Over the last decade, perhaps more, Pete and I have slowly converted our back garden to a kitchen garden. In autumn 2010, we also took on an allotment. Read about our efforts and recipes made from our home-grown bounties.

 

A few weeks ago, I was invited to Almeria and Murcia, two neighbouring regions in Southern Spain, to learn more about their agricultural practices and produce.

1 Agrobio – Biological Pollination & Pest Control

We started with a fascinating visit to Agrobio, a company that produces and sells bumblebees for pollination and a wide range of insects for biological pest control. Before a tour of the bee production facilities, we learned more about the use of bees for pollination from researchers Isabel Mendizábal and David Morales.

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Isabel and David at Agrobio

Tomato crops were used as an example; tomato flowers are not naturally very attractive to pollinating insects, so farmers need to intervene. In the past, farmers have employed a variety of techniques to pollinate their tomatoes; the use of hormones (which cheat the flower into thinking they are pollinated but result in poor quality seeds, poor setting of fruit and also need human intervention every few days to spray) or the use of blowers and vibrators (intended to release pollen by blowing or shaking it loose from the flowers, but expensive and not very effective).

But bees have proved to be more effective and cheaper and they result in perfect fruit setting.

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Hive bees won’t pollinate tomatoes as there is no nectar in the flowers; once the first few bees from a hive visit the field, they’ll pass on information to the rest of their hive that there’s no nectar in that location. But bumblebees don’t communicate in this way, so each bee will merrily visit any tomato flower it encounters. Additionally, bumblebees don’t store food, so they will leave the colony box to find flowers every day.

Once farmers switch to using bees for pollination, they usually switch to biological pest control too; chemical pesticides often cause bees to die, not to mention the residues of chemicals that remain in the produce. To make matters worse, pests develop resistance to widely used chemicals over time, meaning that farmers must use ever increasing amounts to protect their crops from the same pests.

Indeed, Almeria’s farming community suffered a catastrophic blow in 2006, when Greenpeace published a report about its discovery (in German supermarkets) of unacceptably high levels of pesticide residues in produce from the region, including pesticides not permitted to be used in the EU. The supermarkets in question quickly switched to non-Spanish producers, but the scandal grew as more European vendors tested for and detected the same residues and stopped buying from Almeria. Brussels placed the offending chemical on its blacklist and with that, Almeria could no longer sell affected produce within the EU. The blow to the economy was severe and resulted in unusually rapid and wholesale changes to the industry; in 2005 just 300 hectares in the region used biological pest control, now 27,000 hectares in the region do so.  The use of chemicals dropped drastically; indeed Almeria has become a global showcase for farming with minimal use of chemicals. The regional public administration also support the change, keen to ensure the problem does not arise again; they provide subsidies, training and other resources to support the agricultural community.

Said Isabel of the change; “We passed from an example of what you must not do in agriculture to an example of what you must do.

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The process of growing bees is utterly fascinating. Agrobio selectively breed different species of bumblebees for different regions around the world. For example, the UK bumblebee is a different subspecies to the ones found elsewhere in Europe. If Agrobio were to sell UK farmers the European subspecies, it would breed with our native bumblebees and our unique subspecies would be lost. For this reason, Agrobio produce a number of difference species and subspecies of bumblebees for their various farmers around the world.

By clever use of a series of temperature and light controlled rooms, Agrobio are able to mimic the various lifecycle stages of the bumblebee and produce the bees all year round. We explore the various rooms, blinking in bright lights as huge bumblebees buzz around us, a row of workers gently picking individuals and placing them into boxes; we squint in dark red lit rooms in which bees are in a state of hibernation, and even see a tray of dozing ones transferred from one very cold room to another. In the last room, boxes of bees are carefully packaged, along with a feeder of nectar, ready for transport to the customer.

Agrobio provide bumblebee colonies in two types of boxes suitable for use in a greenhouse or outdoors; the indoor boxes have more ventilation to allow the heat to dissipate; outdoor boxes are better protected against the weather.

