My Courgette and Mint Soup

Last week I posted a link to a recipe for courgette and mint soup on my recipe for zucchine sott’aceto and a couple of people have got back to me saying they’ve made this soup but always found it bland and what was my recipe if it’s tasty. So here it is:

The difference in my soup is I use home made chicken stock rather than vegetable stock and add a couple of other additions to the pot, so here’s the ingredients:

1.5 litres of water

200 ml chicken stock

3 medium sized courgettes

large bunch of mint (I use a mix of spearmint and garden mint)

small bunch of lemon thyme

2 garlic cloves

1 onion (and a pinch of black pepper)

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Add your chicken stock to the water* and put it on the heat, then chop the onion and two courgettes and in a pan with a little olive oil fry them until just golden, the aim is to get a roasted flavour but with little colouring.

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Roughly chop the third courgette and with a liberal sprinkle of black pepper add to the water and bring it to the boil.

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When the water comes to a boil, add the pan-fried courgette and onion and in the hot pan add the garlic cloves and keep them on the heat until they start to lightly brown then add to the soup. Turn the heat down to a simmer and after washing the mint and thyme add the leaves to the liquid and let it simmer for 25 minutes.

After 25 minutes turn off the heat and let it cool down completely. Once cold the fat from the chicken and the olive oil will be resting upon the surface of the soup. Remove this by lightly laying a piece of kitchen towel onto it and it will soak up the residue. Do this 2 or 3 times until the surface of the soup is clear. Add in batches to a blender and liquidise and it’s then ready for either freezing (the soup stores well for several months) or storing in the refrigerator for a week, or you can simply reheat and enjoy with crusty bread.

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* I add my home made chicken stock straight from frozen into the water at the start of the process. I make it by simmering a roast chicken carcass (often after a roast dinner) in a litre of water for about 40 minutes. After skimming the fat off the top it store it in 200 ml containers in the freezer.

This is a great healthy soup that can be eaten chilled or hot and is low in calories for people watching their weight. Courgettes are high in vitamin A and mint is great for maintaining a healthy gut. So this is a tasty soup and good for you too. Try it and let me know what you think.

This Basil wasn’t Fawlty

Last year at this time of the year we were suffering a heat wave, so much so that the orto struggled. My tomatoes were burnt off by blazing sun, the cucumber ran to seed and everything suffered apart from the pumpkins. This year is a much different story, the weather has been kinder, we’ve had oodles of early summer rain and things are flourishing.

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I’ve already picked several courgettes and cucumbers and my tomatoes are putting on some good growth, so there’ll be plenty of passata made this year. Confidence in the harvest can be seen everywhere. Piero at our local restaurant has a sign up advertising his tomatoes for sale; Well he does have over 3,000 plants.

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Once again my pumpkins have got off to a good start with them taking over the orto like something from a 1950’s B movie, they’ve swamped the butternut squash, but I think that’ll do it some good as it doesn’t like it too hot. I’m pleased that I took advice to dig up my Scotch Bonnets and put them in a pot. They’ve over wintered really well and now have lots of small fiery chillies coming. The French beans are doing their thing in a small bed and I’ve a handful of cabbages growing merrily away.

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The thing I’ve been really pleased with is the Italian basil. Over the past few years I’ve tried all sorts of basil and it either takes forever to germinate and grows into spindly little plants or just sits beneath the surface refusing to pop up. I had purple basil a couple of years ago and it was disappointing, as was many other varieties. But this year I bought a packet of Italian basil seeds and hey presto they were poking out of the soil in days and so far I’ve already cropped 4 bags full and am storing it in the freezer.

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I’ll be cropping again today, cutting it back quite harshly, but there’s no need to worry as it’ll send out side shoots and very soon there’ll be more basil for caprese salads and chopping up and adding to passata. Because of the risk of botulism I don’t make infused basil oil and store it in the cupboard, what I do is make it fresh, by heating basil leaves in oil and then letting it go cold and using it that day.

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Freezing is a good way to store basil, chop and wash then pat dry and freeze in a plastic bag, a day or so later crush the contents in the bag and you have flaked basil ready to add frozen to sauces later in the year. Maybe I’ll have a go at turning the next cropping into basil jelly.

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As a extra note having had 2 messages from non UK people thinking I’d spelt ‘Faulty’ incorrect. Fawlty was a UK named hotel owner in a British TV comedy series played by John Cleese.

Free Food

Living in rural Italy is great for anyone who likes getting food for free. The lanes are filled goodies that after a little foraging end up on the dinner plate.

There is no need to buy herbs as rosemary and sage grows in abundance and Italian mint grows around the base of the stake holding our mailbox while a large bay tree shades our neighbours rear garden. At a friends house (that for now we’ll call Felsham Manor), in spring wild garlic permeates the air with it’s pungent aroma, the leaves make a great alternative to basil flavoured pesto and this year I’ve brought some bulbs home in the hope of getting a patch established near our property.

The wild asparagus season has been and gone (technically) but today I saw a man collecting the last of it from the edges of olive groves. I’ve blogged about this previously under the title, the foraging foreigner.

At the moment the fields around us are filled with broad beans, or fave as they’re called here. These beans are not for harvesting and are ploughed back into the land to add nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil for the production of good grass for animal feed. The beans self seed each year so the pods are quite small and the crop wouldn’t be commercially viable, however it’s worth just picking a few of these that only have 2 or 3 beans inside them for dinner: No farmer would begrudge you these. I came away from Atessa with a bag full of pods and yesterday shelled them. The inner green discs are delicious with mackerel and horseradish sauce, but this bowl of beans are going to be the contorno (side dish) to a loin of pork.

IMG_3337 There’s always plenty of fruit and nuts in abundance in the lanes. Outside our front door is large green fig tree and just up the lane a black fig tree. We have walnut, almond and hazelnut trees and wild peaches and pomegranates within walking distance of our house. Last year we discovered two nespole (loquat) bushes in the overgrown part of our land, these produce small apricot coloured fruits that are quite tart in flavour with large brown seeds in the centre, if you let them start to turn and become over-ripe the flesh becomes sweeter; a mix of citrus and peach is the only way to describe it.

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This month the local population will be out planting out their tomatoes; as will I and there’s many patches of land that have been used in the past where they’ve self seeded. Three years ago on a spare piece of land I grew some of the Gardener’s Delight variety; a favourite with English growers. Now every year I get several plants appearing that crawl across the land and tumble up tree stumps and these provide me with small tasty red tomatoes with no attention from myself, leaving me to tend to my sauce making plants.

There’s more out there for the experienced forager, and last week my neighbour Antonio came over with a basket of fresh porcini mushrooms and told me he’d dug up 3 truffles. I asked him where and he tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger, indicating he’ll share his mushrooms but not the truffle location.

I don’t hunt, not because I’m squeamish but because I don’t have a licence or the experience. But there’s plenty of people around me that do (in season) and occasionally I’ll get given a pigeon or two or a saddle of rabbit or hare and sometimes if I’m very lucky a hunk of cinghiale (wild boar) which is always welcome in my kitchen.

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Then there’s the fruits of the sea, if you go early it’s possible to collect mussels from the rocks along the Costa dei Trabocchi and if you’re an angler there’s the free fish that at the end of the day make for a tasty dinner.

All in all there’s an abundance of free food out there, all you need to do is go out and collect it.

For F’s Sake

It’s all about the letter F today. Everything that has given me pleasure or annoyed me has began with this letter.

Foraging. There’s nothing finer than an early morning walk with the dog. At 06.30, I took Alf out for his morning constitutional up the olive grove, The morning was almost silent, the occasional birds’ call filtered through the branches of the gnarled ancient trees and Alf  peed in the same spot he always pees in. He’s getting better at walking beside me without his lead on, he will still bolt sometimes and I have to wait for him to realise he’s too far away and come running back, tongue like an unrolled carpet flopping out of his mouth. Today we play zombies, a game he likes best, he runs back and forth to and from me as I pretend to be a zombie and try to catch him, when I do catch him I have to pretend to eat his brains. (How pleased am I that there’s no one around whenever we play this game. Just how the Italians would interpret a fifty-one year old man, arms outstretched, groaning and walking rigidly as a dog jumps and runs at him doesn’t bear thinking about.) After a few minutes of our game we begin the walk back, foraging as we go. I pick a couple of ripe black figs and we share them as I pick some wild marjoram and collect a handful of fallen walnuts.

Frank Chickens.The first song of the day to shuffle as the kettle boils is We are Ninja by Frank Chickens, a Japanese duo that had a couple of hit singles back in 1982. I check my email and have a quick look at who’s doing what on Facebook before continuing with my research for a couple of magazine features on Italian cooking. The iPod is still playing and another Frank Chickens song plays, this time it’s Cheeba Cheeba Chimpira.

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Figs. Yesterday a friend dropped off some figs from his garden and we had them roasted, stuffed with Gorgonzola and wrapped in Prosciutto di San Danielle; in my opinion much nicer than Parma ham. There’s a few left and they seem to just appear in my hand before disappearing inside my mouth. It’s been a good year for produce, I’ve not purchased any tomatoes for weeks, having grown my own. We had a plentiful supply of courgettes and chillies and three large pumpkins on the solitary plant I popped down at the side of the house. I’ll be clearing a patch of land in the autumn to get ready for next years planting of the orto.

Flies. This week there’s been more flies than normal, as the kitchen cupboards were being fitted the room seemed to buzz with them. The bathroom has also seemed to attract them, every time I go inside there’s two or three flitting from surface to surface. I’m constantly spraying the air with fly killer and the dogs are trying to catch them as they bother them too. Sitting outside is a nightmare at the moment as there’s so many of the things. Occasionally a dreadful smell wafts up from down the bottom, where a stretch of unkempt land lies, and we begin to wonder if there’s some rotting carrion down there; it would certainly account for the plague of bluebottles.

Food. For part of my research, I’m reading Italian Food by Elizabeth David, published in 1952, it’s a seminal work that paved the way for other writers’ of foreign cuisine. Lunchtime comes around and as I’m focussed on antipasti, I decide a plate of such will be nice. I think if you’re going to prepare antipasti it’s best to use good quality ingredients and take the time to prepare it. I start off making a cucumber, caper and tuna salad flavoured with lemon juice and olive oil; unfiltered extra virgin of course. The second salad is simple, just finely chop three average sized tomatoes, season with white pepper and a pinch of salt, crush one raw garlic clove into the tomatoes and slosh on some olive oil. These salads are served with some Prosciutto di San Danielle, some chicken and spinach roll, another fig, olives, cippoline and a wedge of Gorgonzola and a dollop of fresh ricotta seasoned with black pepper and anchovies. As I tuck in, I think of another thing beginning with f that would go well with my lunch, focaccia.

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Funkadelic. As I wash up the lunch things, the iPod shuffles and Funkadelic play their ridiculously long-winded ten minute and forty-four second track, with an equally long-winded name, Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The Doodoo Chasers).  Dishes washed, I return to my research, life in Italy is far from dull.