Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Habas con Jamón, Courgette Gratin

Early Summer, in this belated garden at least, brings a wealth of Broad-Beans, Spring-Onions and young Courgettes.  With today’s warm breeze blowing through the cottage, we are not thinking of hot food, but only a few days since the fires were lit and the windows tight-closed.

One of my favourite hot Broad-Bean dishes is the Spanish Habas con Jamón.  It is in fact quite the thing for those warm breezes blowing through whitewashed windows: redolent of searching for midday shade from drybaked Andalusian streets, stepping, cowering from the sun into the sudden dark cool of a café.  Appears from the darkness looming: a bar, stools sat with a few elderly men drinking coffee (short and black in glasses sat on saucers) or wine, sherry in tiny glasses, above their heads Jamón Serrano hanging.   On the corner of the bar, in front of a blue/white tiled wall, a cluster of ceramic dishes Pulpo perhaps, cold Tortilla or resplendent with Winkles.  On this occasion a superb, if understated Tapa:  Habas con Jamón.  Traditionally beans and ham, hot from the kitchen in a rich tomato sauce, Habas con Jamón can also be done without the tomatoes in a lighter more summery version or indeed raw (peel the Broad-Beans toss with Jamón Serrano, coarse Salt, Black-Pepper, Olive Oil and thinly sliced wet Garlic).

My variation (seen above) was based on a Habas-craving and what I had in the garden/kitchen at that instant.

Habas con Jamón hecho en casa:

Pod peas and broad beans (peel beans if desired).  Chop Mange-Tout, French Beans, Courgettes, Onion, Saucisson, Spring Onion into slightly-larger than broad-bean sized pieces, peel eight cloves of (wet if possible) Garlic.

I suggest basing amounts and ingredients on what you have available.  I also used a Patisson and some Courgette Flowers when I made this.

Gently heat Olive Oil in a frying-pan, adding first Onion, then Garlic, then Courgettes, Saucisson, a whole Sprig of Thyme and of Rosemary and a couple of fresh Bay Leaves, taking care to keep heat low.  Add Spring Onion and the Beans and Peas, toss in oil then add a splash of water so as to prevent burning or sticking and cover for five minutes or so until the beans are just-cooked, still retaining their colour.

Serve with a squeeze of Lemon, fresh Oregano and Nasturtium Flowers, a chunk of bread, and in this case some home-made Cottage Cheese.


Courgette Gratin

A sudden influx of Courgettes from the farm had us on perpetual Courgette Soup, that and Courgettes fried, steamed, barbecued with every meal.  Then as the weather darkened so did talk turn to Gratin.  The thought fomented over a few days and on the third I came home with a pot of Crème Fraiche and some Binham Blue, and we set to it.

Gratin for me suggests French childhoods, often a creamy rice dish with a vegetable of sorts in it, served in a deep dish, the sort the English might use for Shephard’s Pie.  It isn’t glamorous, but it is continental.  We were obliged to forgo the rice as a friend dining with us was on something low-carb… same friend rid Gratin of any pretentions whatsoever, saying it is the French term for anything covered in melted cheese.  Quick then to interfere, I think now he was perhaps right.  I believe a Macaroni Cheese in France is a Gratin de Macaronis, as a Cauliflower cheese – Gratin de Chou-Fleur.  A name used in England to somewhat glamorise those comfort foods indispensable to our diet.

We did slightly glam-up our version by using Blue Cheese, Crème Fraiche and White Wine as opposed to béchamel and super-market Cheddar.

Cut Courgettes into rounds.  Marinate briefly in Olive Oil, Salt, Black-Pepper and Garden Herbs.  Fry off sliced onions and Courgettes in Olive Oil.  Layer in a dish with more Black-Pepper, dollops of Crème Fraiche, splashes of White Wine (to help retain moisture and add a sophisticated flavour) chopped Oregano, Spring-Onions, Parsley, wet Garlic.  Top with more coarse-ground Black Pepper and Binham-Blue, or similar Blue Cheese.  Cook in the oven at about 180C for twenty minutes or until cheese is just browning, courgettes are soft, the dish is moist…

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