A colleague whose mother tongue is not English once confided in me that to her, the most annoying thing that Brits do is to speak in idioms and then look surprised when people don’t understand what they are getting at. If you think about it, the entire English language is peppered with idioms, some so ingrained that we use them without thinking about it. But we forget that to a foreigner who might be trying to assign a literal meaning to our words, it sounds as if we are talking utter nonsense.
- A little bird told me that you have not been well.
- He’ll be back soon – he’s just gone to see a man about a dog.
- They finally arrived, a day late and a dollar short.
- I’ve just moved to a different company and it’s a whole new kettle of fish.
- He should be careful – she’s leading him up the garden path.
My particular favourite (and probably the bane of the non-native English speaker’s life) are the multitude of English expressions that seem to directly contradict each other:
- Great minds think alike – but fools never differ
- Absence makes the heart grow finder – but out of sight out of mind
- You’re never too old to learn – but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks
- Better safe than sorry – but nothing ventured, nothing gained
- The bigger the better – but size isn’t everything
It was this final set of expressions that sprang to mind earlier this week when news reached my ears this week that Avozillas, giant South African avocados that are at least five times the size of normal avocados, are going on sale at selected branches of Tesco this weekend. I can’t imagine there will be too many of them available as the marketing machine tells me that the entire harvest is produced by just four specially bred trees, but who can resist the lure of an avocado that’s 20cm long and weights 1.5 kg?
What is it about supersized things that so captures the human imagination? The tallest building; the longest bridge; the biggest yacht… it certainly seems that although we are constantly told that “It’s not the size of the boat, but the motion of the ocean”, size definitely does matter. I’d go so far as to say we’re obsessed with it, and nowhere more so than in the quietly competitive atmosphere of the local allotments. Just page through your local newspaper in Autumn and you will doubtlessly see a story about some bloke with a prize-winning giant marrow that would make a nun blush, or carrot as long as a golf club. A quick trawl of the interwebs produced the following prize-winning Frankenveggies: an 11.2kg sweet potato; a 56kg marrow; a 34.4kg green cabbage; a 122kg watermelon (Baby’s not carrying THAT one!); an 8.5kg carrot; a 766kg pumpkin; a 15.8 kg broccoli; an embarrassingly long 90cm cucumber.
Even when blokes aren’t digging special beds and hand-pollinating their marrows (not a euphemism!) to grow the prize winner, it seems that they subscribe to the bigger-is-better school of thought on their allotment. Nick, as I have said previously, has managed to grow som zucchini cudgels that look more like weapons of mass destruction than vegetables; and his crop of butternuts contains some specimens the size of which I have never seen in my life. The first few pattypan squashes that he brought home were the normal size you’de see in supermarkets in South Africa – maybe 7 or 8cm in diameter. But then he neglected to pick for a few days – literally just a few days – and then he started bringing home these giant pattypans – easily 14cm across. Frankenpatty.
But as luck would have it, these are absolutely ideal for stuffing – far more so than the smaller specimens that are just too fiddly and are best enjoyed whole – so that’s what we did. They’re also ideal for cubing and making barbecue kebabs out of, but that’s a whole other story. The stuffing is pretty flexible – I can imagine it would also work well with some substitutions (feta instead of Parmesan; or maybe chorizo instead of bacon), and of course it would also work well in just plain old ordinary stuffed marrows, but the slightly firmer and less watery consistency of the pattypans make them ideal for this dish.
Other bloggers cooking with pattypans include:
- Dara’s grilled pattypan, tomato and feta cheese salad
- Lindsay’s baked pattypans with tomato, cheese and creadcrumbs
- Clotilde’s roasted pattypan squash with herbed chickpeas
- 2 large pattypan squash
- 150g bacon lardons
- ½ cup diced onion
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 slices of bread, processed into soft breadcrumbs
- 50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Place the whole squashes in a large steamer and steam for 10 minutes, or until soft enough for a sharp knife to be able to pass fairly easily through them.
- Remove from the steamer and slice the top off the squash. Using a teaspoon (or ideally, a melon baller) , scoop the fleshy centres and pips out of the squashes. Be careful not to break the skin. Chop the flesh into small pieces and set aside.
- Over medium heat, fry the onion together with the bacon (if the bacon is not very fatty, you may have to add a splash of oil) and add the garlic after 2-3 minutes. Fry until the bacon begins to brown, then add the reserved squash flesh and cook until it is heated through.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Season with the thyme and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Carefully spoon the stuffing into each squash, making sure you get stuffing into all the nooks and crannies until the squash is overflowing.
- Sprinkle a little more cheese on top of the stuffing and bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, just long enough for the squash to be piping hot through and the cheese melted.