Achocha (Cyclanthera pedata), also known as “kaywa” or “stuffing cucumber” has been cultivated in mountainous areas of South and Central America since ancient times. In 2014 I found a large-fruited variety called Bolivian Giant for sale at The Real Seed Catalogue . It is quite easy to grow – very vigorous once it gets going and the seeds are easy to save. I’m still just discovering the possibilities for eating it.
The fruits start to ripen in August/September, when the soft “prickles” form and they feel hollow when you squeeze them. Harvest them before the frost kills them off.
The simplest way to use them is to pick the young fruits before the seeds start to develop and eat them raw as a snack or in a salad. The most popular way of preparing them seems to be to stuff them, like sweet pepper. A visitor from Columbia gave me the trick: take the seeds out and blanch flesh for a couple of minutes in boiling water so it relaxes and is easy to stuff. Once they are blanched the fruits can be frozen for later use.
Any stuffing used for chille rellenos would work. So would one for Greek stuffed peppers.
A good way to use up that cucumber that hid away behind the leaves and grew into a giant. Sally adapted the original recipe from our ancient “Menus & Recipes for Vegetarian Cooking” from Sunset Magazine.
3 tbs butter
A cucumber, peeled, seeded (if necessary) and sliced.
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 or 3 cm chunks
2 cups lettuce leaves, coarsely sliced
4 spring onions, including tops, thinly sliced
3 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp dill weed
1.5 cups milk
1 cup natural yogurt
Salt + pepper
Fresh dill sprigs or parsley
Melt the butter in a large pan and sauté the cucumber and potatoes for 4 or 5 minutes, then add the lettuce, spring onions, dill and stock and simmer until the potatoes are done. Purée the soup, and stir in the milk and yogurt. Heat it to the serving temperature, season, and garnish with dill or parsley.
Curried parsnip soup is just what we need for the cold-dark months – nourishing, comforting, and just a little bit spicey. I’ve made it for years, following recipes from several books, mainly Jane Grigson’s classic Vegetable Book, and The Goodness of Potatoes and Root Vegetables by John Midgley. Here is my version.
1 Kg parsnip, cleaned and cut into large lumps
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
a clove or two of garlic, chopped fine
1 litre stock
150 ml cream
2 tbs butter, heaped
1 tbs flour
1 or 2 tbs garam masala
ground chili to taste
Boil the parsnip until it softens a bit, then drain and let it cool. Now you should be able to lift the skin off easily with a sharp knife. Cut into smaller lumps and combine with the onion, garlic and butter in a heavy bottomed pan. Fry gently, with the lid on for about ten minutes, then add the flour and spices. Fry for another couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, then slowly add the stock and leave it to cook. When the parsnip is really tender, purée it, warm it up again and add the cream. Serve garnished with parsley, chives, or coriander.
A simple but comforting bake of pumpkin, potatoes and cheese.
This works with many kinds of pumpkin and winter squash, including Butternut and Golden Hubbard – my current favourite. The inspiration came from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book We have been making it for many years, adapting it to our own taste.
About 1 Kg pumpkin flesh
400g or so of potato, peeled and chopped
A good lump of butter, or a mix of butter and olive oil
About 150g of grated Gruyère plus some Parmesan.
Boil the potatoes and pumpkin flesh* until they are soft and drain them well. Add the butter/oil, the eggs and most of the grated cheese and mash them all together. Tip the mixture into an oven dish, scatter the rest of the cheese over the top with some dots of butter, to help it brown. Bake in a medium hot oven until the top is brown and golden.
*Butternut squash has very thin skin which comes off easily with a peeler, but some pumpkins have quite tough skin. You can cut these into large chunks, take out the seeds and stringy bits and bake the chunks until they are soft. Then the flesh can be scooped out easily and added to the cooked potatoes for mashing.
A versatile Finnish cake with apples or other fruit.
