There’s something special about cooking outside (writes award-winning garden design Cleve West). It’s even more magical when food is cooked just yards from where it’s grown and within minutes of being harvested. Cooking at the allotment has become something of a regular occurrence in our family and is now a genuine reason for spending more time there. It’s not on our doorstep so a little forethought and planning is needed. Good, clean surfaces are essential for cooking alfresco (you can’t have too many chopping boards) and you will only be limited by what you plan to cook with. At our plot we have a range of devices, from a small gas stove to an open-fire grill and, our pièce de résistance, an earth oven. These allow us to cater for anything from light lunches to bhajee-bashes and perfect-pizza parties. Clearing up by torchlight is the only downside but eating under the stars on a balmy summer evening is as enchanting as life gets in a vegetable garden.
Parsnip soup with medlar jam (Serves 4)
Winter soup such as this can be a meal in itself or served as a starter – although too rich a main course afterwards will leave absolutely no room for pudding. To inject even more nuttiness to this recipe, we sometimes roast the parsnips first, but this version is easier, and still delicious.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
5cm nub of fresh root ginger, chopped
1 litre vegetable bouillon stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
medlar jam and/or crème fraîche to garnish
• Heat oil, sauté onion gently until translucent. Add garlic and ginger and fry for a few seconds before adding the carrot and parsnips. Stir and cook for a further five minutes.
• Add stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
• Taste for seasoning. If making this soup at home, purée in a blender – if cooking alfresco, improvise with a potato masher for a more rustic version. Add a little extra stock if the soup is too thick.
• Reheat gently, before serving with either crème fraîche and/or a dollop of medlar jam as a garnish.
Blackened aubergine chutney (Seves 2-4)
My friend Dhundi Raj Bhusal knocked up this tasty relish while we were having a barbecue at the plot using whatever late summer veg (apart from the lemon) we could pick at the time. Use it to accompany any curry or mop up a bowl of it with naan bread.
1 medium-sized aubergine
handful of green tomatoes
some chopped fresh chilli (¼–½ tsp)
1 clove garlic
a small bunch of coriander
salt and pepper to taste
a good squeeze of lemon juice
• Put the aubergine and the green tomatoes on the barbecue or open fire and char them until they are black outside and squidgy inside. Cut along the middle and scoop out the contents of both aubergines and tomatoes and mash.
• Add the rest of the ingredients, mix and eat.
It doesn’t get simpler than that.
Courgette ratte (Serves 2)
This is our staple for summer and one we rarely get bored with. Quick to prepare and delicious, especially when the courgettes and tomatoes are fresh, it’s a dish we fall back on when we come home with little time to cook supper – but it could easily be made at the allotment. Yellow courgettes have a sweeter taste than most green varieties and the colour makes for an especially attractive meal.
4–6 cloves garlic, sliced (more if you’re
garlic nuts like us)
4 tbsp olive oil (more if you like)
4–6 medium-sized courgettes, halved and then sliced lengthways into ½cm-wide strips
handful of cherry tomatoes
handful of basil leaves
salt and pepper to taste
• Heat the oil in a large frying pan, wok or karahi. Add the garlic and stir for a few seconds (don’t allow it to burn, otherwise it will give the dish a slightly bitter taste). Add courgettes, season with salt and pepper, and fry on a medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the courgettes start to brown.
• Lightly crush the cherry tomatoes, add to the courgettes and cook for a further 5 minutes so that any water from the tomatoes is reduced.
• Remove from heat, add torn basil leaves, cover pan and leave for another five minutes before serving. We like to serve it on thick, buttered slices of homemade bread to soak up the delicious oil.
• These recipes and others of Cleve's favourites - including his grandmother's recipe for onion bhajees appear in the September issue - 189