I love reading about food from - well, everywhere & anywhere. Knowing about how recipes came about, the way it made the author feel when they ate it, how their granny, or mother, or uncle made it, or insisted on eating it in a certain way to me is nearly as good as travelling to wherever the dish hails from.
I also love then trying to re-create the dish (hopefully the author gives a recipe!) which obviously if I have never tried it myself in the country or region the dish is from might mean I make a very bad approximation of it, nonetheless helps me in some way to understand the traditional or home cooking from that region. Which I then invariably want to visit. Recipe writing can be as effective as any travel agent to entice me to want to visit other places.
What I like the most is discovering new ways to transform simple ingredients. In Europe in particular, this tends to be ways to use up or preserve summer gluts to last through long, cold winters. Fortunately for me, this often turns out to be vegan, and even better, hugely economical and delicious!
This courgette (zucchini to all my Aus & US readers) 'caviar' is an adaptation of a recipe I read in the Guardian (Yep- I'm a Guardian reader, so shoot me). The recipe was written by a food blogger & chef Olia Hercules, who fondly remembered it from growing up in the Ukraine. I then went and read up on the dish and variations of it turn out to be a favourite all across the former Soviet bloc. I think it intrigued me mostly because it is obviously a delicious way to use or preserve a vegetable, that, let's face it, can sometimes overwhelm backyard vegetable gardeners or allotmenteers.
The recipe came at a time when i had 5 HUGE courgettes just harvested from our seemingly never ending garden supply. It happens every year. I plant two or more plants 'just in case' one fails.
They never fail.
Which means we always have more courgettes than we know what to do with. Amazingly, this recipe used up two of the biggest courgettes I had, which alongside 2 carrots and 500g of tomatoes ended up with 2 x 500 ml jars of this deliciousness. The best bit?
This stuff is LUSH!
Essentially you caramelise onions and courgettes, add the tomatoes and caramelise some more. You want the veggies to break down and collapse into a gorgeous, rich mush. This takes time, but isn't at all difficult. You just need to stir occasionally to prevent the mush from catching. The deliciousness is achieved by the looooong, sloowwww cook. And very yummy it is indeed. I deviated from the original recipe by adding 4 cloves of garlic, a small chilli and a bay leaf. I have a feeling more could be added, but somehow, it isn't at all necessary.
To eat? Well.. dip a cracker in it, spread it on toast, add it to a sandwich. Or, do as I did tonight- soften a few ripe tomatoes in a pan with some olive oil, add 4 or 5 Tablespoons of the courgette caviar & stir then add the cooked pasta of your choice. Use a little extra pasta water to make the caviar more 'saucy'. Apply to face. Yum.
- 2 large Courgettes (, grated.)
- 1 large onion (, (or two small ones!) finely diced)
- 2 small carrots ((Or one large one- you know the deal). grated)
- 3-4 medium tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 small chilli ((totes optional, but really yummy))
- 1 bay leaf ((optional but nice))
- 100 ml olive oil
- Salt to taste
- In a large saucepan add half the olive oil, the onion,garlic and chilli (if using)
- Cook over a slow heat for around 5 mins until the onions are softened.
- Add the carrot and cook for another 5 mins.
- Add the courgette and cook for around 30mins. The courgette should start to collapse releasing all its juices, which you want to slowly cook off.
- Then, add the tomatoes. I like to grate them which leave the skin behind, retaining all the juices and pips.
- At this point, if you are using the bay leaf, add that. Then, turn the heat down and sloooooowly cook. You want to caramelise the mixture, creating layers of flavour by teasing out all the natural sweetness of the vegetables.
- After around 20 mins, remove the bay leaf. I love how it gives an extra layer of flavour, but more than that it turns into a slightly unpleasant & overpowering note.
- Keep cooking down the vegetables, maybe giving them an extra bit of help by bashing them a bit with a potato masher to help them disintegrate.
- Keep scraping down the pan, you want this to neaaaaarly catch, but not quite.
- After another 20 - 30 mins, depending on how juicy your tomatoes and courgettes were, you should have a lush, squishy, delicious paste.
- Add some salt to taste and you're done!
- This keeps in the fridge for a week or so, just like pesto. Or sterilise some jars and once filled with no air pockets, add a layer of olive oil, which 'seals' the mix, and you can eat it for longer!