They’re incredibly versatile – you can eat them raw, grill them, steam them, fry them, bake them, stew them, use them to make soups, salads, and even cakes – so why are we so ambivalent about courgettes? When did you last hear someone say, “Oh I really, really love courgettes”?
Perhaps it is because they can be a bit bland, especially if left to grow too big. But right now these members of the cucurbit family, along with melon, cucumber and squash, are at their peak and are endlessly useful in the summer kitchen. Perhaps we should call them by their American/Italian name, zucchini/zucchine.
I prefer to buy the baby versions, about twice or three times the size of a fat finger, and if you see them with their blossoms attached – snap them up. The blossoms can be torn into salads, or coated in a light tempera batter and deep fried.
They can also be stuffed with a light prawn or lobster mousse, but that is a step too far for most home cooks. If you want to eat them cooked like that – without flying to the Med – they are a signature dish of chef Graham Neville, who has brought them with him to his current kitchen at Dax in Dublin 2, where they appear on the menu as "Iona Farm courgette flower, Dundalk Bay lobster, ginger sauce".
An altogether simpler way to make the most of new season courgettes is to slice them into long strips, not too thin or they will dry out, brush them with olive oil and cook them on a griddle pan until they wilt and take on a charred appearance. A sprinkling of feta cheese, a dusting of lemon zest and a spritz of its juice, some torn mint or other soft summer herb (oregano is also good), and a drizzle of your best olive oil will transform the smoky ribbons into a delicious salad.
That assembly job is one of my fail-safe summer salads, but below you will find a recipe for Donal Skehan’s slightly more substantial version, which is bulked out with faro, and gets an extra dimension with the addition of a fragrant chilli and mint salsa.
If you are avoiding grains and wheat but still want a side dish or salad with a bit of heft, Domini Kemp’s lovely recipe for courgette and carrot tabbouleh ticks all the boxes, and has a lovely cinnamon and allspice kick to it.
There are only so many salads you can eat however, and with the June weather being such a wash out, perhaps you want something more from your courgettes. Something more ... soothing and consoling? They make terrific fritters, grated and bound with beaten eggs, cheese and flour.
Yotam Ottolenghi 's recipe, below, makes a very tasty version with the Greek ewe's milk cheese, manouri. But don't worry if you can't find it, he suggest using either halloumi or feta instead. The recipe comes with a cooling lime and cardamom soured cream dip.
Courgette cake, you said? Yes, it's true. Vanessa Greenwood suggests replacing a third of the carrots in her healthy carrot cake recipe with courgettes, so if you find yourself with a glut, you can always let them eat cake.
DONAL SKEHAN’S GRIDDLED COURGETTE SALAD WITH CHILLI AND MINT SALSA
4 large courgettes
3 tbsp olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
200g fresh peas, blanched
200g faro, cooked
Sea salt and black pepper
For the chilli mint salsa:
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
A small handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped, plus extra to garnish
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. The mint salsa is best made just before you are ready to serve as the leaves have a tendency to turn black. Use frozen peas if you can't find fresh, and swap faro with grains like couscous or bulghur wheat depending on what you have in the cupboard.
2. In a bowl whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Using a vegetable peeler, thinly slice the courgettes into thin strips and add to the bowl and toss through.
3. Heat a large griddle pan over a high heat and griddle the courgette strips in batches until charred on both sides. Transfer to a plate.
4. Whisk the ingredients for the chilli mint salsa together in a bowl. Squeeze in any remaining juice from the lemons.
5. Combine the faro, feta, fresh peas and lemon zest and half the chilli mint salsa. Transfer to a platter and arrange the griddled courgette on top. Scatter with mint leaves and drizzle over the chilli mint salsa.
DOMINI KEMP’S COURGETTE AND CARROT TABOULEH
Serves four to six
2 courgettes, cut in half
2 large carrots, peeled and cut in half
120g flat leaf parsley
60g mint leaves
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, finely diced
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
Salt and pepper
50ml olive oil
Juice 1 lemon
1. In a food processor, blitz all of the courgettes and carrots on pulse until they resemble crumbs. Set the mixture aside.
2. Next, blitz the herbs and add them into the courgette/carrot mix.
3. Add the chopped tomatoes and the spices, season well, and finally, add the olive and lemon juice. Stir well and serve.
YOTAM OTTOLENGHI’S COURGETTE AND MANOURI FRITTERS
Makes: 12 to serve 4, or 24 smaller fritters, to serve 8 as a snack
3 medium courgettes, trimmed and coarsely grated (580g)
2 small shallots, finely chopped (50g)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Finely grated zest of 2 limes
60g self-raising flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1½ tsp ground cardamom
150g manouri (or halloumi or feta), roughly broken into 1-2cm chunks
About 150ml sunflower oil, for frying
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
Lime and cardamom soured cream:
200ml soured cream
5g coriander, roughly chopped
½ tsp ground cardamom
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1. Mix together all the ingredients for the soured cream sauce in a small bowl, along with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper. Set aside in the fridge until ready to serve.
2. Place the grated courgettes in a colander and sprinkle over 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside for 10 minutes, then squeeze them to remove most of the liquid: you want the courgettes to keep a little bit of moisture, so don't squeeze them completely dry. Transfer to a large bowl and add the shallots, garlic, lime zest, flour, eggs, ground coriander, cardamom and a grind of black pepper. Mix well to form a uniform batter, then fold in the manouri cheese gently so it doesn't break up much.
3. Pour enough oil into a large frying pan so it rises 2-3mm up the sides and place on a medium heat. Once hot, add 4 separate heaped dessertspoons of mixture to the pan, spacing them well apart and flattening each fritter slightly with the flat side of a slotted spoon as they cook. Cook for 6 minutes (or according to the cooking instructions above, if your fritters are quenelles), turning once halfway through, until golden and crisp on both sides. Transfer to a kitchen paper-lined plate and keep somewhere warm while you continue with the remaining two batches. Place 3 fritters on each plate and serve at once, with the sauce alongside or in a bowl on the side.
Recipe extracted from NOPI: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (Ebury Press, £28). Photography by Jonathan Lovekin