I really felt for Kathy Slack when I read about her tomato disaster, her lovingly nurtured seedlings run over and crushed by a Range Rover in a Cotswold lane. It wasn’t entirely the driver’s fault but anyone who grows their own will feel Kathy’s pain.
It’s one of the anecdotes in her new book, From The Veg Patch, published by Ebury Press. Full disclosure: Kathy is a friend and Guild of Food Writers colleague, but I wouldn’t be writing about the book if I didn’t rate it highly. She takes ten vegetables or fruits and gives ten recipes for each, along with bonus cooking ideas and growing tips. (Getting your seedlings run over is more of a cautionary tale.)
This is a lovely book for anyone who enjoys veg, whether you grow them yourself or buy them in arm-wrenching bag-fulls from the farmer’s market. It’s not a snobby book – you don’t need a posh potager to be able to cook from it and indeed there are recipes where Kathy advocates using frozen veg rather than fresh. It’s not specifically vegetarian or vegan either, although these are catered for. Meat and fish feature but never at the expense of the vegetables, which always take centre stage. With today’s emphasis on eating less but more ethically sourced meat and fish, I’d say it’s a book for our times.
The recipes are fresh and interesting and very accessible, whatever your level of cooking skills. My copy (bought retail) is sprouting a thicket of bookmarks and I’ll be revisiting its pages regularly as summer progresses into autumn and our harvests ripen. It’s going to be a boon when we have a glut. At the moment, though, we mostly have a scattering of salad crops and, inevitably, courgettes.
I’m always eager to find recipes that will convince my courgette-sceptic husband to overcome his reluctance and this one, for griddled courgettes rolled with pesto, prosciutto and mozzarella, didn’t disappoint. I used yellow as well as green which, rolled up with their toothpick wings, remind me of the Golden Snitch.
I used last year’s pesto from the freezer as my basil isn’t prolific enough yet. And though Kathy suggests buffalo mozzarella, I’d just say make sure it’s a firm one, as mine was almost too soft to cut into batons. I’ve given the recipe, used here with permission, as it appears in the book.
“These are terrific on the barbecue, in which case go for medium embers and a direct heat. Alternatively a griddle pan on full heat will do just fine. You can make this into a main course by arranging the finished rolls (without cocktail sticks) in an ovenproof dish, covering them with a tin of chopped tomatoes, sprinkling a handful of grated Parmesan or torn mozzarella on top, and baking for 20-30 minutes at 220C/200C fan/Gas Mark 7.”
Griddled Courgette Rolls
4 medium courgettes, trimmed and sliced lengthways into 4mm-thick strips
2 tbsp oil
A large bunch of basil, leaves picked
4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp pine nuts
1 garlic clove, crushed
Up to 100ml extra virgin olive oil
100g prosciutto or Parma ham
150g buffalo mozzarella, cut into 1cm-thick batons
+ cocktail sticks (optional)
Set a griddle pan over a high heat for a few minutes, or get the embers on your barbecue to a medium heat.
Brush the courgette strips with the olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Lay them in the hot griddle pan or on the barbecue grill and cook for 3-5 minutes on each side until they are charred and soft. You may need to do this in batches, transferring the cooked courgettes to a roasting tin and keeping them warm in a low oven (or next to the barbecue) while you tackle the next batch.
Next, make the pesto. Put the basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, garlic and a dash of the extra virgin olive oil in a food processor and whizz to a thick paste, (You can use a pestle and mortar if you prefer a more rustic finish.) Gradually add more oil and whizz again until you have a stiff, spoonable consistency. Season to taste.
To assemble the rolls, put one slice of charred courgette on a board. Thinly spread with a little pesto, then tear a ribbon of prosciutto or Parma ham to roughly the same size as the courgette strip and lay it on top. Place a baton of mozzarella widthways at one narrow end of the strip, then roll the pesto-and-prosciutto-lined courgette up around the mozzarella. Secure with a cocktail stick if it looks a bit wayward.
Repeat with the rest of the courgette slices, then place the courgette rolls on a serving platter and bring to the table, with any leftover pesto in a bowl on the side for dipping.