Veg of the month: Courgette

 

Vegetable Origins & Varieties 

Courgette: Cucurbita Pepo L. Cucurbitaceae

Three groups of vegetables Marrow, Pumpkin and Squash belong to the genus Cucurbita that contains 27 species of vigorous trailing and climbing annuals and perennials.  They originate from North America and South America. They were an important food plant in the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas. Famously they are part of the ‘three sisters’ growing method of maize, beans and the cucurbits.  It is believed that they have been cultivated from around 7000 BC making them one of the very ancient vegetables of the world. 

These immature fruit can be called Vegetable Marrow, Zucchini (Italian or USA) or more commonly in the UK Courgette which is their French name. They can have long or round fruits of various colours. The bush kinds don’t make long trailing branches like other marrow varieties making them perfect for small plots. Apart from the fruit itself you can eat the young leaves, mature male flowers and the very young fruit when finger size.  If left to grow courgettes will become a marrow.

These days there are many new varieties available but one useful one is a trailing variety called ‘Black Forest’ which can be trained up a trellis, handy in a small space.

Budding courgettes outside The Skip Garden along Tapper Walk

Budding courgettes outside The Skip Garden along Tapper Walk

 

Growing tips & Harvesting

Rich soil and sun are essential. Use well rotted manure or humus from the compost bin. The aim is to grow them quickly; this means keeping them moist but not sodden.

Their seeds germinate freely but don’t be tempted to plant them all as one plant will produce many courgettes.  Sow the seeds sideways (not flat) in small plastic or fibre pots, then take care when transplanting as they don’t like their roots disturbed.

All cucurbits finally succumb to white mildew in our damp climate which kills the leaves; you can hold off the day by spraying liberally with milk.

Storing & Preparation

Courgettes, or Zucchini as their known in many countries, last a remarkably long time in the fridge even when they’re cut. We use a peeler to make long strips of courgette for pizza toppings or a ‘ribbon’ salad. These can be cut a night in advance.

My favourite Recipes

This dip, inspired by Jamie Oliver, is simple and seasonal. You can personalise it with your own favourite herbs. Options include Lemon Thyme, Mint or Basil. It’s great served with warm pittas or flat breads as part of a medley of dips. Some of our favourites at the café are babaganoush, black olive houmous and mushroom paté.

Courgette Dip

Ingredients – makes about 4 cups

Approx 100ml extra-virgin olive oil

4 large garlic cloves, minced

2 red chiles, stemmed and chopped

1kg of courgettes, washed and irregularly sliced

(If some slices of courgette slices are thicker than others, when the dip is being mixed it will gain a more interesting texture.)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

 

Method

1.    Heathalf the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic and chiles and cook over moderately high heat, stirring until the garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Add the courgettes, make sure they are thoroughly coated with oil then, cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until very tender and chunky, about 40 minutes.

2.    Using a wooden spoon, break up any large pieces of zucchini. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the remaining olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and stir in your herbs and lemon juice. Serve at room temperature.

 

Courgette, feta and mint focaccia

This is one of our favourite pizza toppings but not everybody has a wood burning cob oven in their garden. This combination is equally delightful on sliced focaccia served with a green salad.

Ingredients

For the passatta:

I can of good quality chopped tomatoes, we favour organic varieties.

1 bay leaf

Approx. ½ tea spoon fennel seeds

1 tea spoon dried basil

1 tea spoon fresh or dried oregano

1/2 tea spoon dried thyme or a decent sized sprig of fresh

2 cloves of garlic, finely grated or crushed.

1 tbl spoon olive oil

½ tbl spoon red wine (optional)

For the toppings

1 small block of feta

1 large or 2 small courgettes

1 tea spoon of dried crushed chiles

1 handful of fresh mint

I loaf of focaccia (This is a good way to use up slightly old bread, so there is no emphasis on the bread being fresh for this recipe.)

Method

Many people feel comfortable making a tomato sauce and skip garden chefs use a variety of methods. This is one of the very simplest and quickest, so we thought we would share it for those of you who are very hungry, or very busy!

1.    Place all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan and simmer for about 15 mins, stirring often. Once the tomatoes are reduced by about ¼ check the seasoning, add salt and pepper as required and the garlic. Simmer for a further 3-5 mins.

 

Blend the sauce with a stick blender and reduce further if necessary until it is spreadable.

 

2.    Preheat the oven to 200˚ Use a vegetable peeler to peel ribbons of courgette from the outer parts of the vegetable, stopping near the centre when seeds appear. (We use this inner part of the courgette in stews, pasta dishes or grated into salads, you could use it for the courgette dip described above)

Slice the focaccia, at least 2cm thick, spread with passatta then top with crumbled fetta and courgette ribbons. We don’t lay them out, rather, drop them from a bit of a height and see how prettily they form a nest on top of the bread. Sprinkle with the chilles and place in the oven for about 5 mins until the cheese softens and starts to become golden.

Remove from the oven and garnish with the mint, then return to the oven for one more minute for the mint to wilt. Serve hot.

Final words

Courgettes are incredibly versatile because they have a subtle flavour. They are also abundant at this time of the year so eating a lot of them makes good financial sense! They can be grated into salads and pasta sauces, made into fritters and fried, they can form the basis of a quiche filling, frittata or risotto. Basically, there is nothing you can’t do with a courgette apart from juice it.