Courgettes belong to the family cucurbita, along with all the edible gourds and squash, and are summer squash like pattipan and marrows.
Courgettes, which grow well in our garden from June to mid September, are best picked small before they become watery and tasteless (they can grow to almost a foot long and as fat as a football). They come in several varieties: slender and dark green; fatter and golden, the colour of the best egg yolk; or pale green and striped.
All are delicious, when eaten in season. Whichever you choose, their skins should be glossy, firm and unblemished, and when cut into, the seeds should be almost invisible. All squash and courgettes should be used as soon as possible as their delicate flavour fades, the skins becoming bitter and their flesh cotton-woolly in texture. Don't bother to peel them as their skin is a definite part of their beauty and taste.
They go with many things – most notably olive oil, garlic, aubergines, basil, mint, lemons, tomatoes, oregano and vinegar. They are also wonderful with the first of autumn's walnuts, pinenuts, anchovies in oil, parmesan and rich Greek-style yoghurt.
One of the delights of summer – sunshine or no – is the plant's delicate pale yellow flowers. Fragile and easily torn, they are delicious stuffed with ricotta, a little lemon zest and perhaps an anchovy or two, deep fried and served piping hot, or torn raw and served stirred through hot, garlicky ribbons of pasta drizzled with the best olive oil and lashings of black pepper. Or simply as an addition to a green, herby salad.
Young courgettes are wonderful served finely sliced and raw, their flavour clean and nutty; or my favourite way, which is the other extreme – cooked for a long time.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey. Tel: 020 8605 3627. Her book 'A Year in My Kitchen' , Quadrille, is the 2007 Guild of Food Writers' Cookery Book of the Year
Clams with yellow and green courgettes, chilli and fino
Often courgettes need a little help. They can be bland and watery on their own, but here they suck up the lovely, salty sea taste of the clams, while the chilli and garlic add warmth and heat. You really need to serve bread with this dish to soak up all the delicious juices.
40ml/2fl oz of extra virgin olive oil
2 yellow courgettes
2 green courgettes
2 cloves of garlic – finely chopped
1 dried red chilli – crumbled
500g/1lb of clams
250ml fino (or dry white wine)
1 medium bunch of flat-leaf parsley – roughly chopped
Sea-salt and a few grindings of black pepper
Wash and dry the courgettes, slice in half lengthwise and chop into chunky pieces.
Place a pan over a medium heat, pour in half the olive oil and crumble in the dried chilli and chopped garlic. Add the courgettes and turn the heat to low. Cook for 20 minutes, carefully stirring every now and then until the courgettes are tender.
While the courgettes are cooking, rinse the clams well under cold running water. Place a separate pan (large enough to hold all of the ingredients) over a high flame. Add a tbsp of olive oil and when hot, add the clams. Pour in the fino and shake the pan a little. Throw in the chopped parsley and, as the clams begin to open, add the courgettes. Toss together to combine all the flavours. Pour in the remaining olive oil. Taste for seasoning and ladle into soup bowls. Serve with warm crusty bread or, as we do at the restaurant, with bruschetta.
Deep-fried courgette shoestrings
These crunchy little batons are irresistible – here I have served them with simply roasted wild seabass. They are good with almost any fish but also lovely just on their own.
375ml/12oz plain flour
250ml/8oz olive oil
Tsp smoked paprika
2 egg whites – whisked into stiff peaks
Pre-heat your deep fryer to 180C, 350F (or carefully warm vegetable oil in a heavy-based pan).
Start by making the batter. Sift the flour and place in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the olive oil and half the water. Whisk to combine – until you have a thick, smooth batter. Add the rest of the water, paprika and salt and fold in the egg whites.
Store in the fridge until ready to use (the batter will sit happily for a few hours).
Now wash and dry the courgettes and cut them in half. Slice finely lengthwise and then into fine matchsticks.
Place the finely sliced courgettes into a mixing bowl and pour a little of the batter over them. Toss together lightly with your fingertips to coat all the batons.
Fry in small batches until golden brown, then drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve while hot and crunchy.
Shoulder of lamb with courgettes
1 shoulder of lamb
2 tbsp good quality red wine vinegar
2 glasses dried white wine
2 fresh bay leaves
1 dried red chilli – crumbled
5 cloves garlic
1 bunch sage
Sea-salt and black pepper
3 green courgettes
3 yellow courgettes
25ml/1fl oz extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic – crushed
Pre-heat the oven to 180C, 350F. Using a sharp knife, trim the shoulder of most of its fat. Season with salt and pepper.
Brown well all over on top of the stove using a pan large enough to hold the meat.
Transfer to a baking tray and pour over the white wine and vinegar, add the bay leaves, sage, chilli, anchovies and whole garlic cloves.
Cover the baking tray with foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Cook for two and a half hours.
Slice the courgettes into large, uneven chunks. Place the oil in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat and add the courgettes and garlic. Stir to combine – season with a little sea-salt and black pepper. Place a lid on the pan and cook until the courgettes are tender – this will take 15 minutes or so. Remove the foil from the lamb and cook uncovered for a further 30 minutes.
To brown the meat, remove from the oven (the lamb should be soft enough to eat with a spoon). Pull the meat from the bone, discarding the shoulder blade.
Stir in the courgettes. Sprinkle over the parsley and serve. Good bread and a simple green salad is all this dish needs.
This is one of the nicest ways I know to cook courgettes. The long, slow, gentle cooking produces a lovely sticky, rich, garlicky taste that works really well with lamb and simply roasted chicken. Often at home I stir a few tablespoons of this mixture through brown rice, which I lace with olive oil, lemon juice and finely grated parmesan cheese – it is simple and good for you.
10 medium courgettes
30g/1oz unsalted butter
35ml/1fl oz extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic – crushed
Small bunch finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Sea-salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wash and pat dry the courgettes. Using a sharp knife, slice into fine rounds.
Place a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Melt the butter and olive oil together gently. Season with a little salt and pepper and add the courgettes.
Toss to coat the sliced rounds and place a lid on the saucepan. Turn the heat to very low and cook for 10 minutes.
Remove the lid, add the crushed garlic, stir and return the lid to the pan.
Cook for a further half hour – stirring from time to time and always keeping the temperature as low as possible.
Once the courgettes are cooked they should be very soft and falling apart.
Add the parsley, adjust the seasoning and serve.
The Forager by Wendy Fogarty
Petersham's food sourcer reveals the best places to buy courgette seeds
As courgettes don't travel well, they are best grown at home. According to Lucy Boyd, who is responsible for Petersham's kitchen garden, courgettes can be grown in containers so long as there is something for them to sprawl over. While the fruit comes from the female, the flowers come from the male. Some specialist courgette seed suppliers we recommend are:
The Real Seed Collection www.realseeds.co.uk, tel: 01239 821107 A collection of rare and unusual non-hybrid seeds. They sell six varieties, including the Trieste White Cousa.
Sarah Raven www.sarahraven.com, tel: 0870 191 3430 Sells four varieties, including the Tombomcino, which Lucy recommends for courgette flowers.
Seeds of Italy, www.seedsofitaly.com, tel: 0208 427 5020 Sells 18 varieties including early and late-harvest varieties.
Chiltern Seeds www.edirectory.co.uk/chilternseeds Sells five varieties including heirloom and organic.