>> Designer and restaurateur Sir Terence Conran is a big fan of kitchen gardens - so much so that he has shared one of his favourite recipes in a new book devoted to the subject.
His home, Barton Court in Berkshire, allows him to embrace his passion for design and gardening at the same time - not to mention enjoying the fabulous fruit and vegetables which are grown there.
"Growing your own vegetables is hugely satisfying and keeps them fresh and full of the best possible flavours."
He says: "I've always enjoyed gardening and think it is one of the most creative and pleasurable things you can do. If you are a designer your imagination doesn't stop at the front or back door, you are interested in everything that affects your style of life and a garden is certainly part of it.
"Perhaps the greatest luxury I have is the enormous walled garden at Barton Court - a genuine kitchen garden - that grows every imaginable vegetable, fruit and herb and is tended by our magnificent and indefatigable gardener."
"Growing your own vegetables is hugely satisfying and keeps them fresh and full of the best possible flavours. It is also pleasurable to take advantage of the seasons and the climate - hearty braises and root vegetables on chilly winter days with lighter dishes in summer - salads and young vegetables. We long for the baby broad beans and peas of late spring as much as the golden raspberries of autumn."
In spite of his passion for design, Sir Terence prefers simple food with an emphasis on how it tastes rather than how it looks. "Of course a dish should look good but I really don't like the kind of food which is considered an art-form or an intellectual matter," he explains. "Chefs are highly skilled craftsmen but they are not artists. I like easy and relaxed food, using the freshest seasonal ingredients, cooked simply to allow the inherent flavours of the ingredients to stand out - dishes uncomplicated and uncluttered and will not take an age to daintily arrange on a plate."
Sir Terences Ratatouille
>> Serves 4
"It's a very simple and adaptable recipe that really doesn't have any great secrets - I suppose that is the beauty of it," he continues. "The way we cook it today developed by experimentation and gives a rather nice firm ratatouille but you could easily give the dish your own interpretation. Some people prefer to cook all the vegetables at the same time whereas we prefer to do them separately but there are no rights and wrongs, just a simple but hugely enjoyable summer stew that is packed with flavour. Leaving it for 24 hours really brings out the flavour and serving it at room temperature really is best."
- 200ml olive oil
- 6 courgettes, sliced
- 3 onions, sliced
- 2 red peppers, cored, deseeded and sliced
- 2 aubergines, quartered and thickly sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- 8 tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and quartered
- Salt and pepper
- Large sprig of thyme
- Bay leaf
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan and sauté the courgettes gently. When softened and turning golden, transfer them to an ovenproof casserole, leaving as much oil as possible in the frying pan.
- Cook the onions gently in the frying pan, until wilted; then add to the courgettes in the casserole. Sauté the red peppers in the frying pan until softened, and add them to the casserole. Add more oil to the frying pan if required and cook the aubergines until they are just turning golden. Transfer them to the casserole.
- Gently sauté the garlic until it just turns transparent, then add the tomatoes to the frying pan. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the tomatoes have become very soft. Together with the thyme and bay leaf, tip the garlic and tomatoes into the casserole, stirring gently to distribute the tomatoes among the other vegetables.
- Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 20 minutes. Take off the lid and cook for a further 35 minutes.
- Add the remaining olive oil and allow to cool completely. Then cover the casserole again and keep the contents for 24 hours before serving at room temperature.
Sir Terence's ratatouille recipe features in Kitchen Garden Experts by Cinead McTernan, which is published by Frances Lincoln Publishers this month. For your chance to win one of three copies up for grabs see Country Club (page 23).