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As with the bees, breeding insects for biological pest control isn’t straightforward; agrobio perform extensive research to determine which insects are the best natural predators for the various pests that plague farmers, with the choice depending on crop varieties, climate and geographical location. They then produce and sell the relevant insects in large quantities. Although they do a lot of research to improve the efficacy of their biological pest control species, they are keen to point out that there is no genetic manipulation involved, just careful use of selective breeding to favour natural characteristics. With some insects, it’s a case of breeding them in large numbers, packing them in suitable bottles, tubes and boxes and shipping them to farmers for release. With some insects, particularly parasitoids, the pregnant females don’t travel well so instead they will allow the parasitoids to impregnate some of the pest species, send those out to the farmers, and once released into the greenhouses, the parasitoids hatch and breed, and lay their next generation of eggs within the pests of the greenhouse.

 

2 Clisol – The Future of Farming

Lola Gómez Ferrón is a fruit and vegetable grower who embraced biological, sustainable farming long before the rest of the region were forced to follow suit. It’s a family business which she inherited from her parents, and she and her husband now employ just 6 staff to help them look after 2.2 hectares of land. The average figure, she explains, is around 3 people per hectare, but of course it depends on what you’re growing and how you are growing it. Tomatoes, for example, need much more effort than melons!

The first thing that most visitors to the region notice, even before they land, is that the vast majority of agricultural land is covered in greenhouses. Looking down, as your flight comes in or takes off, you cannot fail to notice the extensive coverage of green and white plastic tunnels across the landscape.

Lola explains the history of local greenhouses:

The Almeria region has a unique semi-desert climate which is warm enough for many fruit and vegetables to be grown outdoors. However, the region suffers from blasting winds, often 100 days of the year or more, which destroy crops and made farming very difficult. Around 50 years ago, farmers in the region began to put up traditional greenhouses – the regular structures used elsewhere, with plastic coverings. These succeeded in protecting crops from the wind but also conferred an additional benefit – Almerian farmers discovered they could now grow produce throughout the winter, when the rest of Europe could not. Year round produce became central to the economic success of the region’s agriculture.

The original greenhouses were flat, but rainwater collected on top and often caused the structure to collapse; that lead to a change in the shape of the greenhouses, most of which now have a 10-12% gradient roof angle to allow for water to run off without weighing down or damaging them.

The extra heat provided by the plastic coverings was a boon in winter, but in summer, the heat was too intense. Rather than remove the plastic coverings from such vast areas of land, local farmers developed a system of whitewashing the plastic during the summer to reflect away much of the heat, and then washing the plastic back to green for the winter. Many of the greenhouses are quite low in height, which makes it easier for the farmers to clamber on top to paint or clean.

Other changes include improved ventilation; earlier greenhouses required manual opening and closing of vents but the newest models are fully automated and computer controls open and close vents on different sides of the structure according to sensors monitoring temperatures within the greenhouse and wind direction outside. (Plants being such efficient producers of oxygen, need ventilation to blow out excess oxygen and bring in fresh carbon dioxide).

Greenhouse coverings now make use of photo-selective plastics which reflect light in such a way that some pests such as aphids and whitefly are less likely to enter.

We also learn why Lola has moved away from traditional soil-based agriculture to hydroponics:

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Lola has one greenhouse still using the traditional system, which allows her to show visitors the differences between this and her newer hydroponic systems.

The soil in this region is poor. Traditionally, farmers used to add a 50 cm layer of fertile soil imported from elsewhere, on top of the local orange soil. Then they would add 2-3 cm of manure and then 12-15 cm of protective sand above that. To plant the crops, the sand was moved aside, the seedling planted into the soil below, and the sand moved back into place. But after 5 or 6 years, all the goodness in that imported soil was depleted and the farmers faced the enormous task of removing the top layer of sand and replacing the soil once again. It was an arduous and expensive cycle.

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Lola grows both tomatoes and peppers using her closed-system hydroponics techniques

Lola has instigated closed-water system hydroponics in several of her newer greenhouses. She uses coconut husk purchased from India, where it’s a discarded by product of coconut farming. All the nutrients required are added to the water, which circulates within the closed system. Nothing leaches into the soil; nothing enters the water table. Again, specialist sensors detect when plants need more water, and allow controlling computers to direct the flow as required. When the plants are young, they are fed by clean fresh water. That water is recycled through the closed system repeatedly. By the time the plants are older, the water has been recycled numerous times, but the older plants are able to handle that. Lola is convinced that in the future, most if not all farming will use closed-water hydroponics systems – no contamination of the land or water table and very efficient use of water – an increasingly limited resource.

