JULIE BIUSO

Whether you call them zuc­chini or cour­gettes, there are so many ways to en­joy th­ese sum­mer squashes – even its flow­ers are a sea­sonal de­light.

Dish - Everyday Dish - - Contents -

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.

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