#443 Three-Gourd Garnish

This is a recipe that has been put off simply because I thought that it had to be served with the (#441) Smoked Chicken with Three-Melon Salad. Once I finally made the smoked chicken and was ready to make this one, I spotted that Jane actually wrote a ‘good accompaniment to smoked chicken, roast duck or lamb…’, so I could have cooked it ages ago. It’s a vegetarian recipe, but appears in the Poultry section of the Meat, Poultry and Game chapter, which is disappointing because it’s the final poultry recipe in the book, so a bit of a damp squib.

I’ve had mixed feelings about this recipe to be honest; I have a great dislike of pointless garnishes. Some foods just don’t need them. Chopped parsley is good with most British foods – but not all – and don’t get me started on the mint spring on a dessert, or as someone pointed out on Twitter recently, the single physalis fruit. Some foods are best on their own. What’s putting me off with this recipe is that it runs the risk of being a big, pointless faff.

One good thing, however, is that it introduces us a new ingredient, the bitter gourd – also known as bitter melon – those knobbly verdant green torpedoes you see in Asian grocery stores. Jane is surprised they are not used more often seeing as we have been a nation of Indian food lovers since the eighteenth century. Why hasn’t the nation taken to this delicious vegetable? Jane reckons it’s the bitterness: ‘Europeans’, she says ‘are not skilful with bitterness in food though we take it well enough in drink.’ Well, I’m game for something bitter.

The other two gourds are the more familiar courgette and cucumber.


If you like the blogs and podcast I produce, please consider treating me to a virtual coffee or pint, or even a £3 monthly subscription: follow this post for more information.


Gourd #1: bitter gourds

You need four small to medium bitter gourds here. Begin by removing sharp the knobbly edges with a vegetable peeler. Halve them lengthways and deseed, taking any pith away at the same time. Keep a couple of teaspoons of the seeds for later. Slice very thinly, place in a bowl with a good, heaped teaspoon of salt. Leave around three hours before rinsing and blanching in boiling water for three minutes. Fry the slices in about a tablespoon of butter to just soften for two or three minutes. Season with pepper, they may not need salt. Place in a pile on a warmed serving plate.

Gourd #2: courgettes

Jane asks for 10 to 12 small courgettes. If you can’t find small ones, then buy the equivalent in regular ones. I guessed at three. If you can find small ones, halve them, if they’re a bit bigger quarter them lengthways and in half crossways. Fry them gently in a tablespoon of butter and a small, finely chopped clove of garlic (we are looking for a suspicion of garlic here). Season with black pepper. Place the courgettes in a pile beside the bitter gourds.

Gourd #3: cucumber

Peel and thinly slice half a cucumber and fry gently in butter to just soften – two or three minutes is all you need. Pile up on the dish.

Increase the heat add a little more butter and cook through the reserved bitter seeds with a tablespoon each of parsley, coriander and chives. Cook for two minutes more and then scatter over the cooked gourds.

#442 Three-Gourd Garnish. Okay; what to say about this one? Well, the cucumber and courgettes were okay, and I like the herb combination. BUT the bitter gourds were so fantastically bitter they were totally inedible. There is only one way they could be used, in my opinion, and that’s very sparingly mixed in with the cucumbers, and by sparingly, I mean just a dozen or so thin slices. What I’m saying, I suppose, is a two-gourd garnish would have been bland, but at least you could have eaten it all. No thank you Jane. Unnecessary mint sprig: all is forgiven 3/10.

#311 Courgette and Parsnip Boats

If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.
                                            Julia Child

This is a recipe that I, admittedly, have been avoiding. A courgette and parsnip boat? What the heck is the point of that? Of course, I have nothing against neither courgettes nor parsnips, but this seemed a little over the top: scooping out the centres of courgettes and then piping hot parsnip purée inside. Hm. This is a recipe that Grigson was trying to introduce us to the 1970s, and it seems very 1970s – very Fanny Craddock. The recipe comes not from her, but from a certain Julia Child. You may have heard of her.

I suppose I have to bring up the subject of a certain blog-cum-bestselling-book-cum-Hollywood-movie called Julie & Julia, created, of course, by Julie Powell. I cannot believe that she stole my idea! What’s more, I cannot believe that she travelled forward in time only to see my blog, steal my format and then travel back in time to start up her own blog, only to rake in shedloads of cash. Despicable behaviour.

That might be a tiny fib. But I remember being well annoyed when I found out that there was already blogs out there doing the same thing as me. And here I was thinking I had an original idea.

Anyways, back to the matter in hand… Grigson does ‘not apologise for including [the recipe]’, but this non-apology is for the fact she has included a recipe from America. She needn’t apologise for that. However, as a straight-forward lady, I am rather surprised that she included it in here. I think perhaps she was actually trying to introduce us to eating courgettes; I remember them being a rather exotic ingredient in our house growing up the in the 1980s, even though they are just baby marrows. She also goes on to complain of so-called ‘fancy touches’, saying that they are usually an excuse for serving bad food, giving such examples as radish roses on salads and cheap buttercream stars upon margarine cakes. Is this recipe any different though? We’ll see…

In case any Northern Americans are a bit confused about this strange thing called the courgette, I am talking about the zucchini of course.

The recipe serves six people, but you can easily increase or decrease the ratios if there is not six to feed.

Begin by selecting six courgettes around six inches long. Top and tail them and cut each one lengthways before scooping out the seeds. Plunge the courgettes into boiling salted water, blanching them for no more than five minutes. It is important not to over-cook them at this point; they’ll just end up all mushy and flaccid, and you don’t want that. Drain the courgettes and place them on a baking tray, brushing them liberally with melted butter. All this can be done ahead of time.

Next, get to work on the parsnips. Peel and chop two pounds of parsnips, boiling them in salted water until they are tender. Place them in a blender along with an ounce and a half of butter and five tablespoons of double cream. Season and then blitz them well, making sure there are no lumps (see below).

Reheat the courgettes in the oven at 220C (400⁰C) for about five minutes. In the meantime, put the puréed parsnips into a piping bag equipped with an appropriate end. I used a star. Take the courgettes out of the oven and pipe the parsnips in an attractive fashion into the courgette boats.
I have to admit it was good fun doing this bit, though that bag was pretty hot! The main problem was that there was a few lumps of parsnip that kept getting stuck in my piping star. Cue parsnip explosions as the pressure built up in the forefront of my bag. I’m surprised no one lost an eye.
The boats await the rest of the dinner…

#311 Courgette and Parsnip Boats. Well I have to say I did like them. The parsnip was rich and creamy, which was set-off well by the blander courgette. I do wonder if just having a ragout of courgettes and some puréed parsnips made separately wouldn’t be simpler, or indeed better. What I really find odd about this receipt is that Jane Grigson singled this one out as a highlight. I’m sure Julia Childs had some better recipes than this one. 6/10.