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

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