Monday 26 September 2016

Rachel Allen: Courgettes can make summer's tastiest dishes

All too often, courgettes are stewed to a mush, but, says Rachel Allen, if given a little attention, they can make summer's tastiest dishes. Photography by Tony Gavin

Published 06/07/2015 | 02:30

Rachel Allen says courgettes can make the tastiest of dishes. Photo: Tony Gavin
Rachel Allen says courgettes can make the tastiest of dishes. Photo: Tony Gavin
Courgette, marjoram and goats' cheese fritatta. Photo: Tony Gavin

Courgettes get a bad rap. Unfairly so, I reckon. I blame it on ratatouille. Not the movie about Remy, the little rat who wanted to be a chef, but the Provencal vegetable stew that can be absolutely delicious but, sadly, is sometimes not. All too often, it's a reason to chuck everything into a pot at the same time and let it stew for much too long, resulting in a bitter, mushy stew. However, when it is cooked with the freshest, best tomatoes, courgettes, peppers and aubergines, and seasoned with a sensitive touch and a generous dash of fresh herbs, a ratatouille can be a dish of divine beauty, and summer is the time to make it.

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Courgettes have an almost chameleon-like quality to them, being just as happy in a sweet, cinnamon-infused cake, as in an exotic Middle Eastern salad. When picked young and small, they're delicious raw, shaved into ribbons and tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, flakes of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Add to that a crumbly goat's cheese, and you have a perfectly elegant summery starter.

Cut a courgette into half-centimetre slices at an angle, toss in olive oil, sea salt and pepper and cook on a ragingly hot grill pan until beautiful dark, charred lines appear on both sides; serve as an accompaniment to fish and meat, or as a base for any number of delicious salads.

I love to add rocket and coriander leaves, toasted pine nuts and a tangy, feta-style cheese, or a fillet of pan-fried mackerel, some little black olives and a garlicky, minty yoghurt.

Courgettes love eggs, and they absolutely adore marjoram. The fritatta, see the recipe opposite, is one of my favourite ways to use the delicious summer vegetable. If you grow your own, then you'll have the added benefit of scoring your own courgette flowers too. They are big, blousy blossoms that are great torn into a salad or stuffed with ricotta or goat's cheese and dipped in a batter before being quickly fried.

When courgettes get bigger and start turning into marrows, their water content increases and chutney is the best option. Cook Rory O'Connell's recipe, below, is a gem, quite like the man himself!

Courgette, marjoram and goats' cheese fritatta

A frittata is an Italian omelette, much like a Spanish tortilla. This delicious version is great served warm, just out of the oven, or at room temperature.

Serves 4-6.

You will need:

250g (9oz) courgette, unpeeled (try to choose small ones - you'll need approximately 3 or 4)

40g (1½oz) butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 eggs

2 tablespoons milk or cream

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 generous tablespoons chopped marjoram or basil

150g (5oz) soft goat's cheese

Grate one side of each unpeeled courgette, then as soon as you get down to the seeds, turn to the other side and continue to grate, leaving out the seedy centre. Heat a frying pan, add 15g (½oz) of the butter and one tablespoon of olive oil and cook the grated courgette until it is just soft but not coloured. This should take about two minutes. Season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Next, whisk the eggs, then add in the milk or cream, whichever you're using, the crushed garlic, the chopped marjoram or basil, whichever you're using, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in the cooked grated courgettes. Heat a frying pan until it is warm, then add in the remaining 25g (1oz) of butter and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Allow the butter to melt and foam, swirl it around to coat the pan, then pour in the eggy fritatta mixture.

Cook the frittata on a low heat until it's golden underneath, about 10 minutes. Then, place rough pieces of the goat's cheese - the pieces should be about the size of a hazelnut in its shell - on top of the frittata and place under a hot grill or in an oven preheated to 220°C, 425°F, Gas 7 to set the top. It should be just cooked in the centre. Place the frying pan on a board and serve the frittata as is, or slide it on to a plate and cut it into wedges.

