I met a man the other day who told me he met a woman the other week who said that courgettes were the most boring vegetable and there was just nothing to be done for or with the things. The exchange between us was carried on in that air of bewilderment that someone could be so daft. All the more so because we were at the time staring at a courgette plant and looking forward to feasting on one or two of its fruit for dinner. First of the season, and as welcome now as the first asparagus was a few weeks back.
It would make you think, though, would it not? Well, we certainly gave it a good minute and a half of chin-rubbing, brow-furrowed concentration. The courgette, properly a highlight of the height of high summer, has long since become supermarket fodder. The kind of thing you buy to bulk out the oul’ stirfries all year round even though you don’t think much of it. It’s a common fate for a lot of vegetables, including the poor green bean, here partnering the courgette in a feisty salad.
Well, here’s the simple trick to giving back a bit of respect: give them up for six months; and pick or buy them incredibly fresh and of a size that suggests they have little or no seed inside. That’s the total sum of good advice on courgettes. After that, you can eat them raw, gently fried, seared and damn near burned, steamed, roasted and maybe even stewed. They love summer herbs and tomatoes, they love cheeses and nuts; and, for a seemingly delicate creature, they get on fierce well with spices of all kinds.
Here’s a salad to prove it. This is packed with flavour and spice, texture and richness, a good example of where you can go when you look at a fine specimen of a courgette and think “roast courgette with…” If you are so inclined, it would also like a sprinkling of fresh cheese, even a little feta.
10 fresh green or red chillies
200g fresh coriander
20 cardamom pods, finely ground
1 clove garlic
200ml olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices day old bread
100g puy lentils, cooked til just tender
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
400g small courgettes, halved lengthways
200g green beans, boiled briefly until just tender
½ fennel bulb, core removed, thinly sliced
50ml olive oil
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
juice of 1 lemon
To make the zhoug, blend the chillies, fresh coriander, cardamom, garlic and olive oil to get a green paste with a thickly pouring consistency.
Preheat the oven to 300f.
Stir the cumin seeds into the three tablespoons of olive oil. Cut the crusts off the bread and discard. Brush the bread lightly with the spiced olive oil and place it on a parchment lined oven tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the bread is crisp. Leave to cool, then break the bread into bite-size irregular pieces.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a wide pan over medium heat, add the red onion and fry for one minute until beginning to caramelise. Add the garlic and the lentils and half of the herbs. Fry for one minute more, then transfer the lentils to a large bowl, and season with salt.
Raise the oven temperature to 400f.
Put the halved courgettes in a bowl and add enough olive oil to coat them lightly. Season with salt and lay the courgettes on an oven tray. Roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until beginning to colour but still firm. Add to the lentils.
Stir in the green beans and fennel.
Whisk the 50mls of olive oil into the yoghurt, add the herbs and lemon juice, and gently stir this dressing into the salad.
Just before serving the salad, stir in some of the crispbreads. Divide the salad between plates and drizzle some zhoug around each portion.