Courgettes in my pie
Confessions of a cookbook hoarder
I spent last weekend at a food festival in the beautiful Scottish town of Wigtown. I had been asked to be the event’s cookbook doctor, an extremely revered position that required me to put on a doctor’s white coat, wield a stethoscope and prescribe cookbooks for a range of culinary ailments. As the rain lashed down on the marquee, I fielded questions such as “What cookbook would you recommend for my son who eats nothing but ready meals?" And “I’ve just bought an ice-cream maker, is there a good ice-cream recipe book?"
My sole qualification for this role, I believe, may have something to do with my unstoppable cookbook collection. It is currently hovering around the 500 mark—and this is following a fairly large cull in recent months when my husband basically pointed out there really wasn’t room for him and the books. Tough choices. I now sneak new books in via my Kindle, where I have well over 100 titles.
My unruly collection spans everything from Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes to Best Of The Best From Tennessee Cookbook. I have around 70 Indian cookbooks alone. I acquired the first, Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery, back in the 1980s and devoured it many years before I stepped on Indian soil. At that age I could only dream of the many delights suggested by the recipe for The Lake Palace Hotel’s Aubergine Cooked In The Pickling Style. A palace on a lake? Perhaps, but an aubergine? What was that?? The most ingredient-spattered page is the Cauliflower With Potatoes one, where Jaffrey tells us, “This is the kind of comforting ‘homey’ dish that most North Indians enjoy." It certainly gave me a lot of comfort when I first left home.
Before I left for the Wigtown Food Festival, I thought I would get ahead with this week’s column recipe. Keen to make a dish with something I had grown, I quickly cycled down to the vegetable garden (allotment) to assess my options. I found the whole plot bursting with life, I was spoilt for choice. The glossy red and yellow stalks of chard, some shiny baby broad bean pods, lots of salad and mustard leaves. I decided on the pinkie-sized courgettes just visible beyond their huge dazzling yellow flowers. I filled my basket with courgettes and herbs and sped back to consult my books for inspiration.
I turned first to one I hadn’t looked at for years, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day!, where his Courgette And Rice Filo Pie instantly jumped out at me, a genius recipe that incorporates uncooked rice in the filling which cleverly absorbs all the moisture coming from the courgettes. It’s a lovely but mild-flavoured pie, so don’t stint on the herbs and cheese. I also made a raw courgette salad to go with it to give that extra bit of zing. As filo is hard to come by in India, I’ve changed the recipe to use shortcrust pastry, which is easily made at home.
Hugh himself discovered the recipe in a book by Greek writer Rena Salaman, a new name to me, one that sent me scurrying online to find out a bit more. Needless to say, copies of Mediterranean Vegetable Cookery and The Traditional Greek Cookery Book are winging their way to plug the Rena Salaman gap in my collection. Don’t tell my husband.
Greek(-ish) Courgette And Rice Pie With Shaved Courgette Salad
For the pastry
200g plain flour
Half tsp salt
100g butter, chopped into small pieces
5-6 tbsp cold water 1 egg, beaten (for brushing the pastry)
For the filling
500g courgettes, coarsely grated
50g Basmati rice
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
200g feta cheese, crumbled
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
A large handful of dill, chopped
A large handful of mint, chopped
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Grease a 20cm, round baking tin or dish. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water and stir the mixture until it starts to come together. Tip out on to a floured work surface and knead gently until you have a smooth ball. Divide the dough into two pieces, cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge while you make the filling. Put the grated courgettes, rice, chopped onion, feta, eggs, olive oil and herbs into a large bowl along with a good grinding of salt and pepper and mix well.
Roll out one of the pastry balls to fit the baking tin or dish, then gently press it into place on the bottom of the dish. Spoon the filling on to the pastry base. Roll out the second ball of pastry and place it over the filling. Press together the edges of the pastry to enclose the filling. Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg. Bake for 45 minutes, making sure the top is golden brown and the base of the pie has crisped up. Eat warm or cold with the courgette salad.
For the shaved courgette salad
A few small courgettes—for the best flavour, the smaller the better
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
A handful of mint leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper
Shave the courgettes into very thin strips using a mandolin or even a vegetable peeler and place in a bowl. Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, mint leaves, salt and pepper, then mix with the courgette strips. Serve with the pie.
The Way We Eat Now is a fortnightly column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains.