Choice ingredient: Ursula Ferrigno on courgettes

Categories: Expert guidance

In this regular series, cooks with a connection to Borough Market explore the seasonal ingredients that give them most pleasure. This month, chef Ursula Ferrigno tells us why she will be reaching for the courgettes this July

My choice ingredient for July has to be courgettes, which I love because of their versatility. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes—dark green, light green, yellow, round. So many people think they are just good for use in salads or adding to stir fries, but in Italy they are used extensively in all types of dishes. If you’re stuck for a meal, if you have some courgettes you’re not far from a delicious dish.

I like my courgettes to be quite thin—that’s what I look for to really experience the best courgette flavour. Look for courgettes that are the thickness of your middle finger or your thumb—that’s when I think they are really tasty. The larger the courgette the more water they have, so while the flavour is still there, it is less defined.

One lovely way I use them is in a dish called zucchini a scapece. Cut the courgettes into thin strips, then leave them out in the sunshine to dry. This concentrates the natural sugars and makes the courgettes sweeter and more intense. Fry them with olive oil, a little bit of garlic and mint.

Dry the courgettes with a kitchen towel to get rid of some of the oil, then add them to a bowl with some uncooked mint leaves and garlic, then season with fresh extra-virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar, and salt. It is magnificent yet so easy to prepare, it’s one of my favourite ways to use them. Mint and courgette is a really lovely combination.

Stuffing and baking
Larger courgettes are great for stuffing and baking in the oven—it makes for a very useful and speedy supper. In Italy we use things that are growing in the garden like tomatoes, which go very well.

The lovely thing about tomatoes is that there are so many wonderful varieties about at the moment—san marzano, campari, coeur de boeuf, cherry—and each of them make the dish taste that little bit different.

Courgettes stuffed with peppers are wonderful, and I also like them stuffed with fennel. There are countless possibilities. You can make the stuffing vegetarian or meat based: try minced pork, if you haven’t before. It works beautifully.

Then just take any stale bread you have, make it into breadcrumbs or croutons and sit them on top of the stuffing before putting the whole thing in the oven. Large courgettes are wonderful carriers for other flavours, which is why they are so good for cooking this way.

A real treat
It is not just the courgettes themselves that are delicious; the flowers are exquisite too. For me it is a real treat buying courgettes with flowers attached because they are so versatile. Italians fry them, stuff them, use them for colour in salads and also as a garnish on larger dishes.

When I used to live in Rome we would put courgette flowers on top of our pizzas. You can also use the leaves of the plant. Just wash them, steam them and treat them as spinach. They have a lovely flavour all of their own.

The last thing I’d like to say is next time you make a ratatouille, get the best courgettes you can. So many people seem to think of them as being there mainly for bulk and texture, but good courgettes really add to the dish. It is a classical ingredient and one that you should really think about using more. You can eat it raw, or cooked. It’s a really valuable ingredient.