Lola uses biological pollination and pest control, and is pleased that the price has dropped as more and more farmers adopt the approach, and companies like Agrobio (she uses a competitor) are able to increase volumes and reduce prices. Things are constantly evolving as more research leads to greater understanding; where once the sticky insect traps – placed on greenhouse walls to attract and trap pests – were bright blue, they are now a much paler blue. Why? Because recent spectrum research has discovered that the brighter blue attracts both pests and pest control insects but the paler blue attracts only the unwanted pests.

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Lola smiles as she tells us that she loves her plants as she loves her children; “a plant lives, grows, thinks, moves – it’s the same, not less, than people”.

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After teaching us so much about the history, current practices and future of farming in the region, Lola also shares some of her personal tips for tomato growing, several of which could readily be implemented by a home grower. I’ll be sharing those with you next year, as I’m eager to give them a try myself. Lastly, we enjoy a fine feast of farm fresh produce served with local olive oil and honey.

You may enjoy this short BBC Video filmed in Almeria last year, which features Lola and showcases her hydroponic tomato greenhouses.

 

3 Agromark – Traceability of Produce

Agromark in Murcia is a successful fruit and vegetable farming business owned and run by three brothers. One of the brothers, Carlos Doménech Llopis, gives us a tour of one of their broccoli farms, telling us that an impressive 80% of the broccoli consumed in Europe during late autumn and winter is grown right here in Murcia.

Like Almeria, Murcia boasts a microclimate that allows them to grow crops throughout the winter. Unlike Almeria, it doesn’t have ferocious winds to deal with, indeed Carlos tells us a little more wind would be very welcome when it comes to ventilating their greenhouses!

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Before visiting the greenhouses, we learn how seeds are processed by the rather grand Urbinati potting machine; I find it utterly mesmerising. Soil is imported from Estonia (and on occasion from Scotland) and fed into the machine which breaks it up, fills it into the seed trays and pushes a small hole into each pot. Today, Agromark are using seeds purchased from Malaysia; a variety called Calabrese Broccoli F1 Hybrid Parthenon. The bright blue coating protects the seeds and also makes it easy to identify the source; each seed company uses a different colour coating for their seeds. A vacuum system sucks individual seeds onto a rotating cylinder and releases them into the seed trays below. These are then covered with vermiculite, a mineral-rich rock that expands when heated, providing a superlight covering for the seeds that locks in moisture and leaches beneficial minerals.

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After potting, the seed trays are transferred into a climate-controlled room for 48 hours, during which time they germinate. Once germinated, the seedlings spend 35-55 days in the greenhouses before being transplanted to the fields outside. The consistency of temperatures in the germination room and greenhouses ensures a 99% success rate for germination; much higher than can be achieved outside.

In the greenhouse, we are shown seedlings at various stages. Each seedbed is meticulously labelled to show the variety, the date they were sown, any feeds or chemicals applied and so on. This commitment to traceability fulfils stringent requirements from customers including Sainsbury’s and Waitrose in the UK and other supermarkets and distributors across Europe.

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When it comes to the other end of the process, Agromark are keen to pick, package and distribute the produce as quickly as possible. To this end they’ve developed a process whereby workers walk through the field, cutting only the heads of broccoli that are fully grown and in good condition; these are dropped onto a conveyor belt that carries them into a mobile packing shed where they are cut, wrapped, labelled and packed into crates within minutes.

 

Coming soon, a round up of traditional food in the two regions.

Kavey Eats travelled to Almeria and Murcia on behalf of the We Care You Enjoy campaign, funded by Hortyfruta and ProExport.

 

I first made butternut squash soup with candied bacon last autumn, after watching a masterclass episode of MasterChef Australia in which Matt Preston shared his recipe for an easy pumpkin soup garnished with pepita (squash seeds) and bacon candied in brown sugar. I simplified his recipe further to come up with the version I shared last year.

Since then, I’ve changed the way I candy the bacon pieces for a crunchier texture; I think it’s more accurate to call this version bacon brittle. The recipe produces twice as much bacon brittle as you need for two bowls of soup but it’s very hard to resist adding more so the extra soon disappears. It will last a day in the fridge in an airtight container or feel free to halve the amounts.

Pete and I like the subtle warming flavours of the mixed spice, but you can certainly omit the spice if you like. I’ve made it both ways and we like both versions.

Vegetarians can substitute pumpkin seeds for bacon, toasting them gently before mixing them into the hot caramel and allowing the brittle to set.

