Do something different with that end-of-summer produce; Matt Wilkinson's cucumber cocktail. Photo: Eddie Jim
It's been a pretty brilliant summer in the vegie patch, but to be honest, I've had it with zucchinis and eggplants; I've exhausted my whole zucchini repertoire and can't wait until my beans and broccoli sprout and save my cooking sanity.
The beginning of autumn is an interesting time in the garden. I like to look at the crops still putting out flowers, trying to keep their breed going for next year. That said, the end of any season often means all we're really left with is lots of things to pickle or turn into chutney and jam.
To celebrate the end and the beginning of the seasons I'd like to share two recipes with you that are a little different to the usual end-of-summer offerings (after all, there's only so much chutney, jam and pickles you can consume or even give away).
So let's look to cucumbers and green tomatoes and explore some fresh options.
Now you've probably seen cucumbers exploited for their "magical" makeover properties, in face creams and the like. Well, for a long time I thought that's all cucumbers were good for – you know, on the eyes, reversing the scurrilous effects of ageing (just look at me, I look at least 20 years younger for it!).
But with the recent availability of so many different varieties – cucumbers that are beautiful, round and apple-shaped, lemon cucumbers or the long, ribbed Armenian ones to point to just a few. Even the more familiar Lebanese or continental cucumber can be smartened up; I love peeling them and frying them in a little oil and butter to add a different flavour.
And for something unique, how about a simple martini-like cocktail? We have one on the Bishop of Ostia menu called the Winded Cucumber, made with spirits from around Australia. So please, do make it or pop in to the Bishop. Let's salute the changing of seasons...
Winded cucumber cocktail
3cm piece of cucumber peeled
30ml West Winds 'Sabre' gin
30ml Maidenii sweet vermouth
15ml Pennyweight Fino
7ml simple sugar syrup
Some ice (about a cup)
Place the cucumber piece into a large cocktail shaker and, using a muddling stick (like a small rolling pin – or just use a wooden spoon) smash it up. By the way, in the cocktail world this is called muddling … crazy, I know.
Add the other ingredients and stir like a martini. It's a good idea to pretend you're James Bond and say the line, just as Sean Connery would.
Now take your desired glass; we like the rounded martini shape and double strain into the glass.
Garnish with a sexy ribbon of cucumber on a toothpick, or even one of those plastic colourful camel picks (whatever you fancy really). Then go onto your porch, balcony or simply look out the window and cheers to the ending but beginning of another season.
If you're like me you may have a few green tomatoes at the start of the season, I generally pick off the early tomatoes to give energy back to the plant for the others later on; that's what someone told me once and I have stuck to it ever since.
You may even grow a green tomato variety like green zebra, grandma olivers or green pineapple – but for most, green tomatoes are an end-of-summer/early-autumn thing; it slowly dawns on you that those tomatoes are just never going to turn red.
I actually get itchy wanting to prepare the vegie beds for winter crops and I hate how ugly a tomato plant can get at the end of the season. So, I generally pick the lovely little green things off and be done with it.
I really do love pan-frying sliced green tomato; adding a touch of sugar and salt and finishing with a drizzle of an aged balsamic. They go beautifully with some lightly-cooked cuttlefish or calamari, and are excellent with simple poached fish like whiting.
More recently at Pope Joan we have been making green tomatoes into a kind of bread; actually it's a carrot cake recipe that I have adapted. It's best served simply with some butter or cream cheese that has a hint of lemon juice in it. My favourite way to eat this cake is with a wedge of Pyengana cheddar.
Green tomato and black pepper cake
160g castor sugar
100ml sunflower oil
170g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
400g roughly chopped, de-seeded green tomatoes (the preserved ones Simply Tomatoes www.simplytomatoes.com.au) are a good alternative for other times of the year).
Pre-heat the oven to 180C
Grease a loaf tin measuring roughly 19cm x 9cm x 6cm, then line with baking paper.
Whisk together the eggs and sugar until fluffy and light. Add the oil, mix through.
Fold in the rest of the ingredients until fully incorporated, then pour into the tin and bake for 30-45 minutes.
Check whether the cake/loaf is ready by inserting a skewer. It should ease through and come out clean.
Once cooked, turn out onto a cooling wire. This cake will save, wrapped in a tea towel, for a few days in the bread or cake tin.
How are you using up your excess cucumbers and green tomatoes?