Hartley Magazine

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First dishes

Tiny yellow courgettes – the first crops from this year’s greenhouse sowing

The time has arrived for the first harvests from the greenhouse crops, and the first dishes to reach the table. Few things are more satisfying. Although not currently growing any courgettes in the greenhouse (really no need) I am counting them as greenhouse crops simply because they started life there, way back when. I sowed just a few plants of courgette ‘Soleil’ and planted them out in May and they have started to produce now. In truth the courgettes are currently tiny, but this is almost always how I like to harvest them, when they are no more than a finger’s length long. It’s a good way of avoiding a glut, for one thing, because if all of the courgettes on my plants reached full sized we would very quickly be overwhelmed. They are also just nicer when tinier, firm and sweet without a hint of the wateriness that they can take on as they get older and larger. I picked some last night for tea and cut them into little rounds and then marinated them in extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and some shredded mint for about half an hour as I was cooking the rest of the meal. I would have shredded the flowers and tossed them into except they were a little aphid-y. Next time I will. A sweet, fresh little side dish and super quick from cropping to table.

I‘ve also made my first batch of pesto of the year, and this time from crops growing inside the greenhouse. I have four pots of basil, two inside and two out, and for some reason those outside are not looking good, despite the warm weather. All were grown from one supermarket pot of basil, which is a trick I use every year, and which you can still do now for plentiful basil over the next few months. Supermarket basil plants are always sown really thickly, so you can get a huge number of plants from one pot. I buy a pot around the beginning of May, split it into at least four pieces, and replant it. They are always grown very ‘soft’ for the supermarkets, in warm conditions with lots of water and feed, and they can get a bit of a shock at first and flop alarmingly, but once they have recovered I pinch them back to just above a pair of leaves to encourage bushiness (and eat the pinchings of course. By this point in the year the plants are huge and bushy and every set of leaves I pinch out is replaced four fold seemingly within days. The basil is growing faster than I can use it, and so this is definitely pesto time.

Tiny yellow courgettes – the first crops from this year’s greenhouse sowing – reach Lia’s table

For any pesto snobs out there, and I know there are many, it is worth noting that pesto freshly made from the garden is a different beast altogether from pesto in a jar. Some still don’t like it, even fresh and herby and nutty, and they can’t be helped. I love it, and I consider it a real seasonal treat (because I don’t like the jars). Use it on pasta, yes, but also with sausages instead of ketchup and dolloped onto roast vegetables. Here’s the recipe:

Toast 60g of pine nuts in a dry frying pan and leave them to cool. Take a couple of big handfuls of basil and look them over for bugs and give them a quick rinse and pat them dry.  Finely grate 60g parmesan. Put all three ingredients into a food processor and whizz together with about 150ml extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Salt and season. Eat immediately, for very best results (it will be happy in the fridge for a couple of days too though).