Years ago, an old family friend, the historian Christopher Hibbert, used to grow vegetables in our orchard, as he no longer had enough space in his own garden after a house move. Our daughter Eleanor, then at primary school, used to "help" him, but, really, she was drawn both by Christopher's charisma and his generous gifts of sweets.
The kitchen gardening was an extension of Christopher's interest in good food, particularly Italian food - he spent a lot of time in Italy researching various books (his guides to Rome, Venice and Florence are wonderful company in those cities), and he likes an Italian restaurant better than any other sort. Sadly, though, the allotment was too much of a struggle - rabbits, poor soil, deer, all conspired to make him give up our patch in favour of one in another friend's garden. Now I struggle with the same pests.
Christopher introduced me to the delights of tiny turnips, and he gave me this recipe for the courgette glut. It works with small ones, but is particularly useful for courgettes which have got out of hand. You may be fearful before trying this - it goes against the grain of modern cooking, which so often says you should barely heat vegetables - but, trust me, boiling the courgettes to death really does make for a delicious dish. I'm giving Christopher's original instructions, with my notes and observations below. I haven't made this for years, because I lost the paper he gave me - it came to light this week in a baking book I used to use frequently when the children were small.
1 medium marrow
1 medium onion, chopped
1 crushed garlic clove
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp lemon thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp salad oil
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 dsp salt
bit of cayenne pepper
3 oz sultanas
Peel marrow, split lengthwise, remove seeds, cut into 1-inch cubes, put into saucepan and add all ingredients. Add enough water to cover the marrow. Stir mixture.
Bring to boil, cover with greaseproof paper and lid. Simmer in oven at medium heat for 60-90 minutes.
Serve as hot veg or cold as hors d'oeuvre.
I think it's called Zanzibar because of the cloves; the finished result is redolent of Venice and Scicily, and is particularly good if you like those sort of dishes but aren't too keen on capers. The cayenne gives that extra note which capers give in, say, caponata (two different cheat's versions I've blogged are here and here), so don't leave it out, even if you don't care for too much heat in your food (just used less); most of the heat is absorbed by the bland courgette, so your mouth doesn't burn.
You can use 5-6 courgettes rather than a marrow.
I don't have celery seed in the house as a rule, so I use 2 tsp celery salt and leave out the dessertspoon of salt which is specified later - which is, in any case, far more salt than I would ever use in any dish.
I used olive oil yesterday, because that was all there was in the house, but sunflower oil would be just as good.
Don't be too faint-hearted about the water - it vanishes. But I don't use the greaseproof paper, because I want to be sure that the water evaporates (and because it's a fiddle). And I made this at a gentle simmer on the hob for just over an hour - fine if you don't want to switch on the oven specially.
PS I'm reading Christopher's biography of Garibaldi, my interest having been sparked by a one-man show about the risorgimento we saw during the Edinburgh Festival at the Scottish Storytelling. Centre
Baring all - Alice prescribed a bit of buffing, so I've done my desk today, taking everything off to give it a thorough dust and polish, admiring the sheen, and then - ...
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