Showing posts with label Curcubit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Curcubit. Show all posts

26 Mar 2013

Spaghetti squash: a good winter veg

Prepping squash
An ice-cream scoop is the perfect tool for removing squash seeds.
Snow clinging to the roof tiles suggests a lunch of warming soups and squashes rather than salad. I haven't got any winter veg growing to fill the 'hungry gap' (last year's downpours rotted my perennial caulis, slugs got the rest) but what I do have, stored from last Autumn, are my spaghetti squashes, also known as my Squashed Pyjamas. They were one of my trophy veg last year because, after a very slow start, a couple of weeks of late summer sunshine revived their spirits and they grew almost daily, greening up the spaces between the fruit trees and producing several torpedo sized squashes before the season end. These were duly stored on a high shelf in my kitchen, probably not the most appropriate spot but it seems to have worked.

I retrieved one of the smaller squashes from its lofty perch at lunchtime on Sunday and prepped it for the oven with spices and herbs. (And my pruning saw - the rind is hard.) It was delicious.  A simple meal of good home-grown veggie nosh.  And with the added bonus of a snack bowl of edible seeds, also oven roasted - although I pulled out a few for resowing before they went into the oven.

I'm waiting for the weather to warm up to a regular 5C before I start sowing any seeds, meanwhile taking the opportunity to finalise what I'll grow in the veg patch this year. These squashes have definitely earned their place, albeit a rather large one as they need a lot of room.  Last year I started them off in 3 inch pots (set the seed on its side) and found they quickly needed potting on. Treat them like courgettes and plant them out in late May or early June in a sunny spot, keep them well-watered and well-fed (plenty of organic matter before planting preferably) and have bee friendly plants nearby to guide the bees in the right direction for pollinating the flowers.

Squash Pyjamas is less "floury" than butternut squash and more tasty than marrow. When cooked, the flesh shreds easily into strings, hence 'spaghetti' squash.  I cut mine in half, drizzled olive oil over the top, added a sprinkle of dried herbs, some smoked paprika, salt and pepper and then an extra smidgeon of butter on the top - and then roasted it for an hour at 180C.  A few slices of bacon would have only increased the pleasure. The seeds were washed of all squash flesh, dried and tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with the same herbs and seasoning as the squash and roasted for 15 minutes.  These make a very, very nice crunchy snack.

Eating squash

I bought my Squash Pyjama seeds from More Veg, a good investment at 3 seeds for 75p. In a good summer, this should yield at least 15 squashes - 5 per plant. Even in last year's washout weather, I still had 6 squashes from the two seeds that I grew; both germinated and I left the third seed as a standby which, as it turns out, was not needed.  The supplied seeds are not F1 so I presume  I can resow my seeds saved from the best plant, in which case my initial investment is even more of a bargain!  And don't forget, if we get a good summer and the squashes fruit prolifically as promised, I can also take a few of the edible flowers to add to salads or stuff them before deep frying, as per zucchini fritters.

Now I'm wondering if the young leaves can also be eaten, as you can with very young courgette leaves...

9 Sept 2012

Enjoying the summer

I'm going to gloss over the rather glaring omission of any recent blog posts... I've had a short holiday at home during which I redecorated my living room and I've been making sloe vodka and rosehip cordial after foraging walks on Hampstead Heath.  I've hardly been in the veg patch other than to pick the still prolific raspberries and beans. In short, I've been enjoying a little bit of belated summer (while it lasts).

Despite nights that are getting chillier, the warm sunshine during the day is acting like a tonic on my plants as they're suddenly doubling in size or flowering madly in an end of season rush. Thus, this morning, I opened my balcony door to see that (finally) my Sicilian White Courgette has a male and female flower open at the same time! The netting presents a challenge for the bees to get through so, small paintbrush in hand, these have been hand-pollinated.

Male courgette flower

Although the flowers are edible, this one will not be sacrified;  I'm already savouring the thought of another courgette like this earlier one:

Sicilian white courgette
~ Sicilian White, a trailing courgette. This one grew to 13 inches.  ~
This is a beautiful pale courgette which is absolutely delicious finely sliced and lightly fried in olive oil, adding a touch of finely chopped chilli and lemon zest in the last few minutes, before tossing into pasta of your choice. (I like pappardelle, the wide ribbon pasta which soaks up all the juices.) I keep it simple but I've seen recipes where pine nuts are added, or a parsley/breadcrumb topping added.  In any case, I always throw a good handful of parmesan onto it before serving, either thinly sliced or grated.

