After the fiery end to November, and before the aspirant grand wizard‘s arrival, December started off relatively gently. We love the long, balmy evenings and spectacular sunsets of summer. Even if they are best viewed over the ravages of the fire and the somewhat charred vegetable patch. A chef was among the kind souls who helped to fight the fire that afternoon, and very tongue-in-cheek, suggested a new trend: smoked vegetables. Particularly courgettes. Funnily enough, we had been told by a restauranteur in Paternoster that he was going to be experimenting with exactly that in the next while. More of the fabulous food we ate during that trip, another time, perhaps.
Returning to the courgettes: the moment you turn your back, they transmogrify from delicate, green fingerlings into giants that can be well-nigh unmanageable.
My mother loved giant courgettes – she called them marrows: she would halve pip, and cut into chunks and boil them to death. I am my father’s daughter: he really didn’t enjoy the watery mush that made its way to the supper table. Not even lashings of butter helped. I rarely boil vegetables.
Not long after the fire, I was given a bag of Herbes de Provence. Grown locally, the herb mixture is packed in handmade bags, cleverly made from a combination of (also locally) screen printed hessian and tartan, evoking their origins in McGregor.
The brainchild of Lavender Lady, a McGregorite, whose idea it is to make the traditional flavours of Provence available in South Africa, and with the longer term vision of creating sustainable jobs in the village.
I grow herbs and use them, fresh, in virtually everything, particularly during summer when they are abundant. The aroma that wafted out of that bag of dry leaves and flowers was amazing. I couldn’t work out the different scents. How does one use them?
“Just add a pinch to whatever you’re cooking,” Lavender Lady said.
So back to the not-so-baby marrows and not being one for waste, they had to be eaten. Flavourless, marrows are, and full of water, so I figured that the best way to deal with them was roasting. Not confident that just this would deal with the deficit in flavour, the Herbes de Provence had their first “outing”. The result has, happily, become the current go-to way of dealing with the overgrown courgette.
Roast Marrows with Herbes de Provence
Halve the marrows, remove the pips and discard. Cut the marrow into sizes that suit you. I’ve done them in large chunks like in the pictures above, and also in smaller, bite-sized pieces.
Sprinkle a baking tray with olive oil and place the marrows on it, skin-side down. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and dot with butter and then sprinkle Herbes de Provence over the marrow flesh.
Bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes and then turn the marrows over and return to the oven for another 20 or so minutes or until they are cooked to your liking.
Remove them from the oven and turn them over and sprinkle with a sharp, hard cheese like Parmesan or Pecorino, and serve warm.
McGregor Herbes de Provence
This particular blend of herbs is interesting. There is a number of different combinations for Herbes de Provence; it was only in the 1970’s that “Herbes de Provence” became commercially available. The introduction of lavender was specifically to suit the North American market. In Provence, these herbs are used fresh and include savoury, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, origanum and sometimes mint, all of which grow wild in the Mediterranean. (As I discovered when I lost myself walking down from Castillo de Bellver back to Palma when I was in Mallorca. But that’s another story.)
Lavender Lady’s blend, McGregor Herbes de Provence, doesn’t have the savoury or the mint, but it does include basil, parsley, fennel seeds and lavender blossom.
It also makes a fabulous herb butter which works well on bread, potatoes and braai mielies (barbequed corn) – or anything else that goes well with a herb butter.
Chicken, grilled with a Herbes de Provence rub or basting is easy and delicious. Now I’m planning stews and hotpots with Herbes de Provence when the weather gets cooler. Of course, this herb blend would make the perfect bouquet garni for classic French dishes such as Beef Bourguignon and Coq au Vin.
Those experiments will wait for the longer, cold evenings of winter which suddenly become a little more palatable.