Courgette Bruscetta with crispy Jambon Cru

Ok, I’m guilty of an Italian/French fusion in my title,  but hey, I’m embracing being a European and thoroughly enjoying being under the influence of a bit of Mediterranean panache when creating delicious vegetable-based dishes. My inspiration came many years ago, from a one of the River Café books – hence the use of bruscetta rather than tartine. Don’t be put off if you are a veggie – this is fab without the meat and I have further suggestions below.

Sauteed Courgettes with Herbs, Garlic and Lemon

Courgettes with Herbs and Lemon

If you grow courgettes, it is almost inevitable that you will have a glut at some point, even if you do try to keep picking them when they are small. This is one way of making them so tasty that even a veteran courgette-disliker can be won over. For other suggestions, do look at my Tuscan Zucchini soup and also my Seasonal Specials board on Pinterest, where you will find links to recipes for Zucchini chips, Kolokothikeftedes (Greek courgette fritters), Curry Marinated Squash Salad and more besides.

When I first created this recipe for my elderly mother, who loved ‘things on toast’, I grilled the jambon cru because she found it hard to manage raw. It worked beautifully. Now, I tend to cook the ham quickly on a fairly high heat in the frying pan, before sauteeing the courgettes and garlic, then it can drain on kitchen paper while the vegetables are cooking – you may get a crisper result baking in the oven at about 220c, but it seems a shame to turn it on just for that.

If you are a vegetarian, I suggest a topping of parmesan shavings or fried halloumi. If you are a vegan, perhaps some crispy fried onions, or some toasted chopped pine-nuts or walnuts. 

Courgette with herbs and lemon

You could equally use this over a pile of tagliatelle or orecchiette, or maybe crozets, the little squares of buckwheat pasta. In which case, I would probably toss the pasta in some basil oil and parmesan cheese, or pesto. Or it would pair wonderfully with Aligot (mashed potato with garlic and cheese).  If you you stick with toast, then choose from wholewheat, or a substantial pain de campagne or ciabatta, that can stand up to being rubbed with garlic….

I find that every so often I really appreciate some starchy carbs and this makes a good way of using them, but if you wish to avoid them, then a big pile of dressed green salad, or perhaps a white bean puree would make a great base.

Courgette Bruscetta with Crispy Jambon Cru

Courgette Bruscetta with Crispy Jambon Cru

This can make a delicious starter or a light lunch.

Per person:

  • 2 slices of Jambon Cru (Bayonne, Serrano or Parma ham) (91 kcal)

for the courgettes:

  • 1 tsp olive oil (40 kcal)
  • 1 medium courgette (about 100g), sliced into thin round or diagonal slices (16 kcal)
  • 1/2 clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced or chopped (2 kcal)
  • A sprig or two each of parsley, basil / marjoram and mint, finely chopped 
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • some finely pared zest of lemon

for the bruscetta:

  • 2 slices of bread (138 kcal)
  • 1/2 clove of garlic, peeled (2 kcal)

Heat a frying pan over fairly high heat and fry the ham on both sides until nicely browned. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

Lower the heat to medium, then add the courgettes, garlic and a spray or drizzle of olive oil to the hot pan, along with about half of the herbs and season lightly. Smaller, fresh courgettes merely need to be sautéed for about 5 minutes, until lightly golden. For older courgettes, sauté for 5 mins, then cover with a lid and cook for up to 10 minutes more, until tender.

Meanwhile, toast the bread on both sides, then rub with the clove of garlic. 

Add the remaining herbs and lemon zest to the courgettes, spoon over the toast, and top with the crispy ham.

Per serving: 290 kcals
Carbs 29.6g, Fat 11.6g, Protein 18g,

Serving suggestion ; a little basil oil and a side salad of tomatoes in olive oil on some green leaves.

Tomato Tales – Sundried Tomatoes

A lot of people know that I love to grow tomatoes. A lot of tomatoes. Lots of different varieties. This year I think I have about 60 plants of 20 or so different sorts. Not only do I love to eat a simple tomato salad, I like to have enough tomatoes so that I can avoid buying canned tomatoes or pizza or pasta sauce altogether. I also generally find that those you buy from the supermarket are pretty tasteless, especially out of season, so I prefer to use my own frozen or sundried tomatoes instead throughout the winter and spring.

