We had a delicious dinner last night, courtesy of ideas from Nigel Slater's new book - although I probably could have made something similar after reading one of his old ones.
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Slater - it irritates me that he treats himself as one of the immortals in the Observer Food Monthly magazine that he edits. On the other hand, his journalism keeps him in the moment, and he's very good at reinventing the same ideas for a new day. So cook-your-own-veg was always going to be the topic for the next book (actually the next two, this announces itself as volume one).
Since his plot is a tiny London garden, and since he buys most of the veg he eats, he's aware that he's a candidate for Pseud's Corner, which results in some nicely self-mocking moments. But there's a little too much smugness, and this made me laugh out loud:
Watching someone you love eat a tomato you have grown yourself makes it more than just a tomato. It becomes a source of glorious, yet strangely humbling, pleasure.I mean, per-lease ... who does he think he is?
Overall, A cook and his vegetable patch is good. After you've read the introductory pages, it's a book for browsing and consulting rather than reading straight through; it's arranged alphabetically by vegetable and/or groups of vegetable - lots of plants you'd like to eat and grow.
It's not quite sure whether to be a gardening book or a cookery book (and not quite so successful at blending the two as Christopher Lloyd's Gardener Cook). So there aren't always horticultural notes, but there are lists and lists of Slater's favourite varieties.
Here, for instance, is his list of chard (since there's still just time to sow one last row, something I should be doing right now):
Swiss Chard Classic variety with green leaves and very wide, flat stems. Sometimes known as silver beet.
Wavy Leaf What it says on the packet.
Rhubarb Chard Green-maroon leaves, vermillion veins and stems. Slightly less hardy than the others.
Bright Lights Green leaves with veins and stems of raspberry pink, blood red, saffron, orange and yellow. Similar to Jacob's Coat and Rainbow mixtures.
Oriole Deep gold viens, very dark leaves.
Fordhook Giant Large, flat white stems, curling green leaves. This is one to cook leaves and stalks separately.
Last night, I wanted to tackle the courgette and summer squash mountain that has been quietly stacking up here. So the new book was an obvious place to look for inspiration (it's definitely that moment of the summer when I'm literally fed up with my "usual" courgette recipes). Since the courgettes were to be the main part of the meal, I chose to make Slater's fruit and nut filling to sprinkle onto a dish of sliced squash, accompanied by a little mince fried to crispy nubbly delicious lumps (typical Slater, something he's written about before). And there was an interesting cold dill sauce to go with it.
I followed the instructions pretty accurately for the stuffing/topping. Next time, I wouldn't bother with the couscous, I'd just use breadcrumbs for a softer result.
Fruit and nut filling for baked courgettes
1 onion, chopped
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
50g dried apricots, finely chopped
40g pistachios, chopped
250ml hot stock
tbsp thyme leaves, chopped
grated zest of a lemon
tbsp chopped parsley
8 medium courgettes
Pour the stock onto the couscous, add a glug of olive oil, cover with a plate for 10 minutes. Soften the onion in some oil; add the breadcrumbs, apricot and pistachios. Take off the heat. When the couscous has taken up all the liquid, mix in the breadcrumbs, herbs and zest.
Halve the courgettes lengthwise and put in a single layer in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle on the stuffing, then cover with foil or greaseproof paper.
They'll take about half an hour, more if you've put in some slices of summer squash.
Finely chop a small bunch of dill. Bash a clove of garlic and combine with 2 tablespoons of wine vinegar, 3 of olive oil, and 4 of yoghurt.
If you want to turn this into a sort of deconstructed traditional stuffed marrow, then cook some mince: Heat a little oil in a frying pan; when it is smoking hot, drop in pieces of mince and LEAVE THEM until they have crisped at the edges. Add dill, chopped garlic, lemon zest, chilli jam (or chopped fresh chilli). Turn the meat. When it's cooked through, add salt and chopped parsley before serving. Slater's recipe uses minced pork; I used minced beef because that was what I had.
PS I take some of this back: I've just spotted that NS no longer edits the Observer Food Monthly. But someone, maybe the telly critic, did describe him as God in last weekend's paper. Harrumph