Chef Alistair Dibbs, from Hallingbury Events Company, gives his recipe for cucumber gazpacho served with a tomato sorbet
Top chef Alistair Dibbs, from Little Hallingbury, extols the virtues of growing, cooking and eating your own food...
Cucumbers are such a versatile vegetable and a firm favourite with my two children. They are always snacking on them so it really was a no brainer to start growing them and have a supply of them on tap!
Cucumbers are often flash cooked in Asian stir fry recipes, commonly used raw in salads and are great in pickles and chutneys. In my column this week I am going to take the humble cucumber and transform it into a refreshing summer gazpacho soup with a tomato sorbet, perfect for a hot summer's day!
I had always thought that cucumbers were very difficult to grow but after a couple of years of growing them with a decent rate of success I have realised that this really is a myth! It is fascinating to see these large plants grow so quickly from a tiny seed in a matter of just a few weeks.
In order for cucumbers to flourish they prefer warm temperatures and plenty of water but all you really need is a little bit of space in the garden, lots of sunlight and a trellis to support them as they grow.
Here are a few simple tips...
Around the middle of April, sow two seeds into small individual pots of compost on a warm windowsill that gets plenty of sunlight. The seeds should germinate within two weeks. When this happens, remove the weaker of the two seeds. Keep the seedlings well hydrated indoors or in a greenhouse until any danger of frost has passed and the daytime temperature is warm – probably the beginning of June in our region.
Keep them well watered. I tend to lightly water them daily – little and often is best. If you leave them to get very dry then drench them, you may well find that the cucumbers split. As they grow larger, more water will be needed.
Feed the cucumber plants with a tomato feed (such as Tomorite) added to water once every week.
When they are around 30cm high, they are ready to plant out in the garden. In the week prior to planting them out, accustom them to the outdoor temperature by putting them outside in the daytime for a few days but bringing them in at night.
Plant them in a sunny area of the garden, in plenty of compost, gently securing them to a trellis or garden netting fixed to a fence to support them as they grow. Leave at least 2ft between plants as the plants do get quite large. It is important to remove the growing tip when the plant gets to around 5ft high as this will stop the plant continually growing and allow it to put its energy into producing cucumbers.
100g celery stalks, chopped
1 avocado, skin and stone removed
1 green pepper, diced
20g caster sugar
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
250g natural yoghurt
5g basil leaves, chopped
5g mint leaves, chopped
Half a bunch of spring onions, chopped
20ml white wine vinegar
20ml extra virgin olive oil
30g rocket, chopped
Juice of half a lemon
Large pinch of sea salt
A few drops of tabasco sauce
Place the cucumber on a chopping board and split it down the middle lengthways. Using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds along both halves and discard them.
Chop up the cucumber and add it along with all the other ingredients to a blender or smoothie maker. Blend the mixture until it is very smooth, thin it down with a little bit of water if it is too thick and check the seasoning.
90g caster sugar
70ml red wine vinegar
600g very ripe plum tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 large pinch of sea salt
30ml extra virgin olive oil
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
1 pinch of smoked paprika
A few drops of Worcester sauce
A few drops of tabasco
Cut the tomatoes in half and remove and discard the seeds. Chop up the tomatoes and place them into a food blender along with the garlic.
Blend the mixture until it becomes a puree and add the rest of the ingredients. Push the mixture through a sieve to remove the tomato skin and any stray seeds.
Check the seasoning - it should have a strong, slightly sweet and sour tomato flavour. The cayenne will provide a hint of heat to the soup.
Pour the mixture into a two-litre plastic container and place it in the freezer.
At 20-minute intervals, remove the container and give it a good whisk for 10 seconds or so (this incorporates air into the sorbet and stops it from setting too hard) before placing it back in the freezer. The sorbet will take a couple of hours to freeze in total.
To serve and garnish
A few sprigs of mint
A few slices of radish
Extra virgin olive oil
Pour the cucumber gazpacho into a chilled bowl. Using a spoon scoop out a ball of sorbet and place it in the centre of the soup.
Garnish it with some thin slices of radish, mint sprigs and olive oil and serve straight away.
Alistair runs Hallingbury Events Company – www.hallingburyeventscompany.co.uk – a creative food-led wedding and event caterer based near Bishop's Stortford. They will cater in your home or venue and also have an events space at the Red Lion in Weston, near Hitchin. Instagram @hallingburyevents.
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