Tomatoes Galore

With the smaller tomatoes, I generally sundry them and then store them in olive oil. I find they only need 2 or 3 days in the sunshine. Cut them in half, lay them cut side up on a tray, sprinkle with sea salt. I usually put a wire rack over the top which keeps flies off successfully. Leave them in a sunny spot, but bring them in overnight or if there is any hint of rain.

Tomatoes drying in the sun

If it looks like they aren’t going to get fully dry because of poor weather, they risk going mouldy, so then I finish them off in the oven – at about 80c until they are the texture I like, which is still kind of soft, but crinkled, what the French would call mi-cuit. If you don’t have sunny weather at all, you can do the whole thing in the oven, or you could use a dehydrator. But I think the sunshine gives the most flavourful results and the best texture.

Sundried tomatoes

Once they are dried to your liking, you can store them in a jar of olive oil. I push in as many as I can fit in the jar and then pour in good quality virgin olive oil to completely cover them. Use a chopstick or spoon to ensure there are no air bubbles. I can get at least a whole tray full in one jar, so it is a good space-saving method of storing them. Keep them in a cool, dark place and I find they last at least a year and even two (on the occasions when I have made more than we get through).

Sundried Tomatoes

Another way of storing them that I am trying this year, is putting them in a ziploc bag and freezing them. I think this could be an excellent way of saving them to make a paste with later, or just to add them in to all sort of savoury dishes.

Sundried tomatoes for the freezer

So to finish with, here is one of my favourite ways of using sun dried tomatoes

Melon, Cucumber, Goats Cheese, Sundried Tomatoes

Quercy Melon, Cucumber, Goat’s Cheese and Sundried Tomatoes

Per person

  • ¼ of a Quercy (charentais) melon, peeled, deseeded and cut into 3 wedges (41 kcal)
  • 40g of soft goat’s cheese (77 kcal)
  • a chunk of cucumber, halved, peeled, deseeded and sliced into thick chunks (8 kcal)
  • 6 small sundried tomatoes, or slices of 2 large ones (18 kcal)

Dress with a drizzle of vinaigrette made with olive oil, walnut vinegar, balsamic vinegar, grainy mustard, garlic, sea salt and pepper and scatter with some fresh basil or finely chopped mint.  Add about 40 kcals for a tbsp of dressing (ratio of olive oil to vinegar 1:2).

Per serving: kcals184
Carbs 18g Fat 10g Protein 7g

This makes a fabulous starter, or a light lunch. I really like it best with the soft goats cheese, like a buche fraiche (fresh log) that I can buy in the market, or the Petit Billy type of chèvre frais; but you could also use cabecou, or perhaps some sheep’s cheese like feta or buffalo mozzarella.

Melon, Cucumber, Goats Cheese, Sundried Tomato

This recipe first appeared in my book Focus on Flavour: Recipes inspired by living in South West France.

Bon Appetit!

Maintaining on 5:2 – enjoying the fruits of summer

I reached my target weight of 55kgs during June and have been happily maintaining between 54-55 for the last few weeks. With 5:2, it is so easy! I really don’t have to worry about what I eat in between fast days, though compared to this time last year I am eating less carbs and fat, well less of everything actually, except for fresh veggies and fruits!

I love this time of year, when our evening meal is largely determined by what I can harvest from the garden :-

DSCF0753

Last week saw our first horticultural show in Lauzerte, organised by the VEEQ *Vivre Ensemble en Quercy* Garden Group.  I love my garden, so it was with enthusiasm that I entered loads of different categories to help fill up the tables and make a good show for the public. I was somewhat astonished to receive two cups and the magnificent trophy for Champion! I got a 1st for my mixed box of produce, shown above:- it gives you some idea of the choice I am spoiled with during the summer. All organically grown too.

Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have a garden, or to enjoy tending it, summertime is great for local seasonal produce and you can often pick up a bargain at market stalls.

