A guide to the many versions and virtues of this most summery of vegetables
“Courgettes are one of those ingredients that to me, are synonymous with summer,” says Borough Market demonstration chef Lesley Holdship. A quick trot around the Market’s grocers makes it easy to see why. Green, yellow, tiger, striped, round and those that look like rotund flying saucers—even giant marrows (essentially courgettes that qualify for a free bus pass)—stare back at you from colourful displays.
“It is a wonderful vegetable that is really underrated, which is a shame because courgettes can be such a beautiful addition to so many dishes,” she continues. “As well as coming in different shapes, sizes, and colours, they are very versatile. They are so easy to cook with and depending on the way they are prepared, can bring both sweet and savoury nuances to a dish.”
One of the reasons Lesley likes using courgette is that it does not require complex techniques or time-consuming methods to create delicious dishes. “One of the first things I mention to people is the wonderfully vibrant yellow flowers. It used to be that you could only get them if you grew your own courgettes, but now this is changing. You can get courgettes with the flowers attached and even buy them separately at the Market,” she explains.
Lemony dill dip
“People are intimidated because the flowers look so delicate, but they are robust enough to cook with if you take a bit of care. They are delicious stuffed with a ricotta cheese mixed with fragrant herbs like chives, parsley, or thyme. You then dip the whole thing in a light tempura-style batter, fry them until golden and crispy—a minute at most—and serve with a lemony dill dip. It is something we have all seen in restaurants yet not many people do it at home, but it is very easy and really delicious.”
If you are breaking out the barbecue—between the showers—Lesley suggests thickly slicing the courgette, dressing it with lemon and rapeseed oil, then throwing it on the barbecue. The inside becomes lovely and creamy, while the skin keeps a bit of bite and the whole thing picks up a smoky, charred flavour. Another idea is to slice the courgettes in half lengthways, season generously with salt and pepper then cover with a gratin made with crumbled blue cheese, creme fraiche and breadcrumbs. Bake at 180C for about 45 minutes, or until the gratin is sizzling.
“There are just so many things you can do with them,” the chef enthuses. “They are very nice poached in a coconut curry with prawns and spinach served with jasmine rice, or you can ribbon cut or spiralise them and leave them raw. Dress with pesto, sun dried tomatoes and rocket leaves to make a robust summer salad. If you use both green and yellow courgettes, the final salad looks wonderfully vibrant and fresh.”
To emphasise its versality, Lesley suggests two more uses from opposite ends of the spectrum for grated courgette. “You can bake some into a cake with pistachio nuts and honey, which makes the cake wonderfully moist, or add some to a savoury muffin with salty crumbly feta.”
Lesley’s last tip involves ways to make use of this vegetable that is so prolific, we can often be faced with a glut: try preserving them. “They are one of those vegetables that work very well pickled and there is a real tradition of this in parts of Europe,” she explains. “They also work well preserved in oil.” While these techniques were developed as a way of making them last longer, it imparts extra flavour and different textures to the vegetable, opening up even more ways to enjoy it.
But of course, all this versality should not blind us to just how wonderful a simple, rich savoury courgette soup, topped with really good parmesan cheese, can be.