A bit from my book

Muffins017_small 

Courgette muffins sitting on the wall,
courgette muffins sitting on the wall,
and if one courgette muffin should accidentally fall (into my mouth),
there’ll still be plenty left for later.

Unknown, 2012

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share a little taster of my book, Gifts from the Garden, and post a few of the hundred or so projects here. I thought I’d start with the courgette and ricotta muffins because they vanished quicker than you can say ‘free food’ at my book party.  And also because it’s probably the most familiar territory for us all. It’s a recipe. It’s food. I warn you, in the weeks to come there will be sewing and a face mask. There will also be gardening. Don’t panic. We’ll all get through it together.

Courgette and ricotta muffins

A basket of muffins is always a welcome gift. These light and tender savoury ones are a delicious way of using up a plentiful crop of courgettes in summer. Alternatively, use grated carrot instead of courgettes and Cheddar in place of the Parmesan.

Makes 12.

240g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon salt
A few grinds of black pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh oregano or marjoram
120g Parmesan, coarsely grated
2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
200g ricotta
100ml olive oil
200g courgettes, coarsely grated
5 spring onions, finely chopped

Paper cases
Muffin tin

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6 and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Whisk in the salt, pepper, oregano or marjoram and 80g of the Parmesan.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, ricotta and olive oil. Fold this into the flour with a spatula until just combined – be careful not to overmix as it will make the muffins tough. Fold in the courgettes and spring onions.

Spoon the batter into the paper cases and sprinkle over the rest of the Parmesan. Bake for 18–20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

These muffins are best eaten on the day of baking, though they freeze quite well.

Growing courgettes

Courgettes, Cucurbita pepa, are possibly the easiest of all vegetables to grow. Sow seeds singly in small pots indoors in spring and harden them off by placing them outside in a sheltered spot during the day and then bringing them in at night for about a week. Only plant them out once all threat of frost has passed. Plant them in the ground about 1m apart, or grow them in pots at least 40cm in diameter. Keep courgettes well watered and pick them when they’re no larger than 10cm long for the best flavour. One of the benefits of growing your own courgettes is that you get to harvest the beautiful yellow flowers. You can eat them fresh or stuff them with soft goat’s cheese, dip them in a light tempura batter and deep-fry them until golden.

Gifts from the Garden by Debora Robertson (Kyle Books, £16.99) Photography: Yuki Sugiura

Book party

DSCN6514
Lump in throat time.

Last Thursday evening, I was almost sick in my handbag. Despite being quite grown up, with the crow’s feet, RHS membership and drawer full of useful bits of string to prove it, I have managed so far to avoid doing the thing I most fear: speaking in public.

But I could avoid it no longer. Last Thursday, my book Gifts from the Garden,  was published and Jo, the owner of my lovely local bookshop, offered to host a party for me. ‘Just do a little talk, perhaps demonstrate a couple of the projects,’ she said gaily. ‘Yes, that’s a great idea!’ I said, hoping I could stave off the dry heaves until I hit the pavement.

I asked my pal, grower of delicious things, writer and all-around good egg, Mark Diacono  for tips. He’s done loads of personal appearances, and if his career as a Bradley Wiggins lookalike takes off I dare say he’ll do a lot more. ‘Give them something to eat, something to drink and get a joke in fast,’ he said. As this is the philosophy I’ve adhered to all of my life, I started to think perhaps I could do this.

DSCN6502
Courgette muffins

DSCN6504
Carrot Cake

So I pitched up at the bookshop with a boot full of platters, snacks and drinks, ingredients for my demonstration and, tucked into my handbag, hastily typed notes for a speech. People came. Quite a lot of them. They drank, they ate, they laughed. They also bought a huge stack of books and I got to sign them in a slightly demented scrawl.

I didn’t throw up. I loved every minute and couldn’t sleep until 2am from the sheer exhilaration of it all. Now I know how rock stars feel. Hit me if I become unbearable.

DSCN6527
My friend James and I. I post this picture not just because he bought the first book, but also because he’s so damn handsome.

DSCN6531
A great crowd at Stoke Newington Bookshop

Publication day

 

So it’s been a busy old time. My book is out today.

It’s called Gifts from the Garden and is the reason I seldom left my kitchen and garden for the first few months of the year, my hands either muddy or floury depending on the day. It was a dirty, fragrant, delicious form of house arrest.

20120615_173419

Cooks and gardeners are generous people. (Or that might just be bossy.) You seldom leave their homes without a few tips, advice, some seeds, a hastily-scrawled recipe, a slice of cake or a piece of pie. Taking what you’ve grown and transforming it into a present takes that generous (bossy) instinct and wraps it in all up in a big bow.

In pursuit of great gifts, I spent the winter and spring scrabbling around for out-of-season pinks and cherry tomato plants, marigolds and blackcurrants and crossing everything for sunny days to shoot the jams and jellies, liqueurs and chutneys, face creams and room sprays that make up the projects in the book.

DSCN1025

And somehow it all came together on some of the calmest shoot days I’ve ever known. This might have been due to the presence of lavender in many of the projects. But it was also most certainly due to the presence of Yuki Sugiura, who took the beautiful pictures, my pal and super-stylist Tabitha Hawkins, ace editor, queen of lists and living embodiment of patience, Sophie Allen, and designer Helen Bratby, the font-and-woodcut wizard.

That bit of making the book was great fun – a whole gang of us standing around a bowl of sugar and collectively deciding to move a spoon a tad to the left while the dog snuffled around our feet and the cats got tangled in the box (many boxes) of ribbon.

But then when the book comes out, it’s sort of just you, blinking in the sunlight, checking your nails for mud. Tonight at 8pm at my local bookshop, it’ll be just me, attempting to talk and make things at the same time and serving drinks and food from the book. If you’re local and free, do come. It would be lovely to meet you.

DSCN6395

Stoke Newington Bookshop
159 Stoke Newington High Street
London N16 ONY
020 7249 2808

DSCN6388
I spent some time in the past few weeks stitching hessian bags for catnip mouse kits (one of the projects in the book) to go out with advance copies to journalists.