Every gardener will tell you that there is nothing quite so intimidating and unstoppable as that flush of courgettes that arrives like a tidal wave, usually during the fortnight when you are away on holiday. For the home cook, courgettes are an interesting ingredient in that they present different opportunities, depending on which stage you pick them. The first stage in the life cycle is very small courgettes – pencil thin and satisfyingly crunchy, what they lack in flavour is made up in texture and steamed whole they make a good counterpoint to grilled and poached fish.
When the courgettes flower there is serious showing off to be done with the fancy restaurant approach of stuffed courgette flowers. You'll have to whip up an impossibly light mousse, granted the dish will look lovely but the ultra-elusive taste of the courgette flowers will be overwhelmed by the taste of the mousse and in a blindfold trial you would be hard put to taste any courgette at all. When the courgette finally makes it to standard courgette size, in many ways it becomes a sort of compromise – it's not as pretty as a flower; it's not as crunchy as a mini courgette; and while it's not as large and intractable as the marrow it will eventually grow into, there are already hints of a fleshy interior and the beginnings of seeds.
Fortunately, there is enough sweetness in a courgette to produce splendid brown, crispy bits when fried – hence the Italian restaurant favourite "zucchini fritti", large matchsticks of courgette rolled in seasoned flour and then deep fried in very hot oil until crisp and golden. If you are averse to deep-frying you can cut the courgettes into thin discs, flour them and shallow fry them in a little butter. Best to forget those cheffy indulgences making "spaghetti" or "salads" out of sculpted pieces of courgette, they tend to be the triumph of texture over taste. For flavour it's deep fried or nothing. When courgettes get large and coarse they present something of a problem which can only be solved by chopping them into ratatouille or using them as the basis of an alternative piccalilli.
A bit rum
Like the unicorn, marrow rum is more often talked about than seen. The plan is to start with a large marrow, or one of those courgettes that has remained hidden among the leaves until much too large for the kitchen. Slice off the top and carefully scoop out the seeds, pack the cavity with brown sugar and a few raisins. Then suspend the marrow upright over a bowl – half a pair of tights simplifies this procedure. Make a tiny hole in the bottom of the marrow with a needle. What is supposed to happen is that the sugar draws the moisture from the marrow and the resulting liquid drips into the bowl and ferments. If all goes well (and I have never yet managed to make it work!) you should end up with a dark, sweet and highly alcoholic beverage. Good luck.Reuse content