Zucchini

Z

Call them by whatever name you fancy, Zucchini or Courgettes are super versatile and an excellent opportunity for a creative cook to rustle up lots of exciting dishes. So instead of the usual moaning about a glut of courgettes in August, let’s have fun. The beautiful courgette plant with its huge leaves and hollow stems and beautiful blousey yellow blossoms just goes on giving. The faster you pick, the faster they seem to grow, so keep on picking and challenge yourself to find new delectable ways to enjoy them, there are many.. . . It’s difficult to get one excited about a marrow, although I am partial to some spicy ginger marrow jam made from a genuine marrow, also part of the cucurbit family, rather than a courgette that got away. They can grow up to an inch a day and become less and less flavourful, the more they expand, so pick them from fingerling size to peak perfection at no more than 5 – 6 inches, they are crisp and nutty, a revelation to those who have only tasted the watery commercial version.

I adore crisp, deep fried courgette blossoms, something you’re unlikely to be able to enjoy unless you grow your own. . .

The female flower will have the courgette attached, the male flowers with their long stalks are made for stuffing. Could be a simple, melty piece of mozzarella with a basil leaf and maybe a scrap of salty anchovy or some Toonsbridge ricotta, Dip them in a simple batter and fry until crisp in a light olive oil.

We’re also loving eating the young crisp zucchini raw as a cruditee with a garlicy aioli or tapenade mayo.

For courgette ‘carpaccio’, try scattering a few long shavings of courgette on a chilled plate, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a few shavings of pecorino and crisp deep fried capers – a divine combination.

Little medallions of courgettes tossed in a little extra virgin olive oil in a wok or a fry pan for just a couple of minutes, are the quintessential fast food. Add some flaky sea salt, coarsely chopped annual marjoram, tarragon or basil and serve immediately. Serve as a side, or toss onto pasta or sprinkle over a piece of grilled mackerel or chicken.

Courgettes barbeque brilliantly too and make delicious little courgette or zucchini cakes.

There’s so much more – ratatouille, caponata, roast summer vegetables. . . and I haven’t even mentioned zucchini bread or muffins.

This column could be three times the length, meanwhile a few recipes to whet your appetite. . .  if you still have more courgettes than you can cope with. Share both the courgettes and recipes with your friends.

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Courgette & Blossom Salad with Olive Oil and Sea Salt

This simple salad is delicious served warm with nothing more than a sprinkling of extra virgin olive oil and a little sea salt.

Serves 4–6

8 small courgettes with flowers, if available (choose shiny, firm courgettes)

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Separate the flowers from the courgettes. Remove the stamens and little thorns from the base of the flowers.

Plunge the whole courgettes into boiling salted water and poach them until barely tender – 4–5 minutes. Remove from the pot and leave to cool slightly. While still warm, slice them at an angle to allow six slices to each courgette.

Season the courgette slices with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and then sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil. Toss gently and serve immediately, surrounded by the torn courgette flowers.

Hot crusty bread is the only accompaniment needed

Diana’s Zucchini Bread

Makes 2 Loaves

450g 1lb plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 level teaspoon bread soda – finely sieved

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground cloves

120ml 4floz milk

2 organic eggs

110g 4oz butter

110g 4oz castor sugar

3 x15cm 6 inch zucchini – grated

2 oz chopped walnuts

2 loaf tins 13cm x 20cm or 5”x8”  – fully lined

Fully preheat the oven to 180C 350F Reglo 4

Sieve the dry ingredients. In a large wide bowl rub in the butter.  Stir in the sugar.

Beat the eggs and whisk in the milk. 

Mix into the flour mixture.  Beat with a wooden spoon till evenly combined.  Stir in the chopped walnuts.

Divide the mixture between the two loaf tins and bake in the preheated oven for 50 – 60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 

Leave to cool for about 5 minutes in the tins , remove and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.

Zucchini Trifolati

Usually we are super careful not to overcook zucchini, but here the magic is in cooking them to melting tenderness.  The Italians call this Trifolata. The end result will be a chunky puree – an irresistibly delicious vegetable – I also love it piled onto a piece of grilled bread or on top of pasta.  There are so many other variations, add cream and some freshly chopped herbs for a gorgeous sauce, puree a little and add some homemade chicken or veg stock and some milk and fresh basil for a chunky soup

Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

6 medium green and yellow zucchini, cut at an angle into 5mm (1/4 inch) rounds

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and ground

pinch of chilli flakes

10 basil leaves

10 mint leaves

zucchini blossoms (if available)

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Choose a heavy-bottomed sauté pan that will hold the courgettes comfortably; they shouldn’t come higher than 4cm (1 1/2 inch) up the side of the sauté pan.

