Here's why I don't grow vegetables. I find it all too easy to accumulate a glut of produce without even putting spade to soil. My neighbour Peter really does win prizes for his veg at the village show, so I benefit from his surplus, which he leaves for me on the "Sue Steps".
The previous owners of my house, Sue and her husband Norman, sold the bottom section of the garden to Peter, who wanted more space for veg and fruit trees. Peter built the dry-stone boundary wall himself - isn't it beautiful? He put in a little style at one end which he named the Sue Steps. I like to think of them as the Sue Steps too.
So far this year I have had tomatoes, courgettes, peppers (bell peppers), runner beans and mini cucumbers. All delicious. And they come in a cute little trug.
My younger sister and her husband used to be keen veg gardeners in their previous house, and I was delighted to see, on a recent visit, that they'd got back into it. They grow a lot of their stuff in containers, which has the additional benefit of making their terrace look incredibly green and lush in late summer, while at the same time being easy to clear away for the winter.
They were growing courgettes, cabbages, beetroot, runner beans, aubergines, squash and cucumbers. You can't really see it in the picture below, but the red flowers of the runner beans are an exact match for the rowan berries at the end of the garden. One of those happy gardening accidents!
Here are my rich pickings in the kitchen, but where to begin? Being a non-veg grower, I am not very creative when it comes to thinking of ways to use produce. So I called on my guru in these matters, Michelle at Veg Plotting. Here's how the conversation went.
Me: OK, so I'm planning to make ratatouille. Can I freeze it?
Michelle: Yes, you can. Ratatouille is a handy base for so many dishes as well as being a meal in itself. It's great to have some to pull out of the freezer in the winter for an instant taste of summer.
Me: And I seem to have more courgettes than anything else. Didn't you have a good recipe for a courgette cake when you did your Open Garden virtual tour on Veg Plotting?
Michelle: Here you are. This is the recipe I obtained from the last place I worked. Whenever it was available, everyone used to ring round to say go and grab some!
Me: Anything else I can make with courgettes?
Michelle: My courgette, tarragon and lemon bread's proving popular. This, and the cake, are great standby recipes for when everyone's getting a bit tired of courgettes, so you need to start to disguise them. I've also used them in omelettes, made fritters like the ones we've had on holiday in Greece. If you also have a tomato glut, there's always pasta sauce - with or without bacon. I tend to make that one up on the spot, according to what's in abundance, though courgettes, tomatoes, onions and loads of fresh basil tend to feature rather a lot...
I've just started experimenting with a really simple salad to go with all my salad leaves [Michelle is running a 52 Week Salad Challenge on her blog]. Slice the courgette into thin ribbons and marinade it in lemon juice, olive oil, some crushed garlic and deseeded, chopped red chili. Mix in some chopped fresh mint just before serving.
If you're really overrun with courgettes, I've found What Will I Do With All Those Courgettes, by Elaine Borish, has loads of ideas. I giggle every time I see the cover.
Michelle: Erm, no, we're not big fans of runner beans but everyone else seems to make chutney with them.
I may not have found a recipe that uses runner beans (which I love, by the way), but I did use up some of the remaining tomatoes (and boy, were there some remaining tomatoes) to make fresh tomato sauce for pasta. I used a Rose Elliot recipe which was very simple. Simply saute some onion until it is golden, then add chopped tomatoes and a couple of cloves of garlic, a splash of red wine (if you like) and some fresh oregano or basil if you have any. If you haven't, add a pinch of herbes de Provence.
Rose Elliot's recipe calls for one onion and 1lb of tomatoes, but I was a little more unscientific. I used two onions and what can only be described as "lots" of tomatoes. I find that "glut" tomatoes can be a little bit watery, so I added a couple of teaspoonfuls of tomato puree to give it a more intense flavour.
Of course, what I should have done was to roast the tomatoes, which gives them a really intense flavour, and makes it easy to discard the peel.
I peeled the tomatoes by chucking them in a bowl and pouring boiling water over them. Leave them for five minutes, and then the peel splits and comes away. If it doesn't split, make a slit with a knife and then it will come off easily.
Once the tomato and onion mixture has simmered gently for a bit (say 30 minutes), let it cool and then put it through a sieve or in a liquidiser. I'm lazy, so I dumped mine in the food processor, but beware - it will be full of seeds. It's not unpleasant, it just has a more grainy texture. If you want a more sophisticated version, strain it.
The best strainer to use is a china cap, which is shaped like a cone, and makes it easier to push whatever you're sieving through. It's similar to a chinois strainer, but whereas a chinois tends to have fine mesh, the china cap is more like a colander, and is made of stainless steel with holes in the side.