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Courgettes: how to slice, dice and grow them

PUBLISHED: 15:15 12 September 2016 | UPDATED: 15:15 12 September 2016

Courgettes for Tim Maddams column

Courgettes for Tim Maddams column

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Don't run away from neighbours offering you buckets of courgettes; instead, embrace the summer glut, says chef Tim Maddams

If like me you are somewhat shoddy on the horticulture front you may be labouring under the impression that you can’t grow anything. Believe me, you can definitely grow one thing: courgettes. Get a couple of plug plants from the local garden centre, chuck a load of grass cuttings in the bottom half of an old dustbin, top up with peat free organic compost, stick the plants in, keep the slugs off and away you go. There are only two issues the courgette grower is likely to encounter: 1 powdery mildew and 2 far too many courgettes. A little diluted milk sprayed over the leaves will sort the former, but the latter requires a little more thought.

Firstly, you cannot do with an old courgette what you can do with a younger one and vice versa, though both have their perfect uses and there are quite a few in between stages too. The first thing I would say is fill your boots on the young ones as much as you like. I love them when they’re about five inches long with the flower still fresh at the end. I often just slice these fresh little beauties, including the flowers, into 10p coin thick slices, then dress the whole shebang with some lemon and olive oil, add a little fresh chopped fennel frond and season well before serving up as a side or garnish to another dish. The same will be very tasty tossed through some fresh pasta with a little garlic in there to warm things up.

Once the plants begin to get ahead of you things very quickly get out of hand. Even if you don’t grow your own you will know when this happens as people will begin accosting you at the school gates, on the drive, over the fence and even at the pub, demanding that you take the fantastic gift of a couple of kilos of homegrown courgettes off their hands. They are doing you a favour, honestly.

Courgettes of a medium size that are still quite young and very fresh make excellent curry and are even good grated into cake mix the same as you might a carrot for a carrot cake and various themes on these recipes can be found online. I am a big fan of a courgette ‘pakora’ or spicy fritter and often resort to this method for using up a glut. Simply make up a nice spicy mixture of gram flour, black onion seeds, turmeric, chilli flakes, ground cumin and coriander and away you go.

The best ever in the whole world thing you can do with courgettes though is to slice them up, lots of them, often a kilo or two at a time and in a very large casserole-type pan get them going with more olive oil than you think can possibly be healthy. Add a good tablespoon of chopped garlic, and a teaspoon or so each of chopped thyme and rosemary. Cook this out on the stove for at least an hour. It will look as though it has gone wrong. It will turn to mush. It will break your heart and argue with everything you think you know about cooking veg, then, slowly, it will make you fall in love. Adding salt and pepper or a few chilli flakes if you prefer will cement the relationship and before you know it you will be singing the praises of slow cooked courgettes to all your friends and actively seeking out those folk with too many courgettes rather than attempting to blank them or hiding behind the sofa when you see them coming up the road.

Served warm on toast or with pasta they really love a bit of mint and a touch of cheese. They can be cooled and used as a sandwich filling or even add a couple of beaten eggs and bake in the oven for a very fine courgette frittata.

So many ideas, so little time, yet so many courgettes. Enjoy.

Former head chef at River Cottage, Tim is a private chef, author, teacher, presenter and founder of Hall and Hearty rural supper club scheme. timmaddams.com

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