It’s July, no really it is. I know it feels more like autumn, doesn’t it? We’ve just had the wettest June on record and apart from 2 weeks at the end of May it has rained pretty consistently since the start of April. We had so much rain on Thursday morning from thunderstorms that our shed flooded. It wouldn’t have been that much of a problem, except I’d put a few cardboard boxes of seaweed meal fertiliser on the floor and when I discovered the sodden floor and went to salvage them the bottoms fell out of the boxes showering fertiliser everywhere. I managed to scoop it up but my shed now stinks with a fairly strong whiff of seashore. Normally a smell I love, as I can imagine I’m in Cornwall by the sea, in the confined space of my shed it doesn’t conjure up such pleasant memories; it’s more stagnant rock pool. Mmmm lovely. And it just continues to rain so I can’t leave the door open to dry out the floor or try to shift the smell. Still I realise it is a tiny problem in comparison to all those people who’ve had their homes flooded in what seems like a regular feature of our summers now.
In an attempt to cheer myself up I’ve been using the produce from the allotment to make some tasty food in the vain hope I can transport us, with food, to something that feels vaguely like summer.
The first meal was what I call ‘plot minestrone’ and is a great dish for this time of year when there is so much fresh, young produce about.
Plot Minestrone Serves 2
I simply sweat some onions down in oil, on a low heat, until they are soft and then add some tinned tomatoes and 250 ml of vegetable stock. This is your base, you can then add whatever you’ve got to pick from your vegetable patch. I used some baby carrots, peas, broad beans, beetroot and some shop bought courgette. Kale and spinach are also lovely additions. Chop the vegetables small and then chuck into the pan and bring up to the boil. A good sprinkle of paprika, some black pepper and a pinch of salt and then simmer until the vegetables are cooked but still have some bite, about 30 40 minutes. Ten minutes before it should be ready, cook some pasta separately and when cooked, drain and add to the tomato and vegetable pan. Serve with plenty of parmesan.
On Monday we had my take on the Greek dish Spanokopitta. We had some for lunch when we visited Sarah Raven’s Cutting Garden and it was gorgeous. I couldn’t find a recipe for it but I’ve had it before so was vaguely familiar with the ingredients and just decided to give it a go. A pie made from filo pastry, it’s much lighter than our own pastry pies. In Greek, it means ‘spinach pie’ but it works well with other greens. It’s a little fiddly to make but tastes gorgeous.
Spanokopitta Serves 2
A pack of filo pastry
150 g Feta cheese
A variety of leafy greens such as chard, spinach, russian red kale.
Wash and slice the leek into thin rounds and then sweat gently in oil in a frying pan. The leek wants to be soft and not browned. This should take 10 minutes.
Whilst the leek is cooking, steam the greenery. I used baby chard leaves and Russian red kale, a good handful of each. Spinach works well too. You want the leaves to wilt in the steam and this should only take a minute or so. When they’re soft and reduced down remove from the steam and run under a cold tap to cool them down and then using some paper towels squeeze out the water and place in a bowl.
Into the bowl add the cooked leek and the feta cheese, broken up into small cubes. I like to use a feta that already has a little bit of chilli, lemon and herbs added to it that I get from Waitrose. If you can’t get hold of something similar you could add some dried mixed herbs such as oregano and thyme to the mix. A good amount of black pepper and then mix it all toether.
Now assembling the pie, take a sheet of filo and fold it in two, brush with melted butter or olive oil and then place some of the leek and feta mixture in the centre. Take another sheet of filo and fold this in half and place on top, again brush with the butter or oil and add some more filling. repeat once more and then taking another sheet of filo, place it over the top of the filling and tuck under the pie. Brush the whole pie in butter/oil and then bake in the oven at 180C for 20-25 minutes until golden.
The great thing about filo is its versatility. Rather than stacking the mixture like this you can make individual little parcels, folded into triangles which are great for buffets and picnics. It’s up to you really.
And then, for lunch yesterday, we had a frittata using the first Charlotte potatoes of the year. I love making frittatas because you can use so many different fillings.
Frittata Serves 2
The basic are eggs and potatoes and to this one I added broad beans, peas, dill, chives and a few purple mangetout from the plot and a little bit of a hard goats cheese like Swaledale. You’ll need a frying pan with a metal handle so you can put it into the oven or under the grill. Start by cooking your potatoes. Once they’re done put them to one side to cool. In your frying pan put a generous glug of oil and sweat off some sliced onions. These want to cook gently to soften but not colour and should take 10 – 15 minutes. In a jug add 4 eggs and beat lightly, add some ground black pepper, and whatever filling you want to put in. I added some chopped dill and chives, some baby broad beans and peas and the cooled potatoes that had been sliced. Mix everything together and once the onions are lovely and soft add the egg mixture to the frying pan. You can add cheese to the egg mixture or place the cheese on top. Cook the frittata on a low heat for 5 minutes or so and then place in the oven at 180C. This should take 15 minutes, if the middle doesn’t look like it has set just give it a few minutes under the grill. Frittatas are particular good cold and I like to make it as an alternative to sandwiches for Wellyman’s lunch. It’s great to experiment with different flavours. My tip is not to use anything that is wet though, such as tomatoes, as they egg won’t set. Use sundried tomatoes instead which work very well with roasted red peppers.
It might be grey, dull and wet outside and I got soaked and covered in mud harvesting the spuds but I’m trying, at least, to transport us to the Mediterranean via food. I’m not sure it worked but at least the food tasted good. I’d love to hear about your foodie ideas for using produce at this time of year.