On a recent trip to the UK for a wedding, I was delighted to discover that the Sunday Observer included its Food Monthly that weekend. There is something especially satisfying about sitting down with a physical paper and paging through a whole magazine of food news and recipes. The European edition of the Observer is so wimpy that we subscribe to the full-cream electronic edition instead. But it's not as satisfying as the real thing. The Observer runs four monthly magazines. (Food, Music, Sport and...? Can't find the fourth. Maybe there are three.) So it's a lottery for us each time we visit - will it be Food? (Yay!) or Sport? (Boo!)
One of the additional benefits of being in the UK when the Food monthly comes out is that I am in the right place for the appropriate ingredients for all the wonderful recipes I find. And so when we stopped at Marks & Spenser's before heading back to Paris I made sure I picked up some Lancashire cheese, because Nigel Slater's recipe for a Courgette and cheese crumble sounded divine. Inspired, even.
As all my friends know, I love Nigel. I love his recipes. Search our archives and you'll find a long page of references to Nigel. Sadly, this friendship is only one way and he has yet to return any of my phone calls. *sigh* Still, at least he keeps in touch by publishing his recipes in the Observer.
I knew right away I would like this one as it appealed in so many ways. I'm a big fan of melted cheese. And of crunchy things. And of healthy vegetables like zucchini. And I like casseroles too, when they are tasty. And rosemary, my latest favourite herb.
So this was pretty much a sure-fire winner for me. And a sure-fire loser for the Critic. (I never should have made the mistake of telling him it was a courgette crumble. Curses!)
In making the crumble, for once I tried to stick as closely as possible to the exact recipe as I knew I would want to review it. Has anyone noticed how often in the comments section of epicurious recipes readers have substituted 3/4 of the ingredients and yet still want to tell you whether it's a good recipe? I hate that. So I didn't want to do that to you. With a few small exceptions (noted below) I followed the recipe. And I was right: it was delicious. Hot and crunchy and a little gooey in places from the delicious Lancashire cheese, it was a delight. I served it with a couple of English sausages and it made a very satisfying dinner.
Notes on the ingredients:
- You could substitute a dry cheddar if you don't live a Eurostar away from England. I think it would also be interesting with feta instead of the Lancashire cheese. In texture they are somewhat similar (though the Lancashire is dry and crumbly, not wet) and the strong flavour of the feta would work well with the potatoes and zucchini.
- You could also substitute fresh thyme if you don't have a rosemary bush. That said, I think it's a great idea to have both. They grow extremely well in pots, are pretty and will immediately become staple herbs in your cooking. Yum.
- I used whole-wheat bread instead of white bread and 3 slices were just over 100 grams. It worked fine and made the dish a little more nutritious.
- I used almonds instead of walnuts because that's what I had. They were okay but next time I'll try to get some walnuts as I think they would be tastier. Almonds tended to get a bit lost in the strong flavored cheese and rosemary combination.
Enough for 4
a large onion
butter - a thick slice (about 40g)
small potatoes - 4 (about 350g)
courgettes - 2 large (about 450g)
vegetable stock - 150ml (I used mushroom Better than Boullion)
Lancashire cheese - 45g
For the crumble:
fresh white bread - 100g
walnut pieces - 80g (or almonds)
Lancashire cheese - 60g
Make a fragrant, savoury base for the filling by peeling the onion, chopping it roughly and leaving it to cook slowly with the butter in a heavy casserole over a moderate heat. Pull the rosemary needles from their stems; you will need about a tablespoonful of them. Chop them finely and stir them into the onion.
Scrub the potatoes but don't peel them. Cut them into large dice and, once the onion is pale gold and glossy, stir them in. Cover with a lid and leave to colour for ten minutes, stirring them after seven or eight.
Chop the courgettes into the same-sized dice as the potatoes and add them to the pan along with a seasoning of salt and black pepper. Cover once more and leave to cook for a few minutes. Pour in the stock, let it bubble and steam briefly (you don't want it to evaporate). Set the oven at 180°C/Gas 4.
Make the crumble by reducing the bread to crumbs in a food processor, adding the walnuts, then a little rosemary - a tablespoonful will do - and adding the 45g of cheese in small pieces. You should end up with a savoury crumble flecked with bits of chopped rosemary.
Remove the lid from the filling, turn off the heat and crumble the other 60g of cheese over the top. Tip the crumble on top of that, then bake for thirty-five to forty minutes, till the top is crisp. (Actually, I found that 25 minutes was plenty of time - the top was nicely browned and crispy and the potatoes meltingly tender.)
One last note: this would be an excellent side dish for an elegant dinner. You could use small ramekins to make the individual portions look prettier. Also, you can make it up a day in advance, just keeping the crumble topping separate from the filling until you are ready to pop it in the oven. I think it would benefit from the extra day of stewing in the vegetable broth as the leftovers I ate for lunch today were even better than last night's dish. If you do reheat, however, you might want to use the oven instead of the microwave. The crust got rather soggy in the microwave, which made me sad.
So my eternal thanks to Nigel once again, for giving me a beautiful new use for zucchini. It's dishes like this that make me love Nigel, because they are creative and immediately set me thinking of variations on the theme that I could make. You may not have seen the last of that cheesy crumble topping on this site!