This year, I’ve been able to use our homegrown butternut squash for the first time and just love them so we’ll definitely be growing more next year.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon Brittle

Serves 2 (with extra bacon brittle)

Ingredients
150 grams cubed pancetta/ lardons or chopped streaky bacon
100 grams caster sugar
1 butternut squash
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or bacon fat drained from cooking the bacon)
100 grams caster sugar
0.5 litres homemade chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
Salt and pepper
Optional: 2-3 tablespoons double cream

Method

  • In a frying pan, dry fry the cubed bacon until it the fat starts to colour a little, about 5-8 minutes. I like my bacon to still have some chew, but you can cook a little longer for a more crispy finish if you prefer.
  • When the bacon is cooked to your liking, scoop out the bacon pieces and set aside. Optional: retain the bacon fat left in the pan, to use when cooking the squash.

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  • Before starting the bacon brittle, get a baking tray ready by lining it with greaseproof paper or a silicon mat.
  • In a clean heavy-based frying pan evenly sprinkle the sugar across the surface area and cook over a medium heat. Do not stir, and keep a continuous watch.

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  • When most of the sugar has melted into a clear liquid, shake and swirl the pan gently to mix hotter and cooler areas and help the rest of the sugar to melt. Do not stir!
  • As soon as the melted sugar begins to brown, watch like a hawk.
  • Once the sugar takes on a decent caramel brown colour, remove from the heat and immediately add the bacon pieces. Mix thoroughly and quickly.
  • Immediately pour out the mixture onto your prepared baking tray and poke any lumps flat with a wooden spoon, if needed. The brittle will start to set very quickly, so you won’t have much time. Leave the bacon brittle to cool and harden.

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  • Preheat the oven to 180 °C.
  • Peel the squash and remove seeds and fibres from the centre. Roughly chop the flesh into chunks, about an 3 cm or so in size and spread them out in a baking dish.

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  • Sprinkle a teaspoon of mixed spice (if using) and a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil or bacon fat (or a mixture of both) over the squash.
  • Bake until soft, 30-40 minutes.
  • Heat the stock in a pan or the microwave, or boil the kettle if using water.
  • Put the baked squash, stock (or water) and a little salt and pepper into a blender and blitz until smooth. Add double cream, if using, and briefly blend again.
  • Taste and add more seasoning if required.
  • Serve the squash immediately, with broken pieces of bacon brittle on top.

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Looking for more inspiration? Try Nazima’s Winter Squash Veloute with Chipotle Lime Roasted Seeds & Apple, Camilla’s Spelt and Butternut Squash Cake and Becca’s Paneer Stuffed Butternut Squash.

I’m entering this into Ren’s Simple & In Season (hosted this month by Katie) and Michelle & Helen’s Extra Veg and Jo’s SuperSoup challenges.

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I made this soup using my lovely Froothie blender, which is fast becoming one of the most frequently used appliances in our kitchen. It’s so powerful and quick, it’s a pleasure to blitz fruit and vegetables. We also enjoy using it to blend and cook really quick soups from scratch, such as this recipe for courgette and blue cheese soup, and a simple tomato soup made with fruits picked only seconds before – making this in the Optimum 9400 resulted in an incredibly fresh tasting soup. It’s also a doddle to make custard from scratch, which is excellent news for ice cream making!

Kavey Eats received a review Optimum 9400 power blender from Froothie. All opinions are my own. Please see the right side bar for a special offer on buying the Optimum with an extended warranty via my affiliate link.

 

We’ve been growing a variety of cucumbers called Lemon this year – so named not because of their flavour but their size, shape and colour.

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The skins on ours have been tougher than we expected, so we’ve peeled them before adding them to salads.

This one was combined with very thinly sliced red onion, chopped sugar snap peas, some home grown lettuce and a few cherry tomatoes and tossed in my default jam jar salad dressing.

Jam Jar Salad Dressing

Ingredients
1 teaspoon French mustard
2 teaspoons honey
3-4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3-4 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

This dressing can easily be varied to ring the changes. Substitute soy sauce for mustard. Switch cider vinegar for the balsamic. Use rapeseed oil instead of olive, or even sesame oil for an Asian flavour. Instead of honey try maple syrup or muscovado sugar.

