Late this summer, my family and I pitched a tent at Eatwell Farm, where most of the produce we eat is grown. Farmer Nigel Walker and his partner, Lorraine, had invited CSA members out to the farm for an event called "Do Nothing Weekend". We spent our days swimming and canoeing in the pond, drinking lots of house-made soda, counting feral cats and generally lounging around.
As advertised, the weekend was fantastic. We were even welcomed into the couple's recently built, earth-covered farmhouse, which rises from the ground like a round hill reminiscent of a giant 2000s era VW Beetle, in rust brown and beige. The house is centered around a spacious and well furnished kitchen, which includes a giant walk-in refrigerator and a large range, positioned in the very center of their home. On this particular late summer afternoon, perched proudly in front of the kitchen sink, was a gargantuan zucchini the size of my husband's thigh.
"Marrow!" I shouted, pointing excitedly and waving my hands at our farmer, who is from the UK. After reading several books by Nigel Slater, another similarly named Brit, I know that this word means "exceptionally large summer squash" to farmers, gardeners and cooks from that region. As far as I can tell, there is no word meaning this in American English. Curiously, British English also calls a zucchini a courgette, which I still can't quite wrap my head around. Shouldn't a courgette be more of a stealthy spotted animal, along the lines of a cheetah? But either way, zucchini or courgette, these plants are known to be over-productive and likely to grow squash of voluminous size when left to their own devices.
Even in chilly San Francisco zucchini can bring forth a respectable crop, and after returning home from our lazy weekend, my kids and I were delighted to find a marrow of our own growing in our anemic backyard garden. Like Nigel Walker's, our giant squash garnered great reaction and then went on to rot, without being eaten. But smaller summer squash can be very tasty, and all season long we've been cooking them in a variety of ways. Fried squash blossoms are the best, but not something I make at home. Instead, we eat a lot of ratatouille, stir fry, and just plain old pan sauteed zucchini with olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes. My favorite zucchini side dish of all is Taverna Squash, which I found in an Eatwell Farm newsletter years ago.
This is one of those magical recipes in which lemon creates a completely new flavor, beyond the sum of the recipe's parts. With a heavy hand it can get a little pickle-y, though, which is not the intended result. To combat this, use lots of good fresh oregano and olives. Taverna Squash is great with any meaty or creamy main dish that needs a refreshing vegetable alongside, especially pasta with a hearty meat based sauce.
Lately we've been eating lots of pasta with Bolognese sauce, from a recipe in SPQR, which was recently written up in the San Francisco Chronicle. Originally overly complex for a meal at my house, with a few tweaks it has become something I can make once and eat twice - it stores well in the freezer. Now, as we come closer to clearing the zucchini (and pickles) out of the garden to make way for winter, my kids are asking for "that meaty sauce" again, and tomorrow it will go with them to school, warmed over spaghetti in little thermoses. I may throw our garden's last midget pickling cucumbers into snack boxes alongside, for a final good-bye to summer.
Taverna Squash: (adapted from Eatwell Farm)
Steam the squash until it is soft, you'll want it to squish a little bit when you stir the pieces, which is softer than I usually steam vegetables. Remove it from the heat, drain the squash and pour the water out of the pot. Then return the squash to the pot. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, olives and oregano, mix it all together, taste and adjust. The flavor should just approach pickle. Put it it all into a bowl and serve family style.
Bolognese Sauce: (adapted from SPQR)
1 lb 5 oz ground pork shoulder
extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 Tablespoon chopped canned chipotle peppers en adobo
1/4 teaspoon dried chili flaks
1 1/3 cups red wine
16 gratings of nutmeg
2 thyme sprigs
1 rosemary sprig
1 sage sprig
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 celery stick or 3 chard stems
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup cream
Salt the pork. Preheat the oven to 325˚. Heat a little olive oil (about 1-2 Tablespoons) in a dutch oven or large heavy pan over medium high heat and brown the pork, be sure to get some nice golden crusty bits to help develop flavor. Remove the pork to a separate bowl. In the same pot, heat a little more olive oil and soften the onions with a pinch of salt, add some water if the pan gets too dry. Stir in the garlic, cook for 1 minute, stir in the tomato paste, chipotle and chili flakes and cook until the tomato paste begins to brown. Return the pork to the pot and stir in the wine, simmer until the liquid reduces by a third. Add 1 1/4 cups water and return to a simmer. Grate in the nutmeg and stir in the thyme, rosemary and sage (you'll want to remove the sprigs before serving). Cover, transfer to the oven and cook for 1 1/2 hours. /p>
Meanwhile, grind the carrot, 1/2 onion and celery/chard in a food processor. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a wide, heavy bottomed pot, and cook the vegetables and 1 teaspoon salt gently over low heat until it is are very soft, about 1/2 hour.
When the 1 1/2 hours are up, take the pot out of the oven and put it back on the stove. Stir in the vegetables and cream, and simmer until the sauce is silky, about 10 minutes. Cook the pasta while the sauce is simmering. Taste and salt the sauce accordingly, and if it tastes flat stir in a few drops of vinegar. Drain the pasta, return it to its pot and toss it with some of the sauce. Garnish with grated parmesan.