It's another beautiful sunny summer's day here in London so, toodle-loo, I'm off to tackle the weeds in the veg garden and see how big my veg patch spaghetti squash is getting today (and how many fruits it's now bearing! Yum!).

31 Jul 2011

Saturday Snap: Beauty among the Beasts

Beauty and the beast

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Zucchini Chop, an exercise in removing unnecessary leaves from my courgette plants to direct energy to the fruit.  Since then I've enjoyed a daily exhibition of beautiful new flowers and tender leaves emerging to protect the fruit while the remaining leaves have swiftly grown to fill the gap left after the cutback.  The plants now stand proud, healthy and large once more in their space - a dual edged sword as it happens.  On the plus side, children are reluctant to race down the narrow path in the middle of the veg patch for fear of scratching their shins but, not so good, is that smaller children (the under-5s) are less able to easily access the beds for watering, a task they like to help with.  I think it may be time for a few more leaves to come off!

The above photo was actually taken in the evening. I like to just have a little meander round, check on the progress of recent sowings (peas, parsley, carrots all growing well), perhaps pick a few sweet peas or sample a raspberry or two (autumn raspberries just coming into fruit) or munch a freshly picked spinach leaf. I intend to make some more stuffed fried courgette flowers (absolutely delicious, more on this with recipe in the next post) so was counting the flowers that were ready for this. Peering through the larger leaves, this beauty caught my eye, it's yellow petals singing out, the dusk light lending an almost purple tinge to the soil below. I think this may be one of my favourite snaps! (I do love my veg.)

Some tips with today's Saturday Snap:

1) Identifying courgette flowers:  male flowers are long and slender on a slim stalk, almost like a rose.  Female flowers are the ones that make the courgettes and have plumper flowers on a chubbier stem. The female stem looks like it will become a courgette; in some cases the slender courgette can be picked with the flower still attached and the whole thing battered and quickly fried. Delicious.

2) Encouraging more fruit: It's essential to leave some male flowers; without them, bees have no pollen to carry across to the female flowers. It's this act that pollinates the flower, causing the courgette fruit to form.

3) Photographing veg:  evening light - if you catch it right - is so much more forgiving than harsh middle of the day sunlight. The midday sun creates hard shadows and burnt out texture in photos;  however great the subject may look to the naked eye, I'm always disappointed with the results if I photograph in strong light. The veg patch is shaded by late afternoon and the last of the day's sun is sometimes reflected back onto the veg by being bounced off nearby windows. This is a perfect time (around 6 - 7pm) in the summer to take photos.

18 Jul 2011

The Zucchini Chop

This is my first year of growing courgettes so I was thrilled to see the plants flourishing in the few short weeks after planting out, although the way their magnificent but prickly leaves overspill onto the paths through the patch is slightly daunting.

Veg Patch view, July 2011

As I watered around the veg patch on Friday evening, my Zimbabwean neighbour (who has a wealth of experience in veg growing) came over for a chat.  The common names of plants often differ between our countries and he was curious about the courgettes.  Having established what the plant was, he told me that in his country the whole plant would be eaten: flowers, stems, leaves, fruit.  Surely the leaves are too spiny for that?  Not at all, apparently they soften in cooking.  My plants, however, had been insufficiently watered (guilty as charged, although the weekend deluge will have rectified that) and the stems were too tough.  He demonstrated by cutting a lower leaf close to the stem and peeling back the strings.  The stalk was hollow and the flesh rigid; if it had been tender, he would have saved it from the compost heap and taken it home to be eaten, although the best leaves are further up the stem.  So, lesson one:  courgettes need lots of water.

There was further advice. "The plant is having to share the food between the fruit and the leaves. You do not need the leaves near the ground."  Well, that made sense to me.  So, knife in hand, I sliced where I was directed to and leaf after giant leaf came away.  Soil was revealed (enough to sow some quick radishes or shaded spinach), air could circulate around the plants, sweetcorn was rediscovered and an achievement shared.  Really, an enjoyable, companionable, useful and educational evening where another curve of the learning spiral was successfully negotiated.

This is the 'after' shot:

Courgette, pruned

If I'd thought about it, I should have used the same angle to take the photo. Sorry, but I hope this will illustrate nicely the after-effects of the (rather drastic) chop. Does anyone else do this? And has it worked for you? I'd love to know!
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