Whether you call them zucchini or courgettes, there are so many ways to enjoy these summer squashes – even its flowers are a seasonal delight.
In season: zucchini
There’s nothing cuter in the vegetable world than a baby zucchini with a sunshine yellow blossom attached. Finger-length and immature, served lightly steamed with a drizzle of oil or spoonful of burnt butter, they’re sensational. But unless you are a home gardener with an abundance of zucchini plants, you’ll likely only find them at farmers’ markets, and you’ll pay a pretty penny.
First-time zucchini growers feel disappointed if all they get is a bunch of blossoms and no zucchini. But these blossoms (male flowers) are a prized item. If you only have one or two at a time, finely chop the yellow part of the leaves and scatter on top of a salad. Sliced and floated on top of a seafood broth, or scattered over a creamy dish of pasta – delicious with peas and fresh tarragon – are other ways to use the flowers, or chop and add to a simple frittata.
But perhaps they are best stuffed and fried. Use ricotta as a base and add chopped basil, chives, marjoram or thyme, chopped black olives or capers, or squished anchovies, a little chopped prosciutto or flaked crab meat, golden sultanas or pine nuts, and freshly grated parmesan cheese, nutmeg and lemon zest to flavour. Keep the filling light and don’t over-fill the flowers or the stuffing will burst out. Press leaves together to seal, give a gentle twist at the top, then dunk in a tempura or thin batter and fry in hot oil until golden. These are best eaten as soon as they come out of the pan. The flowers should be picked in the morning while open (if closed, you’ll need to cut them open for stuffing). Soak in water to encourage critters to exit, shake dry, then remove stamens and pistils. They are delicate. Wrap loosely in paper towels, pop in a plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to prepare (they’ll keep up to 2 days). Small, taut zucchini don’t need cooking, but they do like dressing. Slice into discs, or peel lengthways into strips, and marinate in extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice or wine vinegar, garlic and whatever else you care to add (herbs, lemon zest, preserved lemon, mustard). Serve on their own as a salad, or in burgers, or spoon on top of pan-fried fish. Fritters are a good home for mature zucchini (around 14cm). Grate coarsely, transfer to a colander and rub through salt to help draw out moisture. Drain for 30 minutes, then wring out excess moisture. Add to your favourite fritter mixture. We don’t all have a garden bursting with produce though, so to the market we must go. Look for firm, glossy-skinned zucchini. Avoid any that feel soft or spongy. Wrap loosely in paper towels and transfer to an unsealed plastic bag and store in the vegetable crisper. Use soon after purchase because they are not keepers. It doesn’t matter whether you call them zucchini or courgettes – they are small marrow. The Italians began marketing immature marrows in the 1920s and called them zucchini, meaning “little gourd”. The French followed in the 1930s and also named them little gourd – courgette. In English we use both, but as the Italians got in first, I am sticking to zucchini.