When your cucurbits are out of control 

Five great recipes when there's just too much zucchini or courgette

I didn’t make a  great job of checking our courgette/zucchini bushes when we got home from our break. I did some tidying in the garden when the sun came out this afternoon, and spotted these (mostly) monstrous specimens lurking under leaves and in dark corners. Woopsie.

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Only one of these courgettes/zucchini is a sensible size…

Here are some great ideas for what to do when you have courgettes/zucchini taking over your veggie rack – hope you like them! And if you have any great recipes, do share, just in case I miss a few more epic-sized veggies!

Make my super-spicy fiery courgette relish – this is my favourite preserve EVER, and I have to say I have used up most of my courgette harvest making this amazing stuff. Great on a cheese sandwich, awesome as a side with curry, brilliant with sausages and bacon too, I absolutely love it.

Courgette relish 2

Try a delicious curry vegetarian curry. One of my favourites is this Courgette and Pepper Sabzi recipe by my Indian food hero, Madhur Jaffrey, from her brilliant book The Curry Bible. It is very easy to make, containing a few easy to obtain spices (try an Indian supermarket or Sous Chef if you can’t find them in your local supermarket) and produces deliciously fresh and spicy results.

Fry up some yummy courgette fritters. My favourite version of these is Nigel Slater’s recipe for courgette, feta cheese and dill fritters from The Kitchen Diaries Book 1. I can’t tell you how delicious they are, and they use up an awful lot of courgette. Just make sure you have your oil nice and hot, and don’t try to make them in a rush, they are fragile little things!

Make minestrone – we love this recipe by Antonio Carluccio – it’s so simple and practical. Use courgettes, aubergine, carrots, cabbage, potato, spinach, kale, chard, beans, peas – basically a combination of whatever you have glut of. You could make your own pesto to go with it too, using our recipe for rocket and pumpkin seed pesto (a bit cheaper than the standard basil/pine nut version).

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And for pudding? Well it’s got to be the highly recommended, very rich and chocolatey Courgette and Chocolate Cake. Yum, yum.

My Sewing Room at Spode

I dashed back from my holidays and was immediately thrown into the crazy-busy weekend that was the official opening of the ACAVA Studios: Spode Works in Stoke on Trent – the location of my lovely studio room. You might recognise the name Spode. Our studios are located in the Upper China Halls of the former factory of the world famous Spode pottery.

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Here in Stoke, aka The Potteries, we are very proud of our city’s former and present achievements (often groundbreaking) in the creation of wonderful pottery and ceramics, so there was a dreadful sense of shock when the Spode factory was closed in 2008. Aside from the loss of jobs and livelihoods, the factory was a central focus of life in Stoke town (the city of Stoke-on-Trent is made up of 6 towns, including Stoke town itself) – the closure left the future looking quite bleak for other businesses and residents of the town too.

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This is the site in the 1990s – all the central area of the picture forms the Spode works – you can see how huge the site is.

That’s why it’s so wonderful to see life being breathed back into the site. The brilliant Spode Works Visitor Centre has kept the flag flying; now the ACAVA Studios are here, and further down the line there will be retail space, student and other residential accommodation, cafes, restaurants, and I’ve even heard talk of a wedding venue. Personally, I feel a real sense of satisfaction to be able to work in such a significant place in the history of The Potteries – my family worked in the industry as far back as the 1820s, when they moved down from Tyneside, making a sideways move from glass to ceramics.

I was so pleased to arrive and see the new sign in place, and the fab little pop-up garden made by my fellow ‘Spoder’ Su Hurrell, originally created for The Lost Gardens of Stoke on Trent, but looking very much at home at the bottom of our stairs – especially as the theme of the garden is the interconnectedness of food and pottery.

sus-garden-at-spodeI had left my studio in a terrible mess before I went away, so the first thing I had to do was try and get it all straightened out before our visitors arrived.

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There was just time for a quick photo and then it all kicked off, and I don’t think I stopped talking all afternoon , which was very enjoyable but exhausting for introvert me.

On Sunday it was quieter, and I got the chance to do a little work (I had a quilt that needed binding), and go and visit the studios of some of my fellow Spoders.

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Hard at work in the studio! Or, trying not to laugh whilst having photo taken…

It felt like an afternoon of interest and inspiration, talking with other creative people, sharing ideas, encouragement, and the tiniest bit of chat😉 something I’d really hoped for when I decided to take on the commitment of my own space.

