Getting married meant moving into a new house. A house that already belonged to my husband, but was a place in which we needed to create a new home together. This can be challenging, especially when little superficially needs to be changed; it was fully furnished, nothing needed redecorating and even the garden was well established. The kitchen soon became my first place to settle in: I filled the shelves with my cookbooks and I hung my favourite pots over the cooker, but still there was a rootedness which I lacked. It was then that I started to look outside.
There is small, scruffy patch at the end of the garden that had been ignored for years, where old tiles had collected and cosmos daisies sprung up through cracks in the ground. A low wall that had once constituted the sides of an old shed provided a well contained area, protected from rabbits and scurrying mice. It was the perfect place to start a small vegetable and cutting garden.
My roots were metaphorically established as the plants went into the soil and although the earth around remained bare for most of the spring, by summer the abundance was overwhelming.
I planted vegetables and herbs with caution, in order to prevent an abounding glut and in between the rows of rocket and rainbow chard, I grew flowers. Flowers that I could pick huge bunches of: sweet peas, marigolds and peonies, filling the house with their colour and scent.
Our bees buzzed around the borage, sucking the nectar from the pretty blue flowers, I made syrups with the pineapple sage (I’ll be using that in cocktails); fresh spinach became a staple at the table and the chard and tomatoes continue to yield in abundance.
The courgettes were the hardest crop to keep on top of, they grew quietly under their great, shady leaves and (distracted by picking their flowers which I battered and fried to eat as snacks), sometimes I only found them when they’d reached gargantuan proportions. I caught the last ones at the perfect size and made one of my favourite soups. It’s simple and nourishing, the soft sweetness of the courgettes provide an outstanding flavour, bolstered by the white beans and herbs. Now the roots have taken hold, who knows what next summer will bring!
Courgette and white bean soup
The key to this recipe is to cook the courgettes slowly, over a low heat, before adding any liquid. This allows them to become lovely and sweet. With a simple dish like this, it’s really worth using your best olive oil to pour over at the end. This soup is delicious served at room temperature.
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
500g courgettes, cut into cubes
400ml water or chicken stock
1 tin or 400g cooked cannellini beans
20g basil, roughly chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil to serve
Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic briefly until just starting to colour. Add the courgettes and
a good pinch of salt and some pepper. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, so the courgette begins to soften and colour slightly. When it starts to colour, add a few tablespoons of water and the lid and continue cooking for another 10 minutes or so, lifting the lid and stirring from time to time, until the courgette is completely soft and falling apart. Remove the lid, add the rest of the water and the beans, season well at this stage – about 1 tsp salt and some more black pepper – and bring to a simmer. Cook at a simmer for about 5 minutes, so the flavours mix together. Turn off the heat and stir in the basil. Leave to cool to room temperature before serving.
Serve with good olive oil poured over.
I bought most of my vegetable and herb seeds from Seeds of Italy, a fantastic resource for everyday as well as unusual varieties.