This recipe, like so many good ones that end up becoming staples, came about through me seeing what was in the fridge and making the best of it. Like many in lockdown all over the country, we've been growing courgettes in our garden again this year, though they have been a bit tardy compared to many people's, and we've just begun to harvest them.
I took a few while they were baby-sized, about the length and thickness of my middle finger, when they are sweet and tender and even the remnant of stem is deliciously edible. Halved lengthwise and griddled they stay firm, and when drizzled with good oil or a dressing while still fresh from the pan they soak up everything while retaining their character. It's the ideal way to cook them, because they don't go soggy.
From what I hear, most of my gardening friends are contending with wonderful courgettes gorged on the mixture of sun and rain we've been having, with one or two reporting marrow-sized beasts that seemed to wait until their gardeners' backs were turned before swelling into monsters almost overnight! This recipe makes the best of these verdant veg and is perfect for a summer lunchtime or a starter at dinner. It can be scaled up easily enough to feed a gathering and served alongside a piece of grilled chicken or simply cooked salmon or tuna it makes a fine main meal and one for the sunshine.
(serves 4 as a starter or accompaniment, or two as a main)
- 2 courgettes, cut into about 1cm square batons (or can buy baby courgettes: they look and taste beautiful in this recipe, simply halved lengthwise before griddling)
- 1 large red or yellow (or half of each) pepper, deseeded and cut into large dice
- 1 tbsp olive oil for frying
- 75g Feta cheese, crumbled into