Method

  • Measure ingredients to a small jam jar.
  • Seal and shake hard until well combined.
  • Taste, add more mustard, vinegar, honey or seasoning if required and shake again.
  • Pour dressing over salad, toss and serve immediately.
 

PetecourgettePete came into the house one recent Monday evening with an overgrown courgette from the back garden, brandishing it in the manner of a cartoon caveman and his trusty club.

The quiche he made with half of it the next evening was so fantastic that I begged him to make it again the next night. Begged!

My cries went unheeded for three whole days! He made me wait till Friday before he gave in and made it again. And yes, it was just as delicious.

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Be warned though, even though the courgette is salted and squeezed out before cooking, it still releases moisture during cooking and creates a bit of a soggy bottom. Mary Berry might not approve but it didn’t bother us a bit!

 

Pete’s Courgette, Blue Cheese & Cherry Tomato Quiche

Ingredients
1 packet (320 grams) ready rolled shortcrust pastry
500g grated courgette
100g blue cheese (we used Stilton but any good blue will be fine)
2 large eggs
200ml single cream
Handful cherry tomatoes

Note: of course you can make your own shortcrust pastry, or buy it in block format and roll it yourself. From a 320 gram packet, there will be a little leftover, which you could use to make jam tarts or individual pies.

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200 °C (fan).
  • Line an 9 inch (23 cm) flan dish with the pastry. The rolled sheet will be slightly too narrow so cut off one end and use to complete the circle.
  • Line with foil or parchment, fill with baking beads (or rice) and blind bake until golden; about 15-20 minutes/
  • Grate the courgette, add a teaspoon of salt, mix well and leave to drain in a sieve or muslin draining bag for about an hour.

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  • Once the tart case is baked, remove from the oven and set aside to cool down.
  • When ready to assemble and bake the quiche, preheat the oven to 170 °C (fan).
  • Crumble the blue cheese across the base.

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  • Squeeze as much water as you can from the grated courgette and layer over the blue cheese.

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  • Beat the eggs and cream together.
  • Pour the eggs and cream gently over the courgette  and blue cheese.
  • Halve the cherry tomatoes and place onto the tart, cut face up.

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  • Bake for 30-40 minutes until the filling has firmed up and taken on a little golden brown colour.

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  • Best enjoyed hot but can also be served warm or cold.

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For more courgette recipes on Kavey Eats see:

For courgette inspiration from others, see my suggestions at the bottom of this post.

 

We are experiencing a glorious courgette glut at the moment, as you may have guessed! We’ve had courgette frittata, courgette soup and courgettes stuffed with sausage ragu… and courgette crisps, courgette-saka, grilled courgettes, stir-fried courgette… we even tried a chocolate courgette cake but that one’s not for sharing as we didn’t love the recipe we tried. We’ll be having another go, though! We still have plenty of courgettes to enjoy – green baton shapes and yellow globe ones.

Like most people, some evenings we are too tired or short of time to make anything fancy but want to resist the easy temptation of a takeaway or ready-meal.

Using ready-made, ready-rolled puff pastry as the base of a quick and easy tart makes for a tasty dinner, and one that can easily be adapted to seasonal ingredients.

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On this occasion, we used fresh mozzarella but you could also use a soft goat’s cheese or a brie or camembert-style cheese. A little blue cheese is a very tasty addition too.

Likewise, you can certainly use different herbs or spices. Za’atar, the Lebanese blend of wild thyme, sumac and sesame seeds, works particularly well with courgettes.

Try not to make your layer of toppings too deep, however, or they won’t cook through in the time it takes for the pastry to puff up and brown.

Puff Pastry Cheese, Courgette & Mint Tart

Serves 4

Ingredients
1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry (all butter is the tastiest)
250-300 grams soft cheese of your choice, thinly sliced
1 medium baton courgette, very thinly sliced
Fresh mint, or your choice of herbs or spices
Salt and pepper

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Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan).
  • Cut the unrolled sheet of pastry onto 2 or 4 pieces. (We cut ours into two, but each tart was enough for two people).
  • Very lightly score a border around each piece, about 1.5 – 2 cm in from the edge. Take care not to cut right through the pastry.
  • Within the border area of each piece of pastry, lay out a layer of soft cheese.
  • Top with an overlapping layer of courgette pieces.

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  • Sprinkle with herbs or spices.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is risen and golden brown.
  • Serve hot.

