A Californian proverb says…”never give your true friends zucchini in July”. Certainly once the courgettes start coming in earnest, usually early August here, but it depends on the weather, it takes a concerted effort to keep up with them. But keeping up with them is the most important weapon in dealing with a glut of courgettes. It’s easy to eat even a dozen finger sized courgettes, and they taste great then, but let them become longer than your hand and you’ve got problems. Despite the Californian proverb, even in these times when everyone seems to be a gardener, I can usually still find a genuinely grateful recipient of baby courgettes.
It might seem sensible not to plant too many seeds in the first place, but the main reason I grow courgettes is to eat their flowers, and for this I need at least four plants. Of course, to allow for failures, you plant at least a couple more and before you know it you have a glut. You can use courgettes for chutney, but they are a watery vegetable (technically fruit) with a mild flavour and to get the best out of them they should either be fried or roasted.
I begin with my recipe for deep-fried courgette flowers; you can include some baby courgettes if you don’t have sufficient flowers. They are a wonderful dish to nibble alongside drinks whilst sitting in the sun and entirely worth the little effort involved in growing courgettes. The recipes that follow are the others that form a regular part of my courgette cooking repertoire in July and August and if a couple of larger specimens escape notice and have to end up on the compost heap – who cares?!
DEEP FRIED COURGETTE FLOWERS
24 freshly picked courgette flowers (or a mixture of flowers and baby courgettes)
5 oz plain flour
2 teaspoons curry powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
8 fl oz sparkling mineral or soda water
Oil for frying
Whisk together the flour, curry powder and salt then add the sparkling water and whisk until smooth. Leave the batter to stand for at least 10 minutes (or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator).
Heat the oil to 190C.
Dip the flowers into the batter, rolling them to coat evenly then shake off any excess. Fry no more than 6 flowers at a time. Remove when the batter is golden and drain on kitchen paper. Season with salt and serve immediately.
If using courgette slices instead of flowers, slice them diagonally, about ¼” thick.
This is my preferred way of cooking courgettes as a side vegetable. I use a heavy ribbed griddle pan, but alternatively you could put them on the barbeque. A flat cast iron pan would also work, but you won’t get the attractive ribbed pattern.
Preheat the griddle pan whilst you prepare the courgettes so that it gets very hot before you cook.
Slice the courgettes lengthways. If they are long, cut the courgettes into shorter lengths first so that you have slices no more than 3″ in length.
Pour a good layer of olive oil into a shallow dish (the one you are going to use to serve the courgettes at table will be fine). Season with salt and pepper, then turn the courgette slices so that they are oiled and seasoned on both sides.
Lay the courgettes across the griddle turning them over once the bottom has good griddle marks across it.
Whilst the courgettes are cooking chop some herbs – mint or thyme both go particularly well with courgettes, but marjoram is another good alternative. Sprinkle the chopped herbs in the dish that you originally used to oil and season the courgettes – it should still have a little oil and seasoning in it. As soon as the courgettes are browned on both sides put them into the dish and turn them so that they become coated with the herbs. If you have a lot to cook you can keep them warm in the oven as you go, but you will need another plate for the initial seasoning if this is the case.
You can toss the cooked courgettes with a sprinkling of sherry or herb vinegar before serving if your wish. They are equally good cold in a salad.
A less healthy side dish than griddled, but a bit healthier than chips and just as delicious!
Cut courgettes into slices and then into batons. Salt them and leave to drain for 5 – 10 minutes. You can rinse after salting but then dry on kitchen paper. Unlike the fritters below the courgettes should remain in distinct batons, not be squeezed into a mass. Toss the dried batons in semolina flour to lightly coat and then deep fry at 180°C until golden. Turn out onto fresh kitchen paper and then serve.
Courgette and Feta Fritters
Makes 6 fritters
4 small courgettes (about 250g)
3 tbsps flour
4 spring onions, chopped
Chopped dill or mint
½ slab feta cheese (100g)
Coarsely grate the courgettes into a nylon sieve sprinkling with the salt as you go so that it is evenly distributed. Mix with your hands to further ensure this when all are grated. Stand the sieve above a bowl for 15 minutes, at the end of which a considerable amount of liquid will have drained off.
Whilst the courgettes are draining, sieve the flour into another bowl, add an egg and beat to make a stiff batter.
Squeeze the courgettes to release any remaining liquid and stir these into the batter together with the chopped herbs and spring onions. You can add pepper, but it won’t need any more salt. Crumble in the feta cheese and mix again then fry in oil in a preheated and oiled frying pan, turning after about 4 minutes to brown each side.
Tian of Courgettes and Tomatoes
A Tian is a shallow earthenware baking dish – usually oval, but I also have a round one. The idea is just to place overlapping rounds of courgette and slices of tomato in alternate rows until the dish is full. Then season with salt and pepper and strew with herbs. Pour a good stream of olive oil over the top and then bake in a moderate oven for about an hour.
Once the vegetables are cooked they don’t actually go that far, depending on the size of your dish probably just enough for 2 or 3 people. If I need to feed more I use a slightly deeper oval dish, with a layer of lightly cooked onions and peppers as the base before the layer of courgettes and tomatoes as described above.
(Greek Courgette Pie)
20cm diameter baking dish
500g of courgettes
6 spring onions
3 tbsps chopped fresh herbs – dill is traditional in Greeces, but I more often have mint and parsley
200g feta cheese
2 small eggs
Filo pastry (4 sheets)
Olive oil or melted butter
Grate the courgettes into a nylon sieve lightly salting as you go. Place the sieve over a bowl and leave for half an hour. Whilst the courgettes are draining preheat the oven to 180˚C.
After half an hour, press the courgettes against the sieve to squeeze out more juice and then transfer them to another bowl and mix with the herbs, feta, chopped spring onions. Beat the two eggs in a measuring jug and add milk to bring the liquid level up to 150 ml. Season with pepper (you won’t need any more salt).
Brush the inside of the baking tin with olive oil or melted butter and lay a sheet of filo pastry over. Brush this with more oil or butter and then add the filling. Top with two more sheets of oiled filo pastry and bring over the filling to seal. Brush with ore oil or butter and then bake in the pre-heated oven for about 40 minutes.
If served hot the pastry will remain crisp, but the flavours develop if refrigerated overnight and served cold the next day – the pastry however will no longer be crisp.
This quantity gives four portions and could alternatively be made as four individual pies.
Usually when I am roasting courgettes they are part of a selection of vegetables, but it is useful to know this method of cooking them because they absorb far less oil than frying and the flavour is intensified as some of their water content evaporates. Just place slices or rings on an oiled roasting tray, season with salt, pepper and herbs and roast until they are golden.