Courgette souffle

July 31, 2006

Courgette souffle

I vividly remember the first recipe I ever followed. I was about 14, it was around 10 o’clock one school night, and I fancied an early midnight snack. The recipe was printed on the back of a Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce bottle. For some reason I felt compelled to follow it. Grilled cheese, apple and worcester sauce on toast. I carefully measured the cheese and apple to the nearest gram, and diligently counted the drops of sauce into a teaspoon. I can still taste the results. In my mind’s eye, nothing has ever tasted better. Revelation on a Lea & Perrins label.

The second gastro-epiphany came 4 or 5 years later, when I bought Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cookery. A book to read as much as to cook from – to read slowly, over and over. I loved the dated black-and-white line drawings of joints, bunches of vegetables, esoteric kitchen equipment. I loved the impossible list of ingredients needed to make a Pot-au-feu or authentic Bouillabaisse.

This recipe for courgette souffle is taken from this book. I’ve been wanting to try it for over 10 years. What’s stopped me? A primal fear of eggy collapse? More likely because I’ve only just got round to buying souffle dishes. Picked them up in the Harrods sale, dahhhling.

Courgette souffle

Beating egg white

For 2 people you’ll need 2 egg yolks and 4 egg whites, 3 or 4 courgettes, and a couple of large ramekins or individual souffle dishes.

Before you start, heat the oven to about 160 degrees C. Put in a deep tray with an inch or so of water in it. Butter the ramekins.

1. Chop the courgettes into chunky slices. Salt and drain them, if you like. Put in a frying pan with a tablespoon or so of water and cook over a low heat, slowly, until soft. The idea is to cook out the moisture in the ‘gettes. Then sieve them to create a puree – or use a mouli-legume if you’ve got one. Drain off excess moisture.

2. Make a very thick bechamel sauce, using about a quarter of a pint of milk, an ounce of butter and two tablespoons of flour. Add the pureed courgette mix, 2 egg yolks and about 5 tablespoons of grated parmesan. Mix together and season well.

3. Whisk the egg whites, enthusiastically, until stiff and peaky. Gingerly fold the egg whites in to the courgette mixture with a metal spoon.

4. Divide the mixture between the two large ramekins, place them in the tray of water and cook for about 15-25 minutes depending on the size of the dishes. It’s better to under-do them so you get a creamy, gooey centre.

Stomach and soul, satisfied. Fear of the souffle, conquered.

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Chicken and mushroom pancakes

How many crepes must one man make, before you can call him a man? Thus asked a fresh-faced Bob Dylan over 40 years ago, and the answer is still blowin’ in the wind today. Least it is in our kitchen.

I took four more crepe-steps to manhood last night when I slaved over these chicken, mushroom and tarragon pancakes. My bad-tempered grill didn’t take kindly to being asked to do an honest 10 minutes’ work. It spat, smoked and had its revenge by singeing the exposed ends of these defenceless wee rolls. Spoiled the look but added an element of crispness to an otherwise rich and creamy dish.

Chicken, mushroom and tarragon pancakes

1. Make 2 pancakes for each person using your favourite pancake batter. I used Marcella Hazan’s recipe for crespelle from the seminal anti-coffee-table-book ‘The First Classic Italian Cookbook’ (now out of print it seems, although many of the recipes are in this collection).

2. Heat some butter in a pan and add a chopped garlic clove, then some chunky chopped mushrooms and cubes of chicken. Let these all frizzle slowly together to swap flavours and get comfortable.

3. After a while, stir in a tablespoon or so of flour and let this cook briefly over a lowish heat. Add several glugs of milk, stirring constantly, to create a smooth sauce.

4. After a few minutes simmering the sauce, add a generous number of chopped tarragon leaves (fresh if possible) and a good gulp or two of evil, thick double cream. Season well and you’ve got your filling sorted.

5. Roll up the pancakes with a couple of tablespoons of filling in and lay them cheek-by-jowl in a buttered oven dish. Any extra filling can go on top. Pour some more cream over and finish by grating on some parmesan.

6. Bung under a hot grill until a cheesy creamy crust forms. Keep an eye that the edges of the pancakes don’t combust.

Maths chick used a veg peeler to make thin strips of courgette, which she then steamed very briefly and dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and loads of black pepper. It was a cool, clear accompaniment.

For dessert we had a game of scrabble. There’s nothing like a hard-fought, tactical word-game to aid digestion. I squeaked it 387-384, bingo-ing twice with COASTER and LEANINGS, and went to bed a little too chirpy for my own good.

Courgette pasta sauce

Gastropunk and Maths chick have been strangely absent from the kitchen of late. We’ve both been busy: stag-do’s, family re-unions, and watching England’s latest crop of turnips losing to the pork-and-cheese again have all distracted us from more important matters. Like celebrating the glories of the British organic veg-box.