Here’s a neat carb-free idea that you can do with courgettes of any shape, but I used patty pan squash, which are cropping abundantly :-

 Carb-free Summer Tartlets

summer tartletsSlices or halves of squash or courgette (slice a little off the bottom if using long courgettes, so they sit well on the tray), laid on a non-stick baking tray, lightly brushed with a little olive oil, sprinkled with finely chopped garlic or garlic powder, topped with either a slice of tomato and feta cheese, or grated cheese with tomato. Sprinkle with finely sliced basil, season with freshly ground black pepper and a little sea salt and bake near the top of the oven at about 220c for 10 – 15 minutes. 

A bit of a treat this week has been to have Strawberry Scones with Clotted Cream – I made a couple of batches of scones for the Horticultural Show, where we were serving English cream teas. So easy and quick to make and quite low in butter and sugar. I made up for that with the clotted cream, which was left over for us to buy at the end of the show. An afternoon tea-time treat. I much prefer using fresh fruit to jam. You could use thick creme fraîche instead of clotted cream. 

 

Strawberry Scones

 

I used Delia Smith’s Plain Scone recipe – about 100 calories per scone. Using about a tablespoon of cream between the two halves – add another 90. Including the strawberries then say 200 calories for this plate of yumminess. But whose counting?

Enjoy the summer while it lasts!

 

Chargrilled Courgette Salad

Chargrilled Courgette Salad

Griddled Courgette SaladHere’s something to celebrate the start of summer! 
Per person. Slice 1 medium courgette lengthways into 4 slices. Marinade in a little olive oil with finely chopped garlic and red chilli, then griddle on a ridged pan until tender. Toss with any remaining marinade mixed with lemon juice, chopped mint and chopped basil. Serve at room temperature on a bed of lettuce. Approx 70 Calories, using 1 tsp of olive oil. Would be nice with parmesan shavings or toasted pine nuts or other nuts/seeds sprinkled over.

Goat’s Cheese Toasts with Baked Beetroot and Spiced Walnuts

“Ooh that was lovely, what was it?” “Beetroot” “Oh, I never liked beetroot…..” 

Baked baby Beetroot with Spiced Walnuts and Goats Cheese

I used to make this recipe with fresh baby beetroot, which is good. But this time I made it with pre-cooked packaged organic beetroot, which has a long life in the fridge when unopened. As they were already soft, the baking made them caramelised and appealing enough to convert a hardened beetroot-disliker.

Goats Cheese Toasts with Baked Beetroot and Spiced Walnuts

Baked beetroot, coupled with the melted goats cheese on half a slice of wholewheat toast, served on a bed of rocket, drizzled with a dark balsamic and walnut dressing, and finished off with slightly sweet and spicy walnuts, this is a great combination of flavours. Makes a great starter, but could equally be a light lunch or supper dish.  If you wish to avoid bread, then make a bigger pile of salad as the base for the goat’s cheese.

Cabecou

In our region they produce small rounds of goat’s cheese, known locally as Cabecou, but often also sold under the name of Rocamadour, one of the most visited places in all of France.  In the Spring, when the grass is lush and the young kids have been weaned, the cabecou are at their freshest and lightest in flavour. Left to mature the cheese becomes denser and stronger flavoured. Eventually it will become a hard cheese, that can be grated like parmesan. 

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Spanakopitta – Spinach and Feta Filo Pastries

These spinach and feta pastries are a delicious treat for any day of the week!

Spanakopitta is a Greek name for spinach and cheese pastries.

Spanakopitta and Salad

Because filo pastry is fat free, you can get the lovely crispness of pastry without loads of calories.

Spanakopitta

They are not difficult to make as individual triangles, but if you prefer you could make one large pie using the four sheets of pastry overlapping each other.

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Mixed Salad with Olives

Made with Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior

5:2 Fast Day Dinner – Greek Night! Low Fat Hummus, Lean Lamb Stir-Fry with Feta

For a change I thought of having lamb for our last fast day dinner in February. One thing led to another, and our meal became greek inspired….

Low fat Hummus and Crudités

I’ve been making hummus since my sister showed me how when I was a teenager. Usually I would be more generous with the tahini paste and olive oil, but when it came to eating it, I don’t think either of us noticed anything missing! If you left out the tahini altogether, it would save 20kcals per serving – personally I love that sesame flavour that it adds, which sets apart home made from so many of the shop bought ones.

