In the Evening Standard last night there was one of those empty-headed ‘filler’ pieces that said that Rafael Nadal is one of the reasons why we’re buying more Spanish wine in the UK. There was no hard evidence that the tennis star was behind Rioja sales, just lots of shoving together of pundits’ opinions (some wine experts I grant you) and a few events. Perhaps, though, it’s more to do with the ability of the British to detect quality at a good price at last; I’ve been annoying my friends for years with the opinion that if you buy wine in a supermarket, and hover around the £5-£6 mark, you will be more likely to find something immediately drinkable from Spain, Latin America or Portugal than anywhere else. I have an aversion to cheap Antipodean wine (the good stuff is out of my price range) and, despite being a Francophile, I have rarely found a supermarket wine from France that is affordable and drinkable whereas, since sticking to my Iberian/Latin American theory, I have rarely found a wine that isn’t.
So today, to go with the £4.75 Rioja from Waitrose (down from £7.15) I bought the other day, and to toast my friend’s beautiful homegrown courgette that she gave me, I have been making tapas. A tortilla (to use up the rest of the eggs), courgette, feta and basil mini-gratins (to use up cream, feta and the perfect round courgette you see above) and calçots with salbitxada. But you’ll have to wait until next week for an explanation of those strange Catalan words; I have a Rioja to drink…
For three mini-gratins you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
1 garlic clove
sea salt and black pepper
courgettes, about 400g
feta, 80g (just under half a regular-sized packet)
fresh basil, a handful
single cream, 150ml
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7.
2. Wash then slice the courgettes into thick pieces. Steam them for about 5 minutes, drain and put them onto some kitchen paper to soak up the worst of the water.
3. Peel and chop the garlic, rinse the basil leaves then whizz them together in a blender (or a small chopper/processor) until you have something pesto-like.
4. Tip the garlic and basil into another bowl, add the egg and cream, beat it all together and season with salt and pepper.
5. Chop the feta into small pieces, put the courgette slices in small gratin dishes or ramekins then put the cheese on top.
6. Tip over the cream sauce and bake in the preheated oven for about five minutes then turn the heat down to 180°C/160°C/gas 4 and cook for another 10-15 minutes until the cream mixture is bubbling and the cheese is golden.