Those of you who are able to grow your own vegetables at home will know all about the blessing and burden of bumper crops. In summer, courgettes (zucchini) and other squash varieties are often the biggest culprits and most gardeners that I know are always looking for ways to use them up. Recently I was lucky to be given two enormous button squash by a lovely work colleague who was drowning in excess vegetables. In sympathy, I challenged myself to expand my repertoire of courgette dishes and find three new recipes to try and share.
These gorgeous golden orbs first sat in my fridge for a couple of days where the sight of them conjured memories of a garden that I once grew. At the time I had spent several years nurturing herbs in pots and dreaming about rows of vegetables growing lushly in the sun. My grandfathers were a primary influence as both of them had grown spectacular produce at home: one in his urban backyard and the other in the rural valley of my childhood. My memories of the urban garden centred on Cape Gooseberries and the novelty of peeling paper lanterns from the bright orange fruit within. The rural garden was more rustic and was associated with bucketloads of crisp green beans and enormous pumpkins with pale grey skins.
When I decided to create my own garden, I read every book I could find. I planted seeds in trays and prepared the ground while they sprouted, digging horse manure and compost deep into the soil. I planted everything that I liked best – sweetcorn, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, aubergine, capsicums, carrots, lettuce, and of course, courgette (zucchini). Almost everything thrived and I began to eat the most amazing simple dinners of fresh, boiled vegetables topped with butter, salt and pepper. It was idyllic until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t.
In hindsight I had bitten off far more than I could chew. My garden was too large and I hadn’t factored in the incessant workload of weeding, watering and tying things up. In my inexperience I had planted everything too close together and many plants weakened from lack of light. Overnight, a thousand green beetles hatched and began to suck the life out of the plants that remained. I was ideologically committed to gardening organically; therefore I resisted sprays in favour of squashing the beetles by hand. Alas, after a few days away I returned to find that a thousand beetles had become a million and the whole garden was practically sucked dry.
Such is the life and death drama of growing your own food! Still, it was hard to be philosophical when I had invested so much energy in the project. Life got busier, I went back to a few herbs in backyard pots, and a few years later we moved to Australia into an apartment with a tiny balcony. Urban living has huge benefits for me at this time of my life, but I’m a country girl at heart and the dream of dirt under my fingernails still has a tight grip on my soul. I know that I’ll have a garden again one day (next time I’ll start small!), but until then I’ll live vicariously through those who do.
This post is for all of you gardeners out there with too many courgettes/zucchini/squash on your hands this summer. The button squash that I used had effectively ripened into what my grandfathers would have called marrow. The seeds were large and tough but I scooped these out and the remaining flesh was perfectly tender and worked very well in these recipes. The first recipe is for the most delightfully creamy, lemony fritters. The second is for a special courgette bread, which – bizarrely – uses curry powder to add an exotic and mysterious flavour. My squash were so large that even after making these two recipes I still had half a squash left! I used it in a third recipe (see here) but it’s not quite up to sharing yet. Enjoy!
Courgette & Ricotta Fritters
2 medium courgette (zucchini) (about 400grams total), coarsely shredded
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 large spring onions, sliced thinly
1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese (recipe here)
2 large eggs
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
Olive oil, for frying
To serve: Lemon wedges
In a large bowl, combine the grated courgette, garlic, spring onions, ricotta, eggs, lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper. Stir together and then mix in the flour just until incorporated. Check the seasonings and add a little more salt if needed.
In a large frying pan, heat a spoonful or two of olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering spoon the batter into the pan, spreading them gently to form fritters about 8-10cm in diameter. Once the bottoms have become brown and crisp, flip over gently and cook on the other side. Drain the fritters on a plate lined with paper towels. The fritters are best served hot, with lemon wedges, but they are almost as good served cold with a green salad and sliced avocado.
Special Spiced Courgette Bread
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans
1/3 cup poppy seeds
zest of two lemons, finely grated
1/2 cup crystallised ginger, finely chopped
3 cups courgette (zucchini), skins on, shredded (about 3 medium)
3 cups flour (I used 1 1/2 plain flour and 1 1/2 wholemeal flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp curry powder or ras el hanout (optional)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 175°C/350°F. Line two loaf tins with baking paper and butter the ends.
In a medium bowl combine the walnuts, poppy seeds, lemon zest, and chopped ginger. Set aside.
Shred the courgette. Squeeze out some of the moisture by pressing handfuls of the vegetable between your two palms. Measure the required amount and then place the courgette into a bowl, fluffing it up to separate the strands. Set aside.
In another medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and optional curry powder, whisking together to combine and aerate. Set aside.
Beat the butter until fluffy using an electric cake mixer. Add the sugars and beat again to cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Using a spatula, stir in the vanilla and then the grated courgette.
Add the flour and spice mixture to the wet ingredients in two batches, stirring between each addition until just incorporated. Gently fold in the nuts, poppy seeds, lemon zest, and crystallised ginger mixture. Avoid over-mixing the batter.
Divide the batter equally between the two loaf pans and smooth out the surface of the cakes. Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for about ten minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. The loaves will keep fresh in an airtight container for three or four days. Alternatively, slice the loaves and store in the freezer for up to one month.