Low-fat Hummus

Makes 8 servings of 70kcals each. With crudités – 100kcals.

  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained (265g drained weight)
  • 25g tahini (about 2 level tblsp)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • cold water
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, plus a sprinkle to garnish
  • a drizzle of olive oil (1/2 tsp max)
  • optional garnish: finely chopped mint or coriander

Put the chick peas, lemon juice and garlic into a blender and process until almost smooth, adding water as necessary to keep the blender going and to get the consistency the way you like it – firm is good for scooping up with crudités, then you can make it slightly more sloppy for a normal day when you can dip toasted pita bread into it! Mix in the cayenne pepper and season to taste. I rarely use salt when cooking these days, but on a fast day it feels like a need a bit to help with hydration.

This amount makes 8 fast day sized helpings of 50grams weight (approx 2 tbsp).

Serve in individual dishes (to avoid fighting!) and sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper and a tiny drizzle of olive oil (remembering that 1 tsp of olive oil = 40 kcals….)

Serve with crudités. I used 100g celery, 50g carrot, 30g radish, 50g cucumber and 50g fennel between the 2 of us – 30kcal each.

(Leftovers will go with some wholewheat pitta bread tomorrow and be followed by lamb kebas…)

Lean Lamb Stir-Fry with Feta

I had 3 lean leg steaks in the freezer. After trimming them to remove all separable fat, I had enough meat for our main fast day dish, plus a slightly larger amount for kebabs the following day. (Saves £s as well as lbs, this way of eating!)

Lean Lamb Stir-Fry with Feta

Serves 2, His and Hers portions – 340/240 kcals

  • 165g lean leg of lamb, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground (I usually have a jar of these two spices mixed together, which I use often!)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 50g carrots (3 small)
  • 100g celery (3 sticks)
  • 120g cauliflower florets
  • 180g tomatoes (2 large)
  • 80g mushrooms (2 large)
  • 135g spinach
  • 80g savoy cabbage (about a 1/4 of a whole head)
  • 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • seasoning to taste
  • 25g feta cheese

Rub the spices over the lamb and set aside while you prepare the vegetables.

If the spinach has large leaves, discard the stalks and tear the leaves into a few pieces. Halve the tomatoes and cut each half into 4. Slice the mushrooms. Slice the carrots diagonally. Cut the celery into diagonal chunks. Cut the cabbage into wide strips.Lean Lamb Stir-Fry with Feta

Heat half the olive oil in a wok over medium heat. Cook the lamb until nicely browned on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add the onions and garlic and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Next add the carrots, celery and cauliflower and cook a few more minutes. Add the mushrooms and tomatoes. Continue to stir fry as the tomatoes break down and start to release their liquid. You may need to add a little water if they are not particularly juicy, but try not to dilute the luscious flavours too much! Next add the cabbage and give that a minute or so before you add the spinach. Before the spinach has completely wilted down, return the lamb to the pan and mix together well.

Divide into two (unequal!) portions and add sliced or crumbled feta to the top. This makes such a difference to the overall enjoyment of the dish, don’t be tempted to omit it!

His portion

340 kcal portion

We would really have relished a bit more of the cheese on top, but no calories to spare, as we finished our meal with a small helping of 0% fat fromage blanc, topped with a sprinkling of toasted almonds. Maybe it was lacking a drizzle of honey, but hey, it’s a fast day, and you know what?

Her portion

240 kcal portion

We were both happily satiated by our greek inspired dinner.

After a breakfast of porridge with blackberries for me and porridge with prunes for him, that came in for the day just under our targets of 500/600 kcals.

These recipes can be used as part of any weight loss programme or as part of a normal healthy diet. A little carbohydrate in the form of pitta bread and rice, or even oven baked jacket fries, would go well with this meal on a non-fasting day.

These recipes use seasonal ingredients for Februrary :  Cauliflower,  Cabbage and Carrots

If you try these recipes and have any suggestions for improvements, or any comments, I’d love to hear from you.