Yes, it’s that season again: the courgettes are arriving thick and fast, green and gold. It always seems to take a while for the first fruit to set – often you get lots of male flowers with their jaunty yellow blooms, but the female flowers aren’t usually far behind. The first fruits to set may be small and slow to swell, but if you pick these young, more will swiftly follow and from then there’s no turning back! I’m currently keeping an eye on my neighbour’s plot as well while she’s away, so I have far more courgettes than I can handle. I have to confess to leaving some of the spares on the allotment sharing table to feed passers-by who aren’t as well endowed with these delicious summer squash family members.
I actually planted more seeds than usual this year as courgette sowing time (late April) coincided with mid-lockdown, panic-buying and shortages of various things in the shops. Who knew what the situation would be like later in the year? Fortunately, food supplies seem to have returned to normal, especially as lockdown eases, but I still have extra courgette plants growing at home in my oak barrels, amidst the begonias and lobelia. I may well regret having so many further down the line, but for now I’m enjoying them. I sowed three varieties this year: my usual reliable Defender (green), Gold Rush (yellow) and Shooting Star (supposedly climbing yellow), but I’m finding it quite a heavy, stiff plant, not conducive to climbing, so it’s more of a trailing specimen. The gold ones are proving delicious and vigorous this year – they must have enjoyed the fine weather and lots of sunshine.
All gardeners are desperate for new ways to ring the changes with courgettes by the end of summer, but at this stage I’m really enjoying rediscovering old favourites: courgette pasta with homemade pesto, courgette pancakes, courgette & lentil gratin and tangy summer vegetable salad to name but a few. There again, it’s always nice to try new recipes to add to the repertoire, so thought I’d share a recent discovery with you, as well as one old favourite that I’ve never got around to writing up for some reason, a courgette, feta & dill tart, with a filo pastry crust, so quick and easy to prepare for a relaxed Sunday lunch with guests. Of course, you can equally well make it with a shortcrust pastry case if you happen to have one lying around.
Courgette, Feta and Dill Tart – serves 6
2 tbsp olive oil
4 medium courgettes, about 450g in weight, thinly sliced (even better if you have both gold and green)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp capers, drained and chopped
1 lemon, grated zest
3 large eggs
200g natural yogurt
100g feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp fresh dill, chilled
1 pack filo pastry
30g butter, melted
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and gently cook the sliced courgettes for about 10 minutes, turning as you go, until just starting to soften and turn golden. Add the garlic and capers and cook for another minute or so, then remove from the heat and add the lemon zest and chopped dill. Leave to cool.
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl, then mix in the yogurt and crumbled feta. Season generously, then stir in the cooled courgette mixture.
Heat the oven to 180°C, and place a baking sheet in the oven to heat up, then prepare the pastry case. Grease a 23cm deep round tart tin (or use a 20 x 30 cm rectangular tin if you prefer). Take out the filo pastry, but cover the pile with a damp tea towel as you work to prevent it drying out. Place one sheet at a time in the tin and brush with melted butter. Place new sheets at an angle to the previous one, allowing the edges to overhang, until the tin is full and you have a pastry shell with at least 2-3 layers in all parts. You may not need the whole pack of filo.
Pour the courgette mixture into the pastry shell and place on the pre-heated baking tray. Cook in the oven for about 30 minutes until the filling is set and just turning golden. Leave to set for about 10 minutes before serving with a garden salad.
Also great served cold or warmed in the microwave the following day.
Along the same lines, I also experimented with a sourdough pizza bianca topped with green and yellow courgettes with very good results. Sourdough bread has been a revelation over the weeks of lockdown and I will dedicate a special post just to that one of these days, but for now I’ll just refer you to this recipe for pizza using sourdough discard: https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/sourdough-pizza-crust-recipe – you can thank me later. This recipe makes enough dough for two large pizzas, but I find you can either freeze half or leave in the fridge overnight and roll out the next day if you don’t want to cook both at once.
My topping, which you could just as easily try on a standard pizza dough base, uses 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp crème fraîche and brushed over the base. Top with two or three thinly sliced courgettes (again, two colours look pretty), a scattering of capers, a handful of pine nuts and seasoning, chopped dill or shredded basil and grated parmesan or Cheddar to taste, drizzled with olive oil before baking for 15-20 minutes. Yum!
However, my discovery of the season so far has been Sarah Raven’s courgette balls with a spicy tomato and coconut sauce from her ‘Good, Good Food’ book. Can’t think why I’ve never tried them before! Not unlike Indian pakora and absolutely delicious – try them and see. They are quite time-consuming, so allow plenty of time, but well worth the initial faff.
Courgette Balls with Spiced Tomato & Coconut Sauce – serves 2
1/2 tsp salt
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 heaped tsp coconut oil
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 thumb-size piece of root ginger, grated
I lime, grated zest and juice
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
50g gram flour
More coconut oil (to bake) or rapeseed/groundnut oil (to fry)
2 onions, chopped
1 heaped tsp coconut oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 red chilli, chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
400ml tin of coconut milk
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin seeds, dry-fried and ground
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
For the courgette balls, grate the courgettes and place in a colander set over a bowl, sprinkle with salt and leave for 30 minutes or so to allow the excess liquid to drain out. The salty liquid can be added to the sauce later, so don’t discard.
Gently fry the finely chopped onion in the coconut oil in a large frying pan until soft, but not brown – about 10 minutes. Add the chopped chilli, garlic and grated ginger and cook for another couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and add the lime zest and juice, pine nuts and fresh coriander.
Tip the courgettes into a clean tea towel and squeeze dry with your hands, draining excess liquid into the bowl. Mix the courgette with the onion and spice mix, then sprinkle in the gram flour and mix again. Chill in the fridge while you make the sauce.
For the sauce, fry the onions in the coconut oil for about 10 minutes, as before. Add the turmeric, cumin, chilli and ground coriander. Stir in the tinned tomatoes and the salty courgette liquid, then bring to the boil. Add the coconut milk and simmer for about 15 minutes until reduced and a dipping consistency. Sprinkle in the garam masala and ground cumin seeds, season to taste and sprinkle with fresh coriander.
To make the balls, roll small handfuls of the courgette mixture into 16 table-tennis-sized balls and then either shallow-fry in coconut oil in a large frying pan for about 10 minutes or bake in the oven at 170°C on a greased baking sheet, drizzling with rapeseed or groundnut oil before baking. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn and crisp on the other side for a further 15 minutes. If your oven is hotter or cooler you may need to adjust these times, of course.
Serve with the sauce for dipping – and enjoy! The amount of sauce here will be a lot more than you need for two, but can easily be frozen for the next time.