Monthly Archives: May 2012

Things to do with leftover roast vegetables

It turns out that the roast vegetables left over from the Imagined Roast VegetableTart make an excellent lunch for two when stirred into four ounces of cooked tagliatelle, having been reheated in a small pan in which a couple of ounces of diced chorizo sausage has first been fried. Courgette and pasta is a known and much-liked combo in this house but I shall clearly have to experiment with squash and pasta a little more!

The Grilling Chronicles 2012 #1

It stopped raining long enough to fire up the main barbecue grill last night, for the first time this year. I didn’t clean it out at the end of last season so the grill was a bit revolting when I first lifted the lid on it. However, once I got the coals going it took about five minutes with the wire grill brush to burn off the mouldy bits and pieces. The whole thing went really well; I managed to start the charcoal without causing too much smoke (my neighbour suddenly decided at 4.30 p.m. that now was the perfect moment to hang out his washing; and I was trying not to leave it stinking of charcoal) and once I got the coals laid out on the grill (I use a chimney starter) and got the lid in place you would hardly know I was grilling at all.

So, the inaugural meal of the season was spatchcocked poussin with baked sweet potatoes, and a piquant salad on the side. The poussins were coated with Steven Raichlen’s basic barbecue rub (most of what I know about grilling comes from his How To Grill and The Barbecue Bible, both of which I recommend) and for once I grilled with the lid on the Weber kettle (why I don’t do this more, I don’t know, given it’s how the Weber is supposed to be used, but go figure). Fifty minutes later, done to several turns, and delicious. The salad, a mixture of chopped cucumber, chopped tomato, finely diced onion, spring onions, mint and parsley, dressed with lime juice and olive oil, salt and pepper, went very well with this.

And the annual hunt for lumpwood charcoal can begin. B&Q have some, I notice, so I can stock up.  Most places only sell charcoal briquettes; these are a pig to light and leave a really unpleasant residue in the bottom of the kettle. I have no idea what the binding agent is, and I’m not sure I want to. On the plus side, briquettes do last longer but I remain not convinced. And if truth be known, I enjoy the uncertainty of using charcoal.

But for my bucket barbecue I generally use the little easy-light charcoal bags as they’re simpler to deal with, though they initially make a dreadful mess with bits of paper fluttering everywhere if one isn’t careful (although maybe I will change my mind about that this year). I’ve been surprised at how well the bucket barbie does. I bought one at the end of the season a couple of years ago, watching for several weeks as the price was marked down and down, finally getting myself a real bargain. It is a well-made galvanised affair and it is ideal for chicken drumsticks, sausages and so on, though it would be less successful for most of my more elaborate efforts. Mostly, I bought it because I wanted to do minced-meat kebabs, which are easily lost on the bigger grill and it’s good for that.

This year, and I said this last year too, I want to do more smoking. I have a small smoker I was gifted several years ago but I’ve not got around to using it fully as yet.  Given there’s a nice four-day weekend coming up it might be time to try that turkey pastrami I keep thinking about.

Week ending 20/05/2012

Now it has stopped raining for long periods of time and the allotment has had time to dry out I’ve been able to get down to the plot and lay waste to the perennial weeds on a more regular basis. They are now lying in large piles, waiting to go into the compost bin, which is still the abode of slow worms, though I think that so long as I don’t turn the thing over, the slow worms are unlikely to mind me tipping more weeds in on top. The ground is now sufficiently dry that today I didn’t have to spend five minutes declagging my boots before I left. This is a vast improvement even since yesterday.

It was also noticeable that the track through my section of the allotment no longer squelches quite as much, though there is one allotment at the bottom of the slope (not even a huge slope) which has still got standing water in the trenches, 3-4 inches of it. I’ve noted before that the soil is extremely clayey – I think the area may have started life as a clay pit judging from the way that it is considerably lower than the buildings around it – and it is at times like this that the disadvantages of the area become obvious. These are not actually the worst conditions I’ve ever seen – there was once a stream running down the track during the winter – but they’re as bad as anything I’ve seen at this time of year.

However, on the up side, the ground is proving less difficult to dig this year, thanks to much digging and adding of organic matter last year, and I’m hopeful of catching up with my sowing plans very soon. It’s all been a bit of a rush to see what can be sown right now thanks to such a late start but I had been thinking already about trying swedes and parsnips this year and the timing suits them. It’s a tiddly bit late for broad beans but given the delay I don’t suppose it matters, so they can go in this week, along with some dwarf French beans. I’ve also got a small sweetcorn forest doing its thing in the home greenhouse and that can go in later. I sowed cabbage and cauliflowers this week in the greenhouse, as well as courgettes and a compact variety of butternut squash. I’m not sure how well those will work but I’m determined to give them a try.. Other than that I shall fill in with chard and silver beet, perpetual spinach and salad stuff, the usual leaves.

P finished cleaning out the blackberry hedge bottom this morning and we are now going to mark out its territory with boards and mulch its roots. This won’t especially stop the grass growing, and the grass is anyway a good place for creatures to hide, in moderation at least, but it will at least make it clearer where I can hack the stuff up when digging, and stop the hedge encroaching over the entire top end of the plot. Once we have that sorted out I will put down some small boards and bits of flowerpot for frogs and slow worms to hide under. No sign of the monster frog of doom today, though he was there yesterday, but P encountered two slow worms, one teeny bronze beauty and a much bigger, paler one with dark stripes down the sides. A similar sized one, neatly coiled like a Cumberland sausage, slid out of the landscape fabric I was moving later, and eyed me with disapproval. I don’t think I’ll ever quite get over the shock of suddenly finding them slithering around the place when I move things but I do enjoy having them around as pest control.

