August is the time of courgette gluts! Once they get going, you can pick one a day from some plants, and this regular picking can keep them cropping over many months. But what to do with so many, that’s the question?
- Eat them raw in salads while young and fresh
- Cook them with and in your main dishes
- Use them in baking to make delicious, moist cakes and breads
- Freeze them to use in winter and spring when you need a touch of summer
- Save the seeds to sow next year from April to June
- Give the fresh courgettes and seeds to friends and neighbours, so they can enjoy them too
Why grow and eat courgettes if you haven’t so far? That’s simple to answer. As part of the marrow family, they are easy to grow and very useful in all sorts of dishes, main courses, cakes and breads. Healthwise, they’re an excellent source of
- Vitamin A (important for eyesight, your immune system, organ functioning and reproduction),
- Vitamin C (keeps cells healthy, maintains healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage, and helps with wound healing) and
- Vitamin E (good for your immune system, eyesight and an antioxidant which helps cells fight off infection)
Like other veg, there are lots of varieties – green, orange, yellow, striped, round, long, U-shaped. You sow the seeds outdoors May or June and harvest in late July through to September. Some courgette plants are very heavy croppers and it’s a job thinking of what to do with them all, once your family and neighbours start refusing to accept any more!
The great thing is that with a delicate flavour and lots of ways to cook them, you can incorporate them into your meals easily as they absorb flavours from other ingredients.
They are also easy to freeze if you’ve got a glut. Just chop up them up into thick slices and freeze in bags. They will keep for many months, and when you fetch them out of the freezer, you can roast them from frozen!
If you pick them young – under 20 cm in length – try eating them raw. Mature ones can reach a metre in length and are very heavy and fibrous: these are good for roasting, baking, stuffing and will help you create moist, nutritious breads and cakes. See the Desserts section for loaves and cakes made using courgettes.
Whatever their size, they are good for adding vegetables and fibre to meat or mixed vegetable stews.
How to cook
You can eat many varieties of young courgettes raw (under 20 cm), when the seeds are still soft and immature. For salads, slice them unpeeled, or do shavings or grated courgettes. and unpeeled in salads, or quickly cook them in butter or oil.
Lightly cook or steam them for hot salads (as in Thai or Vietnamese recipes), or have them sautéed, fried or roasted. If you roast them, cook them with other vegetables with a high water content like aubergines or on their own, but not with potatoes.
Quickly cook the barely wet slices of unpeeled courgette in butter or olive oil, with or without fresh herbs. This allows the fruit to partially boil and steam, with the juices concentrated in the final moments of frying when the water has gone, prior to serving.
More mature courgettes can be prepared using a variety of cooking techniques, including steamed, boiled, grilled, stuffed and baked, barbecued, fried, or incorporated in other recipes such as souffles.
For adventurous cooks, many countries in Europe, the Middle East and Americas have dishes featuring courgettes. Try googling Zucchini (the Italian name used in the USA for courgettes) as well as Courgette and see what comes up.
Here’s some national and regional dishes you could try:
Bulgaria: Fried courgettes are served with a dip, made from yogurt, garlic, and dill. Oven-baked courgettes—sliced or grated—are covered with a mixture of eggs, yogurt, flour, and dill.
France: Courgettes are a key ingredient in ratatouille, a stew of summer fruits and vegetables prepared in olive oil and cooked for an extended time over low heat. Serve as a side dish or on its own at lunch with bread.
Courgettes may be stuffed with meat or with other fruits such as tomatoes or bell peppers in a dish called courgette farcie (stuffed courgettes).
Italy: Courgettes are served in a variety of ways: fried, baked, boiled, or deep fried, alone or in combination with other ingredients. At home and in some restaurants, it is possible to eat the flowers, as well, deep-fried, known as fiori di zucca.
Greece: Courgettes are usually fried or stewed with other fruits (often green chili peppers and aubergine). This dish is served as an hors d’œuvre or as a main dish, especially during fasting seasons. Courgettes are also stuffed with minced meat, rice, and herbs and served with avgolemono sauce. In some parts of Greece, the flowers of the plant are stuffed with white cheese, usually feta or mizithra cheese, or with a mixture of rice, herbs, and occasionally minced meat. They are then deep-fried or baked in the oven with tomato sauce.
Russia and Ukraine: Courgettes are usually coated in flour or semolina and then fried or baked in vegetable oil, served with sour cream.
Turkey: Courgettes are the main ingredient in the popular dish mücver, or “Courgettes pancakes”, made from shredded courgettes, flour, and eggs, lightly fried in olive oil and eaten with yogurt. They are also often used in kebabs along with various meats. The flowers are also used in a cold dish, where they are stuffed with a rice mix with various spices and nuts and stewed.
Levantine countries: Courgettes are used in stews or stuffed with minced meat and rice plus herbs and spices. The dish, called محشي (mahshi), is then boiled in tomato based sauce, commonly cooked with ورق دوالي (warak dwali; stuffed grape leaves)
Egypt: Courgettes may be cooked with tomato sauce, garlic, and onions
Mexico: the flower (known as flor de calabaza) is often cooked in soups or used as a filling for quesadillas. The fruit is used in stews, soups (i.e. caldo de res, de pollo, or de pescado, mole de olla, etc.) and other preparations. The flower, as well as the fruit, is eaten often throughout Latin America.
Here’s an easy and delicious vegetarian dish with a summery taste – best with young courgettes, cooked for a short time so they still have some bite to them, complemented by the lemon, mint and cheese flavours.
Lemony courgette linguine
Cooks in 15 minutes Serves 2
150 g dried linguine – or other pasta
½ a bunch of fresh mint (15g)
30 g Parmesan cheese
Optional extras: garlic, baby kale
- Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions, then drain, reserving a mugful of cooking water.
- Meanwhile, slice the courgettes lengthways, then again into long matchsticks with good knife skills. Place a large non-stick frying pan on a medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then add the courgettes. Cook for 4 minutes, tossing regularly, while you finely slice the mint leaves, then stir them into the pan.
- Toss the drained pasta into the courgette pan with a splash of reserved cooking water. Finely grate in most of the Parmesan and a little lemon zest, squeeze in all the juice, toss well, then taste and season with salt and black pepper.
- Dish up, finely grate over the remaining Parmesan and drizzle with 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil before tucking in.