Courgettes are one of the many vegetables that are in season during August. Unlike most of our seasonal crops though, courgettes are relative newcomers. Although popular in Italy and France, up until the 1950s, courgettes were something of a rarity in Britain. The only summer squash most people were familiar with was the marrow. Courgettes were practically unheard of. For the few in the know, they were a luxury item that needed to be imported from France. Then along came Elizabeth David with her inspiring recipes and evocative stories of life in the Mediterranean. Suddenly, courgettes were very much in demand. So, Poupart’s, who were market gardeners based in Walton-on-Thames, decided to fill the gap in the market and became the very first British producer to grow courgettes commercially. Nowadays courgettes are so much a part of our summer cuisine that it barely seems possible they were virtually unheard of only a few decades ago.
Sliced courgettes are delicious gently fried in olive oil with a little crushed garlic and lemon zest - either served as an accompaniment or stirred through pasta. Thinly sliced lengthways they are ideal for griddling or as a substitute for pasta in lasagne. Chunks of courgettes drizzled with oil and roasted in the oven make a change from serving them steamed or boiled. The round courgettes in particular, lend themselves to being filled with a meat, vegetable or rice based stuffing and baked. For an alternative to onion bhajis, replace some of the onion with coarsely grated courgette. If you grow your own courgettes, invariably you’ll end up with a glut, no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Chutney is a great way of getting down a pile of courgettes, as is soup and the Mediterranean classic, ratatouille, both of which can be frozen to use later in the year. Raw courgettes make a refreshing crunchy summer salad - I've been making a courgette, lemon & tarragon salad this summer. You can even use finely grated courgettes in muffins, cakes and brownies - Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood has a wide selection of lovely courgette based cake recipes. Finally, there’s the courgette flowers which are also edible. Dip them in tempura batter, as they are and then deep fry or stuff the flowers with a cheesy stuffing before battering and frying.
Courgettes are easy to grow, either in the garden or in containers. Sow the seeds in modules or pots from late March. Push the seeds in on their sides, not flat, to prevent them rotting. When the plants are ready to plant out, plant them in well manured ground and space well apart. In dry weather, they need to be kept well watered. Keep harvesting regularly otherwise the courgettes will very quickly become as large as marrows. Recommended green varieties include Parthenon F1 which is self pollinating, Primula and Tuscany. Romanesco is a green courgette with characteristic ridges and Pin Stripe has dark and pale green stripes. Soleil F1 is a reliable yellow variety and eight ball (green), one ball (yellow) and summer ball (orange), as the names suggest are all globe shaped courgettes.