I like to slice the zucchini and put them in the pan first to check.  If there are too many layers of zucchini in the pan they will stew and if there are not enough then the zucchini will dry out and burn.

Heat the pan over a high heat and once it is hot, add the oil, quickly followed by the zucchini. Stir, making sure all the zucchini have been coated in the oil, and fry until golden brown.  Then add the garlic, fennel, and chilli flakes and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.  If it’s starting to catch at this stage, add a few tablespoons of water.

Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight fitting lid and stew for 5 – 10 minutes. When the zucchini are soft and tender, tear in the mint and basil leaves and a few zucchini blossoms if you have them. Add 1 tablespoon of your best extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste.  The zucchini should be soft, juicy and full of flavour, not al dente.

Deep-Fried Courgette Flowers

If you live on the Continent, you’ll be able to buy courgette flowers in your local market. Over here, they’re beginning to appear in farmers’ markets, but more than likely you’ll have to grow them yourself. We usually use the male flowers for this recipe, because taking the female flower means you’ll deprive yourself of a courgette. They’re delicious just dipped in batter and deep-fried, but they’re also a vehicle for lots of different stuffings.

Serves 6

12–16 courgette flowers (allow 1–3 flowers per person)

Batter (see below)

sunflower oil for deep-fat frying

First make the batter. Then heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer until it’s very hot.

Remove the thorns from the base of the courgette flowers and insert your fingers into the centre and remove the stamens. Dip each flower in batter, shake off the excess and drop, one by one, into the hot oil. Fry on one side for about 2 minutes and then turn over. They will take about 4 minutes in total and should be crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately, as part of a fritto misto or as a nibble. They’re delicious served with a fresh tomato sauce or sweet chilli sauce.

Variations

Courgette blossoms are also delicious stuffed. Some suggested fillings:

•        Buffalo mozzarella with pesto, tapenade or concentrated tomato fondue and a basil leaf

•        Goat’s cheese, chopped chorizo and flat parsley

•        Chicken or scallop mousse

Batter

150g (5oz) plain flour

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large organic egg white

Sea salt

Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Make a well in the centre, pour in the olive oil and stir.  Gradually add enough water, about 175ml to make a batter about the consistency of double cream.  Cover and allow to stand until ready to use.  Whisk the egg white to a stiff peak and fold it into the batter and fry to test the seasoning.  Allow the excess batter to drip off, then lower gently into the oil, shaking the basket all the time.  Cook until crisp and golden, then drain on kitchen paper.  Taste, add more salt to the batter if necessary. 

Tian of Summer Vegetables baked with olive oil and herbs

A delicious recipe to marry courgettes with other summer vegetables

Serves 8 – 10

4 spring onions, thinly sliced or 1 onion very thinly sliced

3 small aubergines (about 675g/1 1/2lbs)

4-6 courgettes, about (560g/20oz)

6-8 very ripe tomatoes (about 900g/2 lbs) peeled

4-6fl oz (110-175ml) extra virgin olive oil

2-4 teaspoons herbs e.g. rosemary or thyme, or annual marjoram

salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish

1-2 tablespoons (1 ½ -2½tablespoons) parsley, freshly chopped

A large shallow dish   14 x 12 inches (35.5 x 30.5cm) or 2 dishes 10 x 8 inches (25.5 x 21.5cm)

To prepare the vegetables, cut the aubergines into 1/ inch (1cm) slices, sprinkle them with salt and leave to drain for 15-20 minutes. Rinse to remove excess salt and pat dry with paper towels. Peel the tomatoes and cut in thick slices. Slice the courgettes at an angle in three-eight inch slices also.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6. 

Drizzle a shallow baking dish well with olive oil, sprinkle on the thinly sliced spring onion and some annual marjoram or thyme or rosemary, arrange the aubergine slices alternatively with tomatoes and courgettes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, drizzle with more oil and sprinkle over a little more marjoram. Bake in a preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until vegetables are cooked through, keep an eye on them, you may need to cover with a butter wrapper or tin foil if they are getting too brown.  Sprinkle with some parsley and serve.

Variations

Sprinkle buttered crumbs mixed with grated cheese on top brown under the grill before serving.

Buttered Crumbs

2oz (50g) butter

4oz (110g) soft white breadcrumbs

Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool.

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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