The managers of the Aldford Village Store, Emma and Will Jones, opened the Aldford Village Store in 2018. Most Sundays I go up to the store to collect a loaf of brown bread. It is by far the best brown bread in the area, rich, malty and slightly sweet and so fresh-tasting that it is almost moist, but with more than enough texture for the bread knife to go through it without a fight. Utterly delicious and a wonderful compliment for egg mayonnaise (made with Churton honesty eggs of course). The brand is Chatwins, a company based in Nantwich, established in 1913 and at that time their deliveries were made with horse and cart. It’s not locally-made bread, but it tastes great.
One cannot quibble in any way about how local the store’s courgettes are. Last Sunday, a basket in the shop had a great crop of green-striped globes and long banana-shaped yellow courgettes, and a label attached to the basket proclaimed them to be “Harry’s.” I instantly formed a stereotypical vision of an elderly but upright smiling fellow with a deep sun tan, battered broad-brimmed hat, dungarees and probably a pitchfork (I grew up amongst Americans), who had been lovingly tending his courgettes for the last six or more decades. Nope. When I asked the friendly girl on the till who Harry might be, it turns out that he is the 9-year old son of the managers, Emma and Will. Brilliant.
According to his Dad, who I was speaking to a couple of days later when I popped in with my father, Harry is saving up for a Lamborghini, not because his is interested in the brand’s celebrity status, or is impressed by the price tag, but because it is the epitome of fine engineering, and that is what fascinates him. At a pound per courgette, that’s at least 160,000 courgette sales for a basic Lambo Huracan, 240,000 courgettes for the Spyder version and a horrifically substantial number more courgettes for the insurance, tax and ongoing servicing, and that’s without factoring in the start-up costs of seeds, compost, and his time 🙂 I love courgettes, but I’m not sure that I can eat that many, although we do have until his 17th birthday to try.
To honour Harry, here’s the first of three posts about what I cooked with Harry’s courgettes. This first one is based on my Mum’s recipe, and has been one of my favourites forever. Mum’s recipe was for stuffed marrow, but it translates beautifully for Harry’s stunning globe courgettes.
Stuffed Globe Courgette, with thanks to Harry Jones
Oh that globe courgette! What an absolute beauty. Harry had grown various sizes that were for sale in the store, and this one was about the size of a small galia melon. I sliced it in half and removed the soft centre, together with the seeds, using a spoon. I chopped this ready to put it in the sauce that I was just about to cook.
Next, the stuffing and the sauce are both done in the same pan, because the stuffing is also the base of the accompanying sauce. This is a two-part process. The first part is simply sausage-meat (or sausages removed from their skins), a finely chopped onion onion, a little finely chopped garlic, the scooped out middle of the courgette, and a lot of sage (fresh or dry) gently all fried in olive oil. A little liquid is added to prevent it drying out, either hot chicken stock or a mix of chicken stock and white wine. I also add fennel seeds, just because I love them. On this occasion I also had lovage growing in the garden and the diced remains of a fennel bulb from the Bellis farm shop in Holt, which always has them, so these went in too.
This rather wet stuffing is used to stuff the marrow, and you will have a lot left over. The stuffing dries a little when cooking, particularly as 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time you grill it to let it brown slightly. After heating this stuffing through, I spooned it carefully into the scooped-out reservoir in the courgette half.
To cook the courgette, it is placed in an oven-proof dish full of hot (just off the boil) chicken stock, which is then placed in an oven, either with either a proper lid or a foil tent. I used an ancient oval Pyrex bowl and covered it in foil and put the whole thing in a baking tray in case the the stuffing leaked. I take the foil off and grill the whole thing five minutes before serving. A little butter stroked over the top helps it to brown and crisp, but is not actually necessary. Normally I do this recipe with marrow rings, which takes about half an hour once the marrow rings are in the oven. Cooking an entire half globe was always going to take longer, and it took an hour on 220C (static, not fan), plus the five minutes for grilling.
The second part of the saucepan process is the sauce that is served alongside the stuffed courgette. This is done by adding peeled tomatoes and, if you like a bit of heat, chillis to the stuffing. The chillis can be either fresh or dried. I find supermarket tomatoes almost completely tasteless, so I use the ripest vine tomatoes that I can find, add a squirt of tomato paste and then a good glug of Big Tom (a spiced tomato drink). If you don’t mind tinned tomatoes, those would work but I gave up using them a long time ago as they are far too sweet for me. I also add more hot stock or stock + white wine to the mix, because this is the sauce and needs to be rather more fluid than the stuffing.
As to quantities, I’m dreadful at writing out recipes, but I used a whole 450g pack of Waitrose sausagemeat as I wanted to make sufficient to freeze down for future meals. For that amount of sausagemeat, I used a medium-large onion, two cloves of garlic, and added the herbs and liquid to taste. The first part of the sauce doesn’t want to be too liquid, as you are going to use it as stuffing, so the trick is to add it in increments and just stop it sticking. When you start adding stock and tomato to the sauce, it becomes much more liquid, and that’s just a matter of taste. Again, just add the tomato and stock incrementally until it looks the way you want it to.
The idea of separating out the stuffing and the sauce is to give the stuffing a mild, distinctive flavour all of its own based on the sausagemeat and sage. In the second part, the addition of tomatoes, chillis and other herbs provides a lovely bold Mediterranean contrast when both are on the plate. You could grate Parmesan cheese over the top, or (before grilling) breadcrumbs for crunch. I find it sufficiently filling in its own right, but Mum liked it served with a salad and my father likes it with plain white rice to soak up the juices.
It is not an elegant dish. At least, I’ve never found a way of making it look particularly presentable on the plate, but the flavours rock. If you are wondering why the stuffing and the sauce look the same in my photographs (congratulations on spotting the far from deliberate mistake), it is because I screwed up. On this occasion, I forgot to separate the process into two parts and ended up putting the various tomato combinations into the sauce before I had stuffed the courgette with the basic mix, so found myself stuffing it with the tomato-enriched sauce. That is because I often serve the part 2 version of the sauce over pasta and was working on auto-pilot. I was more than a little miffed with myself, because it is much better if the two-part process is followed.
The outer peel or rind on the globe courgette is chewy but edible, but on another occasion I would peel it before cooking it. To serve it, I halved the half-globe. Short of eating it with a spoon, I wasn’t sure how else to tackle it! But however it looks, it still tasted terrific, and the Mediterranean feel made it summery.
If you have any sauce left over, it freezes brilliantly, and goes wonderfully over tortellini. If you have been defeated by the amount of courgette or marrow that emerged from the oven, this can be finely chopped into the sauce before freezing.
I rubbed lemon into the other half of the globe to stop the surface browning, and wrapped it in foil. It is now in the cold draw in my fridge, awaiting another bout of courgette creativity.
Thank you Harry!
Aldford Village Store
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New village store at Aldford will sell day to day groceries and much more