Cooking garden produce is a treat for Carina Contini of the Scottish Cafe
Getting something for free, however much it costs in other ways, is wonderful. Our garden has been our biggest investment in years, but when we have an unexpectedly good harvest, it feels like winning the lottery. It’s only once you start growing that you realise how much free food a garden can provide.
Our broad beans are giving us the most beautiful edible flowers, early shoots are great for salads and the more mature leaves are wonderful stir-fried. Enjoying the actual beans is the final treat. But we’re coming into the garden’s best time of the year; courgette season. Courgettes are a hugely versatile vegetable, but courgette flowers are undoubtedly my favourite ingredient. Their colour makes the garden look beautiful, the bees love them, they are abundant and they are truly delicious.
In Italy they are mostly served deep-fried, often stuffed with ricotta or in a light batter that makes fried food seem healthy. But they can be used in so many other ways.
100g crisp salad leaves such as young yellow frisee
2 small new season courgettes
4 courgette flowers
½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes or 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped
a few fresh mint leaves
1 unwaxed lemon
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
50g-100g Parmigiano reggiano
450g courgettes, washed and trimmed
50g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
½ nutmeg, freshly grated
150ml full fat milk
Wynad white pepper
3 whole organic free-range eggs separated
100g fresh artisan ricotta
4 or 5 courgette flowers, wiped and coarsely shredded
25cm loose bottom shallow tart tin
For the pastry
250g plain flour
a pinch of salt
120g unsalted butter
70g icing sugar
2 organic free-range egg yolks
For the filling
125g whole blanched almonds
125g golden caster sugar
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 organic free-range eggs
1 tablespoon plain flour
125g-200g fresh apricots, depending on how fruity you want the tart to be, washed, cut in half and stones removed
For the ricotta cream
250g fresh ricotta
2-3 tablespoons double cream
5 tablespoons icing sugar
seeds of half of a vanilla pod
Raw courgette, courgette flower and chilli salad
Courgettes fall into the scientific category of fruit rather than vegetable. Eating them raw increases your vitamin and mineral intake and is of huge benefit for your digestive tract. I prepare many raw courgette salads, but always think they taste best with a little chilli; somehow the fiery sting complements the very mellow flavour. This is a delicious starter or a perfect side dish for barbecued or grilled seabass or sea bream.
Serves two as a starter
1 Wash and dry the salad leaves and scatter on a large serving plate. Wash and trim the courgettes.
2 Choose the widest shaver on your grater and coarsely grate the courgettes on top of the leaves. If you have a mandolin this works even better, but watch your fingers.
3 Wipe the flowers with a damp cloth, coarsely slice and then scatter over the courgettes.
4 Scatter the chilli, tear the fresh mint leaves and season with a little salt.
5 Squeeze half the lemon over the salad, then add the extra virgin olive oil.
6 Using the same grater, shave the Parmigiano over the salad.
7 Decorate with a few wedges of fresh lemon and serve immediately.
Courgette and ricotta soufflé
Soufflés can be daunting, but these are so easy and practically fool-proof. Bake in a bain-marie which allows them to rise slowly, so they won’t collapse so dramatically.
MAKES 6 INDIVIDUAL RAMEKINS
1 Grate the courgettes with a coarse cheese grater and leave in a colander in the sink scattered with a generous pinch of salt.
2 Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour and the nutmeg.
3 Cook the roux for about 4 or 5 minutes, then add the milk, season to taste with salt and white pepper.
4 Use a balloon whisk to help prevent lumps forming and cook until the roux has thickened.
5 Add the egg yolks and beat until smooth.
6 Beat in the ricotta until the mixture is smooth. The pot should be on a very low heat to help this thicken. Once thickened, remove from the heat.
7 Squeeze any excess moisture from the courgettes and add the courgettes to the roux. Remove from the heat.
8 In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until very stiff.
9 Gently fold the egg whites and add the shredded courgette flowers into the roux.
10 Divide the mixture into the buttered ramekins.
11 Bake in a bain-marie for about 25 minutes in a moderate oven Gas Mark 4. Serve immediately.
Apricot and almond tart with ricotta cream
This tart works all year round. You can use raspberries, pears, dried fruits or ripe juicy apricots. The tart doesn’t need to be blind baked before you fill it. Believe me, it just can’t be beaten.
1 Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Grate the butter into the flour and mix with your fingertips to fine breadcrumb consistency.
2 Add the sugar, mix and then add the egg yolks. Combine the mixture to form a dough. If you need a splash of ice cold water to help, that’s fine.
3 Wrap in cling film and chill for about 1 hour.
4 Remove the pastry from the fridge. When soft enough to roll, line the pastry case. Refrigerate until the filling has been prepared.
5 Roast the almonds in a moderate oven until golden, remove from the oven, cool and then blend to a fine ground consistency.
6 Blend the sugar and butter in a processor until incorporated.
7 Fold in the vanilla and then add the egg, flour and almonds.
8 Remove the tart tin from the fridge and scatter the apricots into the bottom of the pastry case. Spoon the almond mixture on top.
9 Bake at Gas Mark 4 for about 50 minutes to 1 hour until golden and a knife comes clean from the centre of the tart.
The ricotta cream
Using a fork cream the ricotta with the cream to help lighten it. Fold in the icing sugar and vanilla. Check the mixture is sweet enough and serve with the tart.