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For more courgette recipe inspiration, please see the list at the bottom of my Sausage Ragu Stuffed Courgettes recipe post.

 

I love the courgette season!

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Many home gardeners and allotmenteers love growing courgettes as these summer squashes are easy to look after and usually give an abundant harvest. But it’s surprising how many don’t like eating them as much as they do growing them; they give most of their bounty away. Of course, I am happy to share a few gorgeous courgettes with friends – it’s a lovely feeling giving someone home grown produce picked from the plant moments before. But Pete and I love eating courgettes so it’s very much a case of finding as many ways as possible to enjoy them while they last.

We like to grow different varieties. For many years, we’ve grown yellow spherical courgettes – they taste the same as green ones but look, they’re just so beautiful! We have also grown green balls and both green and yellow varieties of the regular baton shape. I’m thinking about planting some of the pale green or white types next year.

By the way, while we use the French word courgette, the Americans took the word zucchini from Italian, which seems appropriate since courgettes were developed in Italy after the Cucurbita genus was introduced to Europe from the Americas. That said, Americans now seem to refer to yellow courgettes by the umbrella term of summer squash rather than as yellow zucchini, I’m not really sure why.

Any courgette / zucchini variety can be used for this recipe, but it’s best to choose smaller fruits rather than large ones.

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Sausage Ragu Stuffed Courgettes

Serves 3-4

Note: My photos show three halved courgettes, but we had enough leftover ragu to stuff a fourth courgette the next day. Exact portions will depend on the size of courgettes used.

Ingredients
Vegetable oil, for cooking
1 small onion, diced
400 grams (1 tin) chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
600 grams herby pork sausages, skin removed
Salt and pepper, to taste
3-4 small courgettes, halved and scooped out
125 grams (1 ball) fresh mozzarella, sliced
Fresh oregano, to garnish

Tip: Read the instructions before starting – you can prep the sausages, courgettes and mozzarella while other elements of the recipe are cooking.

Method

  • Heat a little vegetable oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion over a low to medium heat, to soften.

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  • Add the tinned tomatoes and oregano and let the tomato sauce cook. You can peel the sausages during this time.

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  • Add the sausages to the tomato sauce and use the edge of a wooden spoon to break them into pieces. Continue to break the sausages down, mixing them into the tomato sauce, for the first several minutes of cooking.

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  • Then cover the pan and leave the ragu to cook for about an hour. During this cooking time, once the sausage is cooked through you can taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

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  • After an hour, remove the lid and turn the heat up a little to allow the sauce to reduce – this will take about 10 to 15 minutes. You want quite a dry ragu, as the courgettes will release juices as they cook. Prepare the courgettes during this time.

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  • To prepare the courgettes, slice them in half and carefully scoop out the seeds and pulpy flesh from the centre. Leave a nice thick layer of flesh in the skin, and take care not to pierce the skin while you’re working.

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  • Preheat the oven to 160° C (fan).
  • Stuff the courgettes with the ragu and pack down tightly.

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  • Bake the courgettes for 30 to 40 minutes until the courgettes have softened and the ragu has taken on a little colour.

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  • Slice the mozzarella finely and arrange over the top of each courgette half. Add a sprig of fresh oregano for decoration, if using.

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  • Return to the oven and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the mozzarella has melted and taken on a little colour.

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  • Serve with your chosen side. You can see that we had some of ours with an extra dose of courgettes in the form of courgette crisps – thinly sliced, lightly floured and deep fried!

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Looking for more delicious ideas for courgettes / zucchinis?

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Do you have any favourite recipes for courgettes?

If so, please do share them here – we still have lots more on the plants and I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy them!

(You are welcome to include recipe links in your comments, but they may not appear straight away; comments with links are usually diverted into an approval queue to check they aren’t spam!)

 

As a late comer to making frittata my enthusiasm for this simple dish is as yet unabated. Its versatility is particularly welcome in this hot and muggy weather – it can serve as breakfast, lunch, dinner or an anytime-snack and is just as good hot or cold. And of course, the variations are endless, making it easy to use different seasonal combinations throughout the year.

Facing the annual courgette glut (a bounty I wholeheartedly welcome), a frittata leapt immediately to mind when thinking of how best to enjoy our harvest.

I love the combination of courgette and mint, and knew a tangy creamy goat’s cheese would balance the sweetness of courgette.

