Courgettes. They’re a problem. I realise this isn’t the case for most people who can pick them up in the supermarket, pause, and then think no, not this week. But the veg gardeners will understand my pain.
Every May I think, “two plants’ll be about right”, forgetting completely that last September I was swearing and vowing I’d never plant more than one ever again. They come at you with such speed once they’re fruiting, you can pick the plant clean one day and find exactly the same number the next, as if you’d never touched them. And if you miss a day or (god forbid) two, they turn into marrows. It’s best to draw a veil over what happens if you go on holiday.
Despite this, and the fact that my husband hates them with a vengeance, I cannot resist growing them. It’s partly to do with the guaranteed satisfaction of something that will always crop and partly because they are so beautiful when in flower. The fact that I can look out of my kitchen window and see that golden starburst at the end of the garden also means that I can’t bear to try the one courgette recipe that you can only do if you grow your own – stuffed courgette flowers. I know these are delicious – but I can’t bear to lose sight of my precious flowers.
Courgettes are one glut you cannot freeze, so I spend a lot of time around August/September grating or finely chopping them and secreting them in my cooking. Anything vaguely stewy, soupy or mashed will certainly contain some. I’ve tried putting them in cheese scones and sweetcorn and ham muffins which tasted okay to me but elicited rejection and the disgusted response from granddaughter, “There’s something green in here.” I can’t get on with courgetti – please don’t tell me that it’s exactly the same as pasta, I’ve tried it. I’ve also tried baking cakes with courgettes and I cannot recommend it to anyone else.
There are some more ideas in this article from Olive Magazine that I might try in the future, in particular the spicier recipes. For now, apart from chutney-making (only feasible if you can sell it – no-one can eat that much chutney and friends soon starting avoiding you if you try to give it away), I’ve got it down to three recipes which are easy and pretty failsafe, and one that’s absolutely guaranteed to take care of the rest once you really can’t eat another one in any form. Here they are.
1. Griddled courgette salad
The point about this is that the courgettes retain some texture and don’t just go to mush like they do if you boil or roast them. Add some feta or other cheese, or a drizzle of yogurt if you like, and if you are one of the somes who like it hot, chilli flakes are good.
Slice the courgettes lengthwise, fairly thinly (about the thickness of a pound coin). Toss in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Get a griddle pan really hot, then put the courgette slices onto the griddle, placing them across the bars – you will probably have to do them in batches. Press down with a fish slice or tongs and cook on a very hot heat for just long enough to mark each side – no more than a minute or two. Place in a bowl, squeeze over some lemon juice (don’t go mad) and add some torn herbs (basil or mint are good). Leave to marinate for a bit and serve warm or cold. You can warm this back up in the microwave if you have leftovers – it’s nicer if you can leave it to marinate a bit longer. You can also griddle other veg to add, like spring onions, strips of red pepper or aubergine slices. Tomatoes tend to stick to the pan, but you could put some whole cherry tomatoes in after any other veg have been cooked, and shake them around in the pan till they’ve coloured a little.
2. Frittata verdi
Grate the courgettes coarsely for this and sweat in a frying pan with a little olive oil and any other green stuff you have to hand, finely chopped. I generally include spring onions, parsley and spinach, but you could have peas, broad beans (I’d parboil and skin them), french beans, broccoli, and any other herbs. If the veg produce a lot of water, cook the mixture while stirring till it’s evaporated. Now pour over 4 eggs, lightly beaten and seasoned, mixed with some crumbled feta cheese (or cubed goats cheese or cheddar). Swirl the mixture round the edges of the pan, lifting the edges of the frittata with a palette knife to let the raw egg underneath. When it’s mostly cooked, put it under a hot grill till bubbling to finish. Good warm with salad, or cold in a packed lunch.
3. Courgette fritters
This is how my Greek BFF taught me to cook these so the measurements are basically by eye/feel and depend on the quantity of courgettes you start with. If you prefer a proper recipe with measured quantities, Felicity Cloake’s version is (as so often) the best I’ve found.
Grate the courgettes coarsely, salt them well and leave overnight. In the morning, rinse, then squeeze the hell out of them in a clean tea towel. Now add some crumbled feta cheese, black pepper (but no salt), eggs, and enough flour to bind and make a loose batter. Fry spoonfuls of the mixture in hot oil till brown, crispy and delicious on both sides. Serve with some minted yogurt for dipping.
4. Quicker dill pickles
My version is based on these Quick Zucchini Pickles but even lazier. They keep for a good six months and probably longer, and are brilliant with burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork and cold cuts. Or just scarfed straight out of the jar like I do. Add more chillies if you like ’em hot.
Take 1 kg courgettes and cut into spears, about 1 cm thick and no more than 10 cm long. Brine for a couple of hours in water with 2 tbsps salt. Drain and pat dry, then pack into jars with sprigs of fresh dill, a sprinkling of mustard seeds and coriander seeds, sliced red chilli and sliced peeled garlic cloves. Meanwhile heat together in a pan 60g sugar, 2 tbsps salt, 750ml white wine vinegar (cider or even white pickling vinegar would be fine) and 300ml water until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Bring to the boil and pour over the courgettes in the jars. Pop the lids on quickly, label, and store in a cool dark place. You’re supposed to leave for a week before eating, but I find they’re good as soon as they’ve cooled.
A note about jars: don’t use metal lids, the acid in the vinegar will eat into them. Kilner jars with glass lids are best, but any jar with a plastic lid is okay. Wash everything thoroughly, rinse, then dry in a low oven.