Eating and Drinking
The fruits of the gardener’s labour are literally abundant now in the last weeks of summer when there is an elemental thrust of colour, flavour, scent and the touch of a breezy shower of rain.There are colourful displays of tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers in the large tunnel which are all vying for attention at the same time.Diligence is of the essence when it comes to harvesting fruit and vegetables as the prolific courgette will quickly metamorphose into a giant marrow if neglected for a day or two and the juicy ripening raspberries will not escape the attention of birds. Tomatoes will succumb to gravity as they become too heavy for their vines and need daily picking . It is always wise to have space prepared in the freezer at this time of year and a selection of clean jars at the ready to fill with jams, chutneys or pickles.
Whether you have a glut of fruit and vegetables to preserve or not it is important to enjoy the summer bounty while it is at its peak. The ‘fruit’ vegetables like cucumber, zucchini and tomatoes are bursting with flavour and nutrients, so delicious and quenching to munch straight from the plant. Having a high water content (95% in the case of cucumber) they are ideal for juicing with apples, pears,grapes, spinach, kale or whatever takes your fancy. Cucumber water is a refreshing drink to enjoy, all the more satisfying in the knowledge that it has many health benefits. Cucumbers contain the trace elementsilica,which is very beneficial for the maintenance of our connective tissues. They are a source of vitamin A, C and K as well as potassium, helping to strengthen bones, lower blood pressure and maintain clear, supple skin. If the cucumber is sliced and submerged in fresh spring water for a few hours it will develop a subtle flavour which can be garnished with fresh mint or a wedge of lemon. This is a great way to increase your daily water intake.
There are lots of ways to enjoy courgettes (zucchini) and tomatoes when they are so plentiful and tasty. Courgettes, like cucumbers, have a high water content but are a low calorie vegetable which can help ‘fill’ up a gap for those trying to control their weight. They can be eaten raw, baked or fried in a light tempura batter. I have sliced and layered them with cherry vine tomatoes, herbs, olives and fresh lasagne sheets to make a delicious summer supper. This has no resemblance to any lasagne you might encounter with layers of stodgy béchamel sauce and Bolognese style filling; it is light and brimming with the flavours of fresh herbs and juicy sweet tomatoes.
The quantities of this recipe will depend on the size of your baking dish but if possible choose one which will accommodate the dimensions of one or two lasagne sheets. The amount of tomatoes will also have to be judged by eye. I have used a mixture of tomatoes, cutting up the larger ones to equal the size of the smaller ones.
Place the tomatoes in a bowl and add 2 or 3 tablespoons of good quality olive oil and 1 tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar. Add to this approximately 100g of mixed olives . I used Greek olives that were packed in oil and Rosemary but any good quality deli selection would do. Halve the olives and ensure they are all pitted. Add a generous bunch of fresh basil leaves and fresh oregano if available. Finally throw in as much fresh garlic as you prefer; sliced or smashed roughly. Season with freshly ground black pepper and a little sea salt, stir and set aside to marinate for an hour or so. Slice one or two courgettes into approximately 5mm thickness .
Pour some liquid from this mix to thinly cover the base of your dish. Add a layer of tomatoes, a layer of courgette slices and a layer of lasagne. Repeat the layers until the dish is nearly full, ending with a layer of cheese which is simply a 250g carton of Ricotta mixed with about 100g of grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese. Reserve a little grated cheese to sprinkle on top. Bake the lasagne in a medium /hot oven for about 30 minutes or until the pasta sheets are cooked. The topping should be lightly coloured . It can help to cover the dish with foil for the first half of cooking time, and remove it towards the end to allow the cheese to colour. The finished dish should sit for a while before serving.
There are lots of ways to vary this depending on what you have available. Mushrooms or aubergines would give it an extra ‘meaty’ dimension. Either way it is a lovely way to utilise the sweet liquids that flow from these summery fruity vegetables.Enjoy.