I have recently joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) scheme. I commit to buying a farm box which is delivered to a local point every week. In exchange I receive a regular and reliable box of high quality fresh vegetables, fruit, eggs, milk, bread and meat, whilst supporting a farm who practices sustainable farming techniques. I know exactly where my food comes from and even the names of those who grow it. The price is extremely reasonable, considering the quality, I rate it as excellent value.
Church Farm is an hour away from my corner of North London. The farm is open for visits and positively encouraged, so that the urban dwellers can connect with the story which lies behind the ingredients. Picking up the farm box is a sociable exchange, chatting to the people who feed the animals, sow, water and harvest the vegetables. Very satisfying. Shortening the supply chain and promoting the link between grower and consumer - a 'co-producer' as such.
In my box last week there was a patty pan squash. As experienced a cook that I am, I've somewhat dodged this variety, stopping short of admiring it's happy yellow colour and intriguing 10 sided form.
So after a few words of encouragement and tips from Richard, a grower at Church Farm, I took an armful of these stunners home. I firstly diced the whole thing, and simply fried in olive oil with an onion and garlic, adding some dried chili and a few fennel seeds. The flesh is somewhere inbetween marrow and courgette, in that it is more flavourful than marrow and less so than courgette. The flesh benefits from being slightly browned and caralmalised. Finding a jar of capers in the fridge, I added a good spoonful and this worked very well, lifting the flavour with the salty and succulent berries. The dish finished up with a garnish of chervil, cut fresh from my garden.
There's no doubt that this is a great base and one of those dishes where you can add anything; anchovy fillets, sundried tomatoes, a variety of herbs, some crispy bacon (oooooh yes, how that would work), diced courgettes, fresh tomatoes, chorizo, cooked and flaked ham hock, and so on. It makes a great side dish and the whole thing took 25 minutes from start to finish.
Dice the flesh
Fried in olive oil with onion, garlic, chili, fennel seeds - viola!
Moving on to a dish requiring just slightly more effort, I stuffed the squash. The shape is a perfect vessel and makes for a great vegetarian centrepiece, which could as in the recipe above be adapted in numerous ways, using whatever you have in. The foundation should always be an onion, garlic and the reserved flesh of the squash, and then build upon that. A rice pilaff would work very well.
Stuffed Patty Pan Squash
1 patty pan squash weighing about 1 kilo
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp chilli flakes or 1 chili diced
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 mushrooms diced
Handful of parsley
Half a packet of feta cheese
Handful of pinenuts (although any form of nuts would work)
2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
A few ovendried tomatoes (sundried would work)
Lashings of black pepper and salt to taste.
Firstly cut off the stalk end and scoop out the pith, pips and discard and then hollow out the flesh which you reserve.
Fry in olive oil the diced onion until soft and add the garlic, chili and fennel seed, the chopped squash flesh, diced mushrooms and fry until it becomes soft.
Add the diced feta, sundried tomatoes, chopped parsley, breadcrumbs, nuts and seasoning.
Pile the whole lot back into the hollowed squash, place on a baking sheet and into a preheated oven (220C) for 45 minutes. Turn down the oven to about 190C after 10 minutes.
The flesh should be soft when pierced.
Serve with a tomato sauce and some green salad.