Humongous Courgettes and Tiny Spiders
Marrows, no courgettes, no wait, marrows
The arcane beauty of a spider web never ceases to amaze me. At the risk of sounding like a hoary but not so hairy old hippie, the intricate, fractal designs that these creatures spin, suggests to me that arachnids possess a deeper knowledge, that they are the guardians of a unknown truth and could, quite possibly, have the answers to the meaning of life, hidden within their webs. And at this time of year, as we enter this orange hued season of death and decay, if you consider just how busy the spiders are at the moment, it sort of makes sense. Walk into your garden, look in the corners of your living room; peep over the lip of your bathtub, the evidence will be there. On the cusp of their own extinction, the spiders are trying to tell us something, they are trying to open our eyes.
“WAKE UP! LOOK AT OUR WEBS,” they silently scream. “CAN YOU NOT READ? CAN YOU NOT SEE?”
Unfortunately, our distant, pagan relationship with nature has dissipated over the millennia and mankind has become blind and ineffectual. We are oblivious to the message of the spiders and sadly, their efforts are ultimately in vain.
I do have another theory though. Given that spiders in autumn are close to their own oblivion, they probably sense this and perhaps, are just thinking about going in for that last big kill. This is why they will busy themselves all night long, casting thread upon thread of silk, back and forth across my doorway. So that when I leave the house to go to work first thing in the morning, the spiders hope that I will walk out and become ensnared and entangled and fall to the ground prone, thus providing a massive banquet before the final, bitter end. Again, these efforts are also in vain. I may well cough and splutter as their thin ropes brush against my face but all it takes is one wipe and then I am on my way. As I make my way down the path, I do often wonder if a gang of multiple eyes, peering from underneath stones, are fixed upon my back and are simply thinking, ‘Bugger.’
Ah, the mystery of spiders.
Another conundrum that has been plaguing me recently is the question of what the hell am I going to do with all these frigging courgettes, courgettes that have blown up to the size of marrows? As with the proliferation of spider webs, it never ceases to amaze me just how quick this squash can grow. I visited the allotment a couple of weeks ago and had a check underneath the prickly leaves of our courgette plants and there was still a nice fruiting going on, with some baby zucchini spreading out around the base. I checked again a couple of days ago and they’ve turned into monsters. It’s bizarre and I can’t account for it. Maybe it has something to do with the spiders. So there I was, stuck with the dilemma of trying to think of what to do with the damn things. I did consider about using them all for rumming again but after a shout out on Twitter, Hazel of itsnotf**ingrocketscience put the idea of stuffing them back into my head.
Now, I am not a stranger to stuffing marrows (steady) but in the past I have always found the end result messy, with bitty fillings over spilling. This is largely because I usually cut the marrow on the vertical, scoop out the soft middle and seeds and then pile ingredients on top, like onion, cheese, rice, chorizo etc before slamming into the oven. Like an overzealous teenager making his own pizza. Hazel however, with this recipe, albeit with round courgettes, showed that cutting on the horizontal helps keep whatever stuffing you decide upon, neatly contained within. Quite revelatory really. So I stuffed a marrow the other day with moussaka, that indulgent combination of lamb, aubergine and béchamel sauce. Marrow (sorry, overgrown courgette) is often watery and fairly tasteless but after baking in the oven, it took on the flavour of the rich, lightly spiced mince and was quite delicious.
As for coming up with the idea of using moussaka, now that may well have also been Hazel’s suggestion, or maybe I got the inspiration from reading a spider web, I can’t remember.
Whatever, here is the recipe.
Marrow Stuffed With Moussaka – serves 4
1 large overgrown courgette/marrow
500 gms lamb mince
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 glass of white wine
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
1 tsp of dried oregano
1 bay leaf
500 gms of tomato passata
Salt and pepper, for seasoning
2 aubergines, sliced into thin rounds, not salted*
Olive oil (for frying)
50 gms butter
50 gms plain flour
300 mls whole milk, warm
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Heat some olive oil in a wide, non-stick saucepan and gently sauté the onion for 10 minutes until soft. Then add the garlic and parsley, cooking for a minute or so, then turn up heat and add the mince. Brown the lamb all over and then add the cinnamon, oregano and bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another minute and then add white wine, leaving it to bubble and evaporate. Then add the tomato passata, bringing heat back down and leave to gently simmer on the hob for an hour or until the liquid has reduced and the mix is rich and thick.
Whilst the meat is cooking away, heat some oil in a frying pan (or a couple of pans to get job done quicker) and in small batches, fry the aubergine slices on both sides until golden. Remove and place on a plate with kitchen towel to absorb excess oil. Also switch on your oven, heating to 180c.
When the meat is ready, slice the marrow into 4 even slices and hollow out the soft centre, making an even circle and place on a baking tray. In each one, layer some aubergine slices on the bottom and then add a generous layer of meat. Repeat, depending on depth of marrow slice, leaving a gap from the top to contain the béchamel.
Now make your béchamel by heating the butter in a saucepan, when it begins to foam, add the flour and whisk in to form a roux. Turn the heat down and gently cook the roux through for 2 minutes. Bring the heat back up and then gradually add the warm milk, whisking all the while until it thickens. Stir through the pinch of nutmeg and then spoon a layer of béchamel on top of the marrow.
Place the marrow and moussaka into the oven for 30-40 mins, or until the top has brown and the marrow has softened.
*By all accounts, you do not need to salt aubergines anymore to remove bitterness, as the bitterness has apparently been ‘bred’ out of modern day eggplants. A small victory in the field of botanical eugenics you might say but seeing as Hitler was a vegetarian, this fact does unsettle me somewhat.
But then again, you might also say that I think too much.
Golden-ish aubergines and cinnamon scented lamb