Join the courgette set: Mark Hix gets creative with the often overlooked vegetable

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For naysayers they're bland, but with the right ingredients and recipes, courgettes can be delicious, says our chef

Courgettes often need some work to get the best flavour out of them. As they contain a lot of water, they don't get away with just being boiled, but something as simple as grilling or roasting certainly brings out their flavour. You can then serve them with a fresh salsa or salsa verde.

There are lots of shapes and sizes of courgettes around these days, especially on farmers' markets – I even saw them being sold at my local car boot sale. It's not unusual to find them round, and in shades of yellow and green. But h owever they look, if prepared well they make for a great dish.

I understand why some people don't like courgettes, as they can be rather bland. But dishes like ratatouille and Provençal perk up their flavour – as, I hope, do the recipes I've put together today.

Grilled courgettes with cuttlefish and capers

Serves 4

I'm still campaigning to get more people eating cuttlefish: it's much better value than squid and I find it has a better flavour and texture.

2 courgettes, cut lengthways into ½cm slices
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
200-250g cleaned weight of cuttlefish
2tbsp capers, rinsed
A handful of Greek or normal basil

For the dressing

1 red or green chilli, finely chopped
2-3tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
The juice of half a lemon

Heat a ribbed griddle pan on a medium heat, lightly brush it with oil and cook the cuttlefish for about 30-40 seconds on each side – the tentacles will take twice as long if you are using them. Remove from the griddle and transfer the cuttlefish to a plate. Cook the courgettes on the same griddle for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until tender. Meanwhile, mix all of the ingredients for the dressing and season.

To serve, shred the cuttlefish into thin strips, then toss them in a bowl with the courgettes, capers and dressing. Arrange the whole thing on serving plates and scatter over the basil.

Fried duck's egg with courgette flowers

Serves 4

Courgette flowers are at their best for picking just as the sun rises: the flowers are fully opened, making them great for deep frying. Recently in Dorset I made myself this dish, as I only have one courgette plant and I thought I should treat myself to the first flower. The crispness of the savoury-battered flower is great with a duck egg, creating a simple but luxurious breakfast offering.

4 large courgette flowers
60-70g self-raising flour
100-120ml ice cold water
20-30g finely grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
4 ducks' eggs

To make the batter, slowly whisk the water into a bowl of flour until you have a smooth consistency. Add salt, pepper and the Parmesan and give it a final whisk.

Meanwhile, heat some vegetable oil to 160-180C in a deep-fat fryer or heavy-based saucepan (but no more than half full). Test the oil by dropping in a little batter. If it browns after a minute or so, then it's ready. Dip the flowers into the batter and cook them 3 or 4 at a time for a couple of minutes, until they are crisp and lightly golden. Remove the courgette flowers from the oil with a slotted spoon and put on a plate with some kitchen paper on it; lightly season with salt.

Gently fry the ducks' eggs for a couple of minutes in some vegetable oil, then place on warmed serving plates, arranged with the courgette flowers.

Shaved courgette, fennel and red onion salad

Serves 4

Freshly picked courgettes sliced into thin slivers and eaten raw may not seem the obvious way to serve this vegetable, but combined with just a few other simple ingredients it works a treat.

Julian Biggs, my right-hand man, came up with this little gem of a salad to utilise the fresh courgettes we get in to our restaurants from suppliers around the country.

2 medium courgettes
1 young head of fennel
1 medium red onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

For the dressing

The juice and grated zest of half a lemon
1tbsp cider vinegar
4-5tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, cut the courgettes lengthways as thinly as possible. Halve the fennel and remove the root. Slice the fennel as thinly as possible and mix in a bowl with the courgettes and red onion. Mix all of the ingredients for the dressing, then toss the vegetables in and season. Leave for 8-10 minutes, then serve. Be sure not to leave them much longer, or the courgettes will go soggy.

Spiced courgette fritters

Serves 4-6

These are based on onion bhajis and the spice mixture really perks up the vegetable. Serve with a chutney such as mango or lime pickle – or with a minted yogurt dip.

Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
2-3 courgettes, shredded into matchstick-like lengths
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp black mustard seeds
½tsp ground turmeric
1tbsp chopped coriander
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp gram (chickpea) flour
3tbsp self-raising flour (or gluten free)
Cold water to mix

Mix all of the ingredients together for the fritters and mix in enough water to make a light batter; season.

Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Using a tablespoon, drop a spoonful of the mixture into the fat as a tester – when it turns nice and golden add the prepared courgettes.

Move them around in the pan with a slotted spoon for a minute or so until golden, then transfer on to some kitchen paper. If the first one or two you remove from the pan seem a little stodgy, you can add more water to adjust the consistency. Serve them immediately.

Visit Lyme Regis on 7 & 8 Sept for Food Rocks for the RNLI; demonstrations by chefs including Angela Hartnett and Mark Hix. No entrance fee; restaurantsetcltd.co.uk/foodrocks

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