When home-growers speak of a glut of vegetables, it is usually with a tinge of pride, rather than a sense of burden. It means eating green beans twice in a week or giving away a bag of tomatoes. When it comes to courgettes, however, the word glut can take on a dimension of horror.
I speak from experience. At the end of July, I had harvested fewer than half a dozen courgettes from my tiny plot, each no bigger than a gloved thumb, and was ready to count the crop a failure. But, by mid-August, I was picking four or five courgettes a day just to keep on top of things – anything I missed soon grew to such monstrous proportions that it couldn’t even be given away. Everyone likes baby courgettes. No one wants a marrow the size of a baby. For me, courgettes present more than a culinary quandary. They are a storage problem.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. I have learned that, with a positive outlook and a proper strategy, such a glut can be managed. Courgettes may be bland, but that also means they are versatile. Even large marrows are salvageable. Here are 17 delicious ways to take advantage of what we will henceforth call a bounty.
There is no getting around the fact that, overall, smaller courgettes are preferable. Larger ones have their uses, but when you are using them raw you want, if not a baby courgette, something still in the flush of adolescence. Yotam Ottolenghi’s courgette pappardelle with feta and lemon uses two types of courgette: largish ones, chopped up, for the sauce, and a pair of younger models – ideally one green, one yellow – sliced into ribbons and boiled with the pasta, but only for the last few seconds.
Jamie Oliver’s courgette carbonara is another useful pasta dish, adding a fresh vegetable note to what is otherwise bacon and eggs on penne. Here, the courgette is diced and fried with the pancetta until golden. Rachel Roddy deploys grated courgette (again, smaller is better) for her courgette, basil and almond pesto recipe, which comes with an unforgettable tip: add a small amount of starchy cooking water, made starchier still by boiling a small potato along with the pasta.
Courgette carpaccio is a raw and very simple salad of radish, edamame beans and spiralised courgette, served with a lime and sesame dressing. It takes no time to prepare, as long as you don’t count the hour you spend searching the cupboards for your spiraliser. If you haven’t got a spiraliser, well done for getting through Christmas 2014 without being given one. Even without this miracle device, you could ribbonise your courgettes with a peeler and achieve a satisfactory result.
“Low effort, high flavour” is how Nigel Slater characterises his courgettes with feta and lemon – and it is hard to think of a more potent combination. Before being baked, the courgettes are halved lengthways and then sliced at half-centimetre intervals, but not quite all the way through, so they hold their shape in the oven. A chopstick laid either side of the courgette, he says, will stop you cutting right down to the chopping board.
Griddling is a standard treatment for courgettes – but when the griddled slices are laid on ready-made puff pastry with tahini cream, feta and parmesan, suddenly you have dinner instead of a side dish, as demonstrated by Thomasina Miers’ grilled courgette and mint tart.
Pickling is another option, with the courgettes treated more or less as you would cucumbers. The Greedy Gourmet’s courgette pickle is a solid introduction to the art and an excellent way to push your courgette glut – sorry, bounty – four weeks into the future.
For larger courgettes, baking is probably the most appropriate treatment. Anna Jones’ crispy courgette and ricotta bake is a sort of substitute for aubergine parmigiana: charred courgette slices layered with ricotta, onion and mozzarella, and topped with breadcrumbs. Delia Smith’s courgette gratin will also help deal with a surfeit of tomatoes. She recommends first salting and draining the slice courgettes in a colander, if you have the time.
There is no hard and fast rule about when a courgette becomes a marrow, but a courgette on the brink is probably best suited to stuffing as you would a marrow. Felicity Cloake offers up a classic version – with a rice, onion and tomato filling. The courgette flesh that gets scooped out of the middle is also part of the stuffing, which is not something you would do with a fully mature marrow, the centre of which holds an unappetising core of watery pulp and seeds. In that case, scoop it, toss it and proceed.
Grated courgette can also be used to make bread, although what is often called “courgette bread” is usually more of a loaf cake such as this one. That said, you can make proper bread with courgettes, as in this Community Farm recipe, which also adds a bit of hard cheese to the dough. The grated flesh needs to be salted and left to drain to get rid of some of the moisture.
Courgettes form a dependable base for soup, especially when their blandness is contrasted with some kind of cheese. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s soup recipe uses goat’s cheese and basil, while this BBC Good Food recipe opts for cheddar and potato. Fearnley-Whittingstall insists on small, “very firm” courgettes, but I am here to tell you that most soup recipes will also work with spongy, oversized examples. Last week, I made almost five litres of soup from a single courgette – admittedly, one the size of a scuba tank. If your courgette has reached such proportions, just make sure you scrape out the seedy middle before you chop it up.
In terms of sheer innovation, I have to applaud this odd, low-carb version of toad-in-the-hole: “baked zucchini popeye eggs”. It is an egg cracked into a chunky marrow slice, the middle of which has been cut out using the rim of a glass. Then it is topped with cheese and shoved under the grill. I have not yet attempted it, but this is my backup plan for my last baby-sized marrow, if I can’t find a way to give it up for adoption.
Finally, a very strange alcoholic drink: the courgette martini. “Unlikely bedfellows” is the phrase used to describe an ingredient list comprising courgette, gin and vermouth, but the colour of the final product is appealing. And, frankly, how good does it have to be?