumpkins, the seeds for which I imported from Australia on the basis that Italian pumpkins just don't seem to grasp the notion that they should be able to be roasted till they caramelise without turning to mushy pulp:

And there's already movement in the Watermelon camp:

Lorenzo has seen it.

And approved.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

If You're Ever Going to Grow Zucchini ...

Grow these:

The variety is Romanesco, used in a lot of better restaurants for their wonderful slightly nutty flavour.

I've sliced them across very finely, raw, and tossed them into salads.

I've sliced them thinly lengthwise with a mandolin and chargrilled them, tossing them with some mint, garlic, vinegar and oil for an antipasto.

I've finely diced and braised them with some garlic, mint, Italian parsley, marjoram and finely-chopped lemon zest and spread them on chargrilled bread as a bruschetta.

The only downside to growing them is that you need space. Lots and lots of space.

Like at least this amount:

So dig up that waste of space of a lawn and plant these.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Talking about onions

Here's part of the first harvest:

Not paint on paper. The real thing.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Looking at a Red Onion

The Gardener grew it, I painted it. He'll cook it, I'll eat it. Isn't life perfect?