Friends are a wonderful thing... especially when they come bearing gifts. My friend Anna is special in very many ways, apart from being a wonderfully caring, supportive and active mother-of-two, she has also founded an amazing support group for parents who want to make sure their kids grow up in the healthiest way possible. This group has become a veritable treasure chest for information and although people mostly know each other only virtually, it has quickly become the one-stop shop in all things children - your child is ill and you look for natural ways of supporting them, you ask your Arnica friends. A doctor is recommending a certain treatment and you want a second opinion, you consult with one of the many doctors, nurses and complementary therapists that are part of the network. You're stuck for ideas of how to keep a 2-year-old occupied on a 20-hour flight, Arnica has the answer.
Another reason to be good friends with Anna is that she has her own allotment - nestled among residential homes at the edges of Richmond Park, she grows as much of her vegetables as possible on that little patch of land she rents from the council. And what a joy it is to have her come round with the fruits of her labour! The other day, when she dropped off her children at mine (during the holidays, we try and take turns in looking after our little ones so that one of us can have a bit of precious me-time... a little breathing space and a much-needed step towards preventing ourselves from going insane, really, instead of parking the kids in front of a TV all day), she came in carrying a zucchino. And not just any, it was the most humungous squash I have ever seen in my life, just shy of a meter in length, almost half a meter at its widest and weighing too much to even register on my kitchen scales...
My first thought was what a wonderful weapon it would make... don't laugh, I bet you have been in a situation where you could positively have killed a given member of your household - and don't you try and make me believe otherwise! Luckily, my husband (despite the fact that he's on leave this week and the opportunities presenting themselves should be plentifold) has been on his absolute best behaviour, so I've decided to use the ginormous zucchino for cooking instead. I chopped some into our weekly Asian soup fix, I made a wonderful cream of courgettes for lunch and last night, I made these lovely little numbers here: a slice of courgette, some thick and onctuous tomato sauce with just the tinest kick of spice, a generous layer of scamorza (smoked mozzarella) and a crispy topping of quinoa laced with garlic oil and rosemary... the best dish yet.
I've still got about half a meter left and am wondering what else I could be making: zucchini chutney? Zucchini muffins? Zucchini burgers? Or maybe I'll just keep this last bit, just in case I need to use it against any intruders, ill-behaved children or a dis-obedient husband...
Baked zucchini slices with tomato, scamorza & a rosemary-quinoa crust
1 large zucchino/courgette/squash
ca. 1 tbsp smoked salt
1 tbsp ghee or 2 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion
1 tin (440g) chopped tomatoes
1 glug agred balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper, peperoncino
50 g quinoa
2 sprigs rosemary
2 tbsp oil
1 clove garlic
1 scamorza (300 g) - cut into 1cm slices
Cut the courgette into 2-3 cm slices, lay on a baking tray lined with non-stick paper or a silicone mat, sprinkle with smoked salt and bake in the pre-heated oven at 200C for about half an hour or until softened.
Meanwhile, steam the quinoa for about 20 minutes and leave to cool. If you have no facilities for steaming, prepare to packet instructions, taking care that it doesn't turn slushy. You want a loose consistency. Infuse 2 tbsp olive oil with the crushed clove of garlic, then stir into the quinoa, add the rosemary leaves.
To prepare the tomatoes, cut the onion into 0.5 mm slices, fry in the heated ghee or olive oil until browning. Pour in the chopped tomatoes, add the balsamic vinegar. Leave to reduce for about 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened. The consistency should be such that a spoonful turned out onto a plate is no longer seeping juices. Season with salt, pepper and about 1 tsp of peperoncino and set aside.
Assemble by topping each of the zucchini slices with some of the tomatoes, some slices of scamorza and topping it off with the quinoa. Bake under a pre-heated grill until the scamorza is starting to melt and the quinoa is crispy and brown on top.
Serve immediately with some bread and salad on the side.