Note: You could also make individual frittatas by brushing a muffin tin with olive oil and then filling each cup three-quarters full of the eggy fritatta mixture as described above. Pop the tray of mini frittatas into an oven preheated to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4 for 20-25 minutes or until they are firm in the centre. These are good to bring along on a picnic, as they're still tasty when they are served cold. Made this way, you should get 20 individual frittatas.

Pasta with broad beans, courgettes and cream

The combination of the sweet broad beans, lightly browned courgettes and sweet peppery basil is irresistible. Add a little cream to bring everything together, some grated hard cheese to heighten the flavour and a squeeze of lemon for that essential sharpness. I can think of few better recipes to celebrate summer.

Serves 4-6.

You will need:

400g (14oz) podded broad beans, (fresh or frozen)

300g (10oz) pasta, such as conchiglie, farfalle, fusilli or penne

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

400g (10oz) courgettes (the smaller the better), cut, at an angle, in slices about 1cm (less than ½in) thick

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

200ml (7fl oz) cream

4 tablespoons basil, finely sliced

4 tablespoons finely grated hard cheese, such as mature Coolea or Parmesan

A squeeze of lemon juice

Put a large saucepan of salted water on a high heat, and when it is boiling add the fresh or frozen broad beans, whichever you're using. Bring to the boil and cook them for just one minute, then remove the broad beans and allow them to cool, keeping the water on for the pasta. When the broad beans are cool enough to handle, push them out of their skins, discard the skins and set the broad beans aside.

Keeping the saucepan of salted water on a high heat, and boiling, add the pasta, return to the boil and continue to cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the pasta is just al dente. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, but leave about 50ml (2fl oz) of the cooking water in with the pasta to stop it from sticking.

As the pasta is cooking, put a large frying pan on a medium to high heat. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and, when it's good and hot, tip in the sliced courgettes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then cook for about two minutes, tossing frequently, until the courgettes are lightly browned but still retain a bite. Add the cream to the frying pan and allow it to bubble for a couple of minutes until it has thickened, then remove from the heat, stir in the broad beans you set aside earlier, the cooked pasta, the finely sliced basil and the grated hard cheese. Taste for seasoning, add the squeeze of lemon juice and serve.

Courgette Chutney

This is a gem of a recipe of Rory O'Connell's, and is a great and delicious way to use up a glut of courgettes.

You will need:

2 lemons

3 medium-sized courgettes, peeled and cut into 1in (2½cm) pieces

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

6fl oz (175ml) dry white wine

2 teaspoons sugar

24 whole black peppercorns, coarsely crushed

1 walnut-sized piece of peeled fresh ginger, chopped until it becomes like a paste

Salt

Cut all the peel and white pith from the lemons and discard it. Cut the lemons into thin slices and remove as many of the seeds as possible.

In a small saucepan, place the sliced lemons, the sliced courgettes, the thinly sliced onions, the dry white wine, the sugar, the crushed black peppercorns, the chopped fresh ginger and the salt. Cover and cook over a medium heat for one hour. Check the mixture occasionally to ensure it does not burn. The chutney should have the consistency of marmalade. Serve as an accompaniment to grilled meats, fish or poultry. The chutney may be served warm or cold.

Rachel's clothes: Brown Thomas

Jewellery: Loulerie

Hair by Kim Delahunty; make-up by Dearbhla Keenan, both Brown Sugar

Rachel recommends

If you've been recently bitten by the veggie-growing bug, which is ever-increasing in popularity, and you feel you need a bit of kitchen garden know-how, then Grow, Cook, Eat is the book for you. It is a really practical guide to help gardeners and cooks bring abundant, delicious food from plot to plate, all year round. Written by the indefatigable Grow It Yourself (GIY) founder Michael Kelly, and featuring recipes and contributions from over 35 chefs, cooks and growers, including Dylan McGrath, Donal Skehan, Darina Allen, Neven Maguire, Clodagh McKenna, and myself too!

Available in all good book shops and from giyinternational.org

Rachel's tip

To saute courgettes, just toss them in a hot pan over a medium to high heat with some olive oil and butter. Cook them for a few minutes until they are tender and a little golden. Season and scatter over some chopped basil, mint or marjoram.

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