As time goes on I am hoping to run patchwork and sewing classes from Spode, including one to one sewing workshops in my own studio. So if you’re interested, do let me know, or if you just want to come and visit, I’d be glad to see you.

Partners for Liberty Tana lawn

Solid fabrics for Liberty tana lawn.jpgThere’s no need to tell you what a huge fan I am of Liberty Tana lawn. Until recently, of course, I’ve been selling Liberty myself, and one of the things most frequently asked by my customers was for guidance on the best solid colour fabrics to use with the fine, silky, lightweight characteristics that we love so much about Liberty lawn.

To some extent this has got to be a matter of personal preference, but there are definitely some fabrics that I think work particularly well with the fine close weave of the lawn.

First up is my newest discovery,  and new favourite, the Pure Elements range of solids by Art Gallery Fabrics. These lovely fabrics are stocked by my sponsors (along with a brilliant range of Liberty lawn) Duck Egg Threads, and when Sarah from Duck Egg very kindly sent me some to try, I was really impressed. The fabric has a fine weave and like the Liberty, a feel of soft smoothness. It doesn’t fray excessively, and comes in a gorgeous range of colours.

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I made this little pincushion, just to have a play around – I hope you can see the lovely quality of the Pure Elements fabric. Even if Duck Egg Threads weren’t my blog sponsors, I’d be recommending this brand, it has been a revelation to me.

Another favourite pairing of mine (and a combination I have been working with all summer long!) is Liberty lawn and Kaffe Fassett shot cottons. The project I’ve been using them for is a secret, so I can’t share any pictures, but I have built up extensive experience of how well they work together. They have a very similar weight, and although the weave is rather different – the shot cotton has a slightly more rustic quality, in my mind – they complement each other very well. Shot cottons have different colour warp and weft threads, so look slightly different as the light hits them at different angles, so you can also have the extra fun of using the weave of the fabric to create different effects. There’s also a fantastic range of colours, so you are bound to find one that works for your project. I recommend Cotton Patch and Calico Kate for great ranges of Kaffe Fassett shot cottons.

If you’re making accessories, or you’re working on a dressmaking project that needs a sturdier fabric to match with Liberty lawn, then linen is a great choice. My experience is that some linen fabrics can be quite ‘crispy’ and rough, which doesn’t look great with the smooth lawn. My linen of choice is Kaufman yarn-dyed Essex linen… the yarn-dyed bit is important – although I like the other Essex linens, the yarn-dyed has a smoothness that really works well with the lawn. My sponsors Dragonfly Fabrics have yarn-dyed Essex linen in stock.

Last but not least, I recommend Kona cottons. Although they can’t compare to Liberty lawn, this range of solids, also by Robert Kaufman, is good quality, and when it comes to the range of colours (more than 300!) that are available, they are second you none. So these are definitely an option if you want a really specific colour match. They are also widely available in the UK… If you do an awful lot of sewing, then getting hold of a Kona solid shade card is highly recommended – it’s definitely a good investment.

Recipe: Simple Tomato Sauce for the Freezer

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I make this rich tomato sauce recipe once or twice a month to stock up my freezer. It is a huge bonus, once it’s done, when Sandy or I are short of time for cooking dinner, because it brings a quick and easy depth of flavour to any dish where you’d usually use a tin of tomatoes or some passata. It has extra nutritional value too, which is always a good thing in my house, where for some people, vegetables are a source of fear and loathing.

We store the finished sauce in 500ml plastic clip-top containers, which is just the right amount for a meal of spicy sausage stew, or to add to a lovely veggie chilli or curry, as a base for a rich ragu sauce for pasta or the main ingredient in minestrone or tomato (of course!) soup.

Rich Tomato Sauce for the Freezer

  • Servings: makes 4-5 500ml containers-full
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Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bottle passata
  • 500ml chicken stock (optional)

Method

  • Chop the onion, carrots and celery. Sautee gently in olive oil for 10 minutes until softened but not coloured.
  • Chop the garlic finely and add to the veggies in the pan, fry  for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and passata and the stock. If you aren’t using the stock, you don’t need to add any extra liquid, just simmer it for a slightly shorter period.
  • Bring the mixture to the boil, then turn down the heat to low and simmer for around 90 minutes,  until you have a rich thick sauce. Stir now and again to stop the  mixture  sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  • Blend with a  stick blender or in batches in a jug  blender. Cool in the fridge, and then freeze for future use.

Can’t get much simpler than that! Hope you find it useful.