When was the last time you enjoyed a helping of marrow? That's exactly what I'm talking about- the ever so 'umble, green-skinned English marrow, and it's currently in season. Right now. As a vegetable it's more or less disappeared from our plates; usurped by the courgette- the once trendy, now ubiquitous "zucchini" (the darling of the gastropub and aspirational bistro) and the various squashes and pumpkins of the American East Coast: the autumnal butternut squash (now beloved of the British supermarkets) immediately springs to mind.
But there's something attractively nostalgic, and unpretentious about the common marrow isn't there? The whiff of Dad's allotment, the village fete, garden potting, vintage Dandelion Wine '53, musty pigeon-racing sheds, home-made piccalilli, and crushing up the laburnum pods to get rid of the nagging missus. I'm sure my grandmother used to serve it up in an early Victorian Mason's Ironstone tureen. The marrow- you understand- not crushed laburnum. It's all so incredibly English.
I love marrow, its subtle watery taste and all the summery assocations that go with it. I heard Allegra McEvedy (of Leon fame) singing its praises on the radio a few days ago; and she's absolutely right. Not only is it nutritious, it's also extremely cheap, and, amazingly, still available at the dreaded Sainsbury's- although you'll find that Waitrose doesn't stock it. Far too upmarket.
In my last post I wrote about an excellent marrow dish I enjoyed at the Canton Arms. I went back there a day or so ago and had it yet again. This time round I've now worked out more or less exactly how it was made. I'm calling it "Gratin of English Marrow with Cannellini Beans and Rocket Pesto". An Italian take on an English classic.
First, you need to make a simple Tuscan style white bean stew. Chop up some shallots and sweat them in olive oil and butter until soft. Crush a clove of garlic and cook for a few mintues. Add the cannellini beans (I admit to using tinned) and vegetable stock, and simmer gently for an hour or so (or until the stew is reasonably thick and starchy) with a bayleaf and a few chopped up small tomatoes. If you're using uncooked beans, you'll need to soak them overnight in cold water, and then cook them for a longer time; quite possibly for up to two hours.
When the time's up remove a few spoonfuls of the beans, and purée them into a paste along with a tablespoon or so of the cooking liquid. Add this purée back into the pot: this will help to thicken up the stew. Check the seasoning and remove the bayleaf.
In the meantime, cut the marrow into large chunks, keeping the green skin on, but spooning out all the seeds and stuff you'll find in the middle bit of the vegetable. Steam the marrow until tender.
To assemble the dish: take an oven-proof gratin dish and ladle in the cooked bean stew. Add the cooked marrow to the dish, making sure that it's well covered by the stew. Sprinkle the top with white breadcrumbs, and dot with rocket pesto. This might be a combination of rocket leaves (sans the stalks), garlic, parmesan, walnuts, olive oil, sea salt and black pepper, which you've previously whizzed up in your Magimix or food processor.
Check the seasoning and flash the gratin under a very hot grill. Serve it piping hot straight from the dish. I'm not a vegetarian by any means, but sometimes it makes an enjoyable change to ditch the meat and eat something like this. It's an excellent dish.