Annoyingly, it is clear that I am going to have to pot up my raspberry plants after moving them from their current site rather than shifting them straight to the fruit garden, as that still needs a lot of work. There is couch grass everywhere and it’s going to take a lot of digging out. On the other hand, once the raspberries are moved I should be able to deal with the Middle Third very quickly and get that planted up. Likewise, if we get the work done on the blackberry hedge this coming weekend, that can be sown and I can then go back to focusing my energies on Bottom Third.

In the back garden I need to dig over the final plots and get the salad stuff sown, though this first requires a little work with some duct tape and some polycarbonate sheeting, to build cloches. Or rather, these are not cloches in the classic sense so much as protective barriers which will be netted over in order to stop Rosa the cat from doing what Rosa loves doing best of all in the world, which is digging up my seedlings. We lost an entire crop of salad leaves to her last year and I have no intention of the same happening this year. Rosa is already in bad odour with my neighbours for going into their garden to use it as a bijou open-air latrine. The problem was finally solved when I bought them a deluxe sonic cat repeller, which has surprisingly worked rather well. The cats aren’t visiting the garden any longer but are still able to teeter along the garden fences and sit on their favourite observation perches so neighbourly harmony has been restored and everyone is happy (except possibly Rosa when she sees what I have in store for her).

Errol, meanwhile, is enjoying his first spring of gardening with the humans. He is a young, enthusiatic and deeply earnest ginger Maine Coon, who loves nothing better than helping. He helps with cooking (and in fairness with the washing-up but not, oddly enough, with the eating) and has now extended his range to helping with gardening as well. He and Rosa are half-siblings and it turns out he shares Rosa’s deep interest in trying to get his head up close and personal with a sharp-edged digging implement. Also, floofy tail, compost and seeds – a catastrophe in waiting. He likes sharpening his claws on the greenhouse covering and I am so glad I invested in the reinforced covering this year. It’s not pretty but there is more chance of it surviving to the end of the season. (After carefully constructing a solid roof for each greenhouse because Rosa would insist on sleeping on the roofs, causing them to sag, she has shown absolutely no interest in them whatsoever this year). He adores helping me put things in the compost bin, and like Rosa and his late half-brother, Nicodemus, not to mention Pickle, he has a horrid fascination for the strawberry bed. My plan to build ridges he could hide behind has not worked as he just digs through the ridges instead, but I keep replanting the strawberries and sooner or later he will get bored.

And the final news today is that I noticed that the basil in the propagator has started sprouting little shoots! Once the plants are big enough to pot on, I’m thinking of trying a purple basil, just for the hell of it. The resulting pesto would surely look amazing!

Imagined roast vegetable tart

I am not quite sure why I decided to make a roast vegetable tart, other than because I had a butternut squash knocking around, and half a pack of puff pastry I wanted to use up rather than freeze. The roast vegetable tart recipe I was going to use turned out to be a roast vegetable flan recipe when I looked at it more closely, so time to improvise.

The base of the tart comes from a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for a tomato, red pepper and feta tart, which I’ve already doctored somewhat (as I seem invariably to do with HFW recipes – if it’s not the quantities it’s just general weirdness about methods).

Some advance prep is needed as the tomato sauce is made by roasting three punnets of tomatoes, halved, in the oven at about 140°C until they are semi-dried. I use supermarket basic toms for this as the process intensifies the flavour. I usually dribble olive oil over them and grind salt and pepper to taste. When they’re cold I puree them in the liquidiser with another good slug of olive oil so the resulting mixture is spreadable.

Roasting the vegetables is straightforward. Set oven to 230°C. I had a red pepper so cut that into pieces, put it in a dish, dribbled olive oil over it and put it in the top of the oven.

I peeled the squash, diced it up fairly small, tossed it in olive oil and seasoned it and put the pieces on a baking tray in the oven for 12 minutes. Then I added some courgettes similarly treated and cooked everything for another 15 minutes or so. (This makes far too much for the tart but the leftover veg can be incorporated into something else I shall be figuring out later. 20/05/2012 See Things To Do With Leftover Roast Vegetables)

The red pepper comes out last, is covered with foil and left to steam the skin off.

Oh, and because the tomato puree is a trifle sharp I decided to caramelise some onions to stir through it so they’d been quietly doing their thing on the stove-top for 15-20 minutes.

Roll out half a pack of puff pastry to fit a baking tray. You should make a foil-covered cardboard form to go in the middle and weight down the pastry while it’s being blind-baked, having scored a margin all the way round. You should, but if you’re lazy, it’s a week day, etc. it’s not vital and the tart works just as well.

(And yes, I can make my own puff pastry but it’s time-consuming and supermarket puff pastry is perfectly adequate. I still make my own shortcrust pastry but puff pastry is more a question of proving I can do it and then not doing it again.)

Bake at 200°C for 12-15 minutes.

Assembly then goes like this.

Smear tomato paste across pastry base. Scatter onions on top and then drag around with a fork to spread them out.

Scatter sufficiency of butternut squash/courgettes on top without overloading it.

Dice red pepper and scatter over butternut squash/courgettes.

Dice about half a pack of feta cheese and scatter small fragments across tart.

Put back in oven for 15 minutes.

Serve hot, lukewarm or cold. I served this with a few green leaves as that was what I had handy.

This tart was pretty much about using up what I’d got in the veg box or had lurking in the veg basket. The original recipe asked for a sweet potato but squash works very well. The tomato base could be replaced with a more onion-heavy base. It seems infinitely adaptable. So far the only things that have been consistent are the pastry and the feta. <

P is taking a slice of the tart in his lunchbox today. Wrapped in foil it is very robust and travels well.