Zucchini Time

A courgette tastes of the sun and makes for a perfectly simple summer supper. They are their best from June to September, so we should be making the most of them right now.

I love courgettes just simply sautéed in olive oil but they are extremely versatile and can be cooked in so many different ways.
Choose small courgettes that are firm to touch with a glossy, unblemished skin. Avoid soft, squishy courgettes. They do not need peeling. Slice off each end and prepare as recipe directs. It's best not to boil, as they will become mushy and lose their flavour. Try courgettes sliced thinly and eaten raw, cooked on a griddle, in a stir-fry, Stuffed or fried in a light batter as chips.

The origin of the courgette is not entirely clear. It was not widely eaten in Europe before the twentieth century and some sources claim that it was developed from the squash, first brought to Europe from the Americas during Christopher Columbus' crusades. Squash have been cultivated in Central America for more than five thousand years and courgettes play a prominent role in Mexican cuisine today. They have a deep green skin with firm pale flesh and have a high water content and are low in calories. They are a good source of folate, potassium, and vitamins A and C.

My favourite Spanish recipe for courgettes is Pisto Manchego. It is sometimes served as a side dish or garnish to grilled fish and roast lamb. This humble dish originated in La Mancha where it was possibly cooked by peasants where vegetable crops are easily accessible to them. Though a lot might say that this is just another variation of the Ratatouille, it is not and the distinguishing ingredient are the eggs specially when prepared with a sunny side up the runny egg yolks is a good combination with the flavours of the vegetables giving it a creamy consistency.

As all the summer vegetables ripen towards their nutrient-packed peak, pisto is an easy and delicious for a casual Spanish meal. The addition of Chorizo slices makes it more robust, but vegetarians can always leave that out and add a little more pimentón [smoked paprika] for flavour. Que Aroveche!

Pisto Manchego

Ingredients serves 2

4 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, halved and chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp crushed dried chillies
300g aubergine, cut into 2cm pieces
200g courgettes, cut into 2cm pieces
400g skinned, chopped tomatoes, fresh or tinned
2 large free-range eggs
pinch of hot pimentón (or normal paprika)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and red pepper, cover and cook gently for seven minutes until lightly golden. Uncover, stir in the garlic, cumin and chillies, and cook for one minute. Stir in the aubergine, cover and cook for four minutes; stir in the courgettes, season and cook another four minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, 150ml of water and the seasoning. Simmer for seven minutes until all the veg is tender and the sauce has thickened slightly.
Break the eggs on top and sprinkle with some pimentón. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer gently until the eggs are set to your liking. Serve with fresh crusty bread.

Chargrilled courgette with basil, mint, chilli and lemon

Ingredients serves 4-6

6 courgettes, cut into long strips
2tbsp olive oil
1 fresh red chilli, seeded & finely chopped
juice of half a lemon
20 mint leaves, chopped
20 basil leaves, chopped
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Toss the courgette strips in a bowl with the olive oil (just enough to coat the courgette), chilli, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a ridged grill pan until smoking hot and griddle the courgettes in batches, about four minutes per side, being careful not to crowd the grill pan. They should be tender, but with a crunch to them in the middle. If the strips are not quite cooked, leave them on the grill pan for longer, but watch the heat as you don't want them to burn. Don't be tempted to move the courgette while it is cooking or you won't get the chargrill marks across the flesh. Drain on kitchen paper.
Toss the griddled courgettes in the lemon juice, mint, basil and little virgin olive oil.