This week’s box brought a mixed bunch. More furry broad beans, snappy sugar-snap peas, lettuce, calabrese. Loads of green stuff. Almost too much green. Now I find myself craving a knobbly old root vegetable – the veg-box is always greener on the other side, I guess. The first disappointment of the vegbox year – an old, wrinkly cucumber on the verge of being compost-fodder. We hid it’s defects in a boisterous greek salad.

This week’s broad beans we left in the shells and boiled with mint, then added steamed brocolli and big salty lumps of feta cheese and chunks of stale french stick. It looked a real dog’s dinner in the pan but ended up tasting fine and dandy. The bread soaked up the escaping garlicky juices. An eccentric British version of the famous stale-bread and tomato salads (panzanella) of Tuscany. A sharp detox dinner for our two alcohol-battered bodies. We both agreed that broad beans in their shells are equally as delicious as their more sophisticated de-jacketed brethren. But then we are a lazy pair of moos and could be making a virtue of a necessity.

For lunch, I’ve just transformed a fat, firm courgette into my all-time favourite pasta sauce (today I’m ‘working from home’ – the 21st century’s happiest euphemism). Grate a whole courgette. Heat olive oil over a low flame and add a couple of mashed garlic cloves and several salty anchovy fillets. Allow everything to melt together slowly. Add the courgettes and cook until they collapse into an oily thick mush. Stir into spaghetti, add grated parmesan and a peppery olive oil at the table.

For me, anchovies are the Wayne Rooney of the kitchen – ugly, violent little critters that bring life and sparkle to otherwise hum-drum ingredients. All together now.. Roooon-iee, Roooon-ieee….

Friday night is curry night. Saturday or Sunday is good too. It takes time to cook, and is best enjoyed at leisure, in front of an Alan Partridge DVD or Match of the Day.

Curry Friday

Curry is great for using up old veg – an entire cuisine designed to hide the flavour of gently rotting produce.

This is my all-purpose curry recipe for when I can’t be bothered to wade through Madhur Jaffrey to find an authentic korma or jalfrezi recipe:

Chop a couple of big onions, a few cloves of garlic and a big lump of ginger into small bits. Fry slowly in a big saucepan with several gulps of sunflower oil and/or ghee. When the onion is transparent, blitz with a hand-blender. Now, make a paste of water with a teaspoon or two of ground turmeric, paprika, cumin and coriander. Cook in the onion paste for a good 10-15 minutes. It should be starting to resemble a curry now. Maybe add a couple of chopped tomates at this point. Or not. Season well.

Now add whatever veg you have left-over. Par-cook if using root veg. Just bung in other stuff – cabbage, spinach, peppers, courgettes. Whatever you fancy. Pretty much anything goes in a curry. Towards the end, after maybe 1 or 2 hours of slow cooking, add a flat tablespoon or so of garam masala. This adds a strong fragrant spiciness to the final taste.

Serve with your favourite curry accompaniments. For me it’s got to be minty yoghurt, mango chutney, naan or chapattis (a speciality of her-indoors), dhal. Maybe rice cooked with a couple of cardamon pods and some lemon zest. And a couple of cans of luke-warm bitter.

Then my favourite bit – cold curry for breakfast. Slobby, spicy, oily bliss.


Minestrone

Originally uploaded by tostadora.

The new box is arriving soon, or is already gracing your fridge with fresh, sprightly produce. But you still have a couple of carrots, some wilting celery, a couple of onions and a couple of kilos of cabbage from last week's box.

It's frustrating, but I just can't stand to compost these left-overs so I find it useful to have a couple of stand-by dishes for using up all-and-sundry. Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink recipes.

One of these ultra-useful dishes, during the summer at least, is Minestrone. I got the original recipe from Claudia Roden's 'The Food of Italy', a practical, unfussy collection of Italian recipes, organised by region.

Here's watcha do. More or less…

Sweat chopped onions and garlic in olive oil. Chop into smallish cubes the following [delete according to availability]: courgette, peppers, fennel, potatoes, tomatoes, celery, carrots. Add them to the onions to sweat and mingle. Season.

At this point it cen be good to add some extra flavourings – try cubes of pancetta, fresh herbs (bay, thyme, perhaps oregano or marjoram), any hard parmesan rind lying around. Allow the flavours to mingle over a low heat.

After a while, add some water or light stock – enough to cover and a bit more. Season and simmer until all the veg is cooked. It's quite a delicate flavour at this point.

Towards the end I like to add some green veg – finely chopped spring greens or cabbage, peas, broad beans or spinach. Don't cook to long or it'll lose that fresh verdant green colour.

It's a subtle flavour so its good to add some potency – a big bowl of fresh pesto, torn basil leaves, parmesan or pungent extra-virgin olive oil. Put all these things on the table and let people grate, pour or spoon-on to their heart's content.

Now you can start on the new stuff with a clear vegbox conscience.