This versatile recipe for an Finnish apple cake was published in 1978 by the Leeds branch of the National Childbirth Trust in a little booklet called Growing Up With Good Food. The booklet was a collection of recipes from Leeds mothers, edited by Catherine Lewis. We still occasionally use our old copy, now dog-eared and food-stained.
Rahkomenakakku has been a long time favourite in our family.
I’ve tried several recipes for fennel, and my current favorite comes from our ancient copy of Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book. It is very simple, and simply delicious.
Some heads of fennel
Quarter the heads of fennel and boil them in salted water until they are just tender – neither crisp nor mushy. Drain them and lay in a generously buttered oven dish. Grate Parmesan over them along with plenty of black pepper. Bake them at 200deg C until they are bubbling in buttery juice and the Parmesan is golden.
Occasionally I manage to grow some good cauliflowers, and when I do I appreciate these two simple recipes. I call both of them “cauliflower a la Grecque” – my versions of French versions of real Greek cooking. They do actually taste very good even though they may not be strictly authentic.
Part of the trick of cooking cauliflower is to catch them just as they soften, but before they go mushy. Your nose can help here. You get to recognize the the change of smell when they are done.
A cauliflower, broken into florets
Olive oil: two measures
Lemon juice: one measure
Prepare a dressing in a bowl by whisking together the olive oil and lemon juice – just enough for the amount of cauli you have. Steam the cauliflower in a covered pan with just a bit of water until it softens, and drain it. Add the florets to the bowl and gently mix with the dressing. Serve either warm or cold.
Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce
A cauliflower, broken into florets
I like to make enough tomato sauce to have some left over for dishes like this. Tomato sauce made with onions, garlic and oregano works well, but other sorts are good too. Just add the florets to a pan with enough sauce to cover them when you mix them together. You may need to water the sauce down a bit to stop it sticking and burning. Cover the pan and steam until the cauliflower is just done. Serve hot.
Jenny Ward brought this amazing Persian dish to one of our autumn shows, where it was quickly polished off. Not only is it delicious, but it also uses up lots of courgettes – just the sort of recipe we need!
500g of courgettes – in 5mm slices
1 small onion, finely chopped
Handful of dill and parsley, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
4 tbsp olive oil
Fry the onions in 2tbsp olive oil until soft. Remove from the pan. Then fry the courgettes in batches until coloured and remove from the pan. Add more oil if needed. Whisk the eggs and milk in a bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients. Pour the mixture into the pan, and cook on a low light. Finish off under the grill to brown the top.
We discovered this way of doing broad beans so long ago that we can’t find the original recipe. I think it is a Greek. Anyway it is delicious and very simple if your broad beans are still young and tender.
If your broad beans are still young enough, just steam them in a bit of water until tender – only a couple of minutes – and drain them. Make a bit of dressing of olive oil and lemon juice in a serving bowl and tip in the broad beans and stir them in. If the skin of your broad beans has started to get tough you may want to go to the trouble of skinning them.
Utterly delicious – worth keeping a small bed of sorrel somewhere.
I think Sally got this recipe from The Greens Cook Book. It is utterly delicious.
We keep a small bed of sorrel protected from the birds on our plot which keeps us going most of the spring and summer.
Tart dough for a 9 inch tart
4 tablespoons butter
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 to 8 0z sorrel leaves
2 large eggs
1 cup double cream
2 oz Gruyere cheese, grated
Prepare the tart dough and partially pre-bake.
Melt the butter in a pan, add the onion and salt. Cover the pan and stew for about 10 minutes until the onion is soft, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile cut the stems off the sorrel leaves and roughly slice the leaves. Add them to the cooked onion and cook until the sorrel has turned a grey-green colour (about 3-4 minutes). Whisk the eggs with the cream and then stir in the onion, sorrel and half the cheese. Taste for salt and season with pepper.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Spread the rest of the cheese on the bottom of the flan case, then spread the filling on top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until set and well coloured. Serve hot.