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Courgette, Goat’s Cheese & Mint Frittata

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, for cooking
500 grams courgette, washed and diced into approximately 1 cm cubes
Salt and pepper
Handful mint leaves, washed and finely chopped
6 large eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper
150 grams of soft goat’s cheese, chopped into small pieces

Method

  • Heat the vegetable oil in large frying pan or sauté pan that is suitable for use on stovetop and under the grill.
  • Add courgettes, seasoning with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper and the mint leaves.
  • Cook for several minutes until the courgette is cooked all the way through.
  • Switch on your grill to preheat, on a high setting.
  • Pour the beaten egg into the pan and about a third of the goat’s cheese, mix gently and allow to cook for a couple of minutes.
  • Use a spatula to pull the egg in a little from the edges of the pan and cook for another couple of minutes.
  • To check whether the base has set, shake the pan to check whether the frittata is starting to come loose; if it hasn’t, give it another minute or two on the hob.
  • Spread the remaining goat’s cheese across the top of the egg and courgette mix.
  • Transfer the pan to the grill and cook for a few minutes, until the egg has set and the goat’s cheese has taken on some colour.
  • Remove from the grill and give the pan another shake. The frittata should now be loose on the bottom of the pan; if it’s not quite loose, use a spatula to help free it.
  • Place a large plate over the pan and flip to turn the frittata out. I like the goat’s cheese to show on top, so use a second plate to turn it the right way up again.
  • The frittata can be enjoyed piping hot, warm or cold from the fridge. Slice into wedges to serve.

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Here are more great frittata ideas:

What are your favourite ingredients to add into a frittata?

 

Harking back to early autumn, look at this little fellow we spotted fast asleep in our back garden one morning in late September.

We replaced the bathroom window (downstairs, at the back of the house) with a clear glass one last year, as we’re not overlooked, so Pete spotted our visitor first thing and quickly gave me a (quiet) shout. We watched him sleeping for a while, his entire body rising and falling as he breathed. Just when Pete decided to go and grab his camera (I had picked mine up already) he woke up, looked around for a few moments and then bounded away, exiting the garden via some exciting leaps onto compost bin, greenhouse roof and garden fence.

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Do you regularly spot wildlife in your garden?

 

As usual, time ran away with us down at the allotment and the thickly sown rows of beetroot never did get thinned out or weeded. That resulted in a harvest of lots of teeny tiny beetroots which we were determined to use, as they were our very first home-grown.

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Pete roasted them in their skins before laboriously peeling each one. I heated some white wine vinegar with whole black peppercorns, powdered mixed spice and some Demerara sugar.

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We bottled them in a (sterilised) hinged Le Parfait jar and poured the hot pickling liquid in before sealing.

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No idea what they’re like, but hoping they are good enough to motivate us to make a better job at the allotment next year!

 

With thanks to Le Parfait for sample preserving jars.

 

As you may have gathered from my enthusiasm about visiting the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale recently, I am a big fan of apples and love to enjoy British apples in season.

We planted a Cox’ Orange Pippin in our back garden a few years ago, and inherited a Bramley (cooking) apple and what we think is a Charles Ross (eating) apple tree when we took on our allotment plot a couple of years back. Last year’s harvest was so enormous I made batches and batches of apple chutneys and jellies (including herb, ginger and chilli variations) and learned how to can apple pie filling too.

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So when Waitrose asked me to help them celebrate British-grown apples, now in store, I was happy to say yes.

They sent me a few packs of Estivale, a variety also known as Delbard Estivale and listed by the NFC as Delcorf. This is an early to mid-season variety, originating in France in the 1960s and the fruits are large and brightly coloured with bright red patches amid yellow-green. The flavour is excellent, and pleasantly sweet with just a little balancing sharpness. These apples don’t keep well in the fruit bowl, so should be eaten within a week but you can preserve them in a chutney or combine them with blackberries, also in season, for a quick crumble.

To celebrate this year’s apple season, I’ve shared my recipe for a simple apple and ginger chutney, on Waitrose’s website. You might also be interested in their Facebook competition, where you can submit your own apple recipes to win Waitrose vouchers.

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Alternatively, if you have any favourite recipes for apples, please share them here. It’s harvest time on the allotment already, and the garden ones will be ready soon too. I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy them!

 

Kavey Eats was sent samples of apples for review and given vouchers for the Waitrose Cookery School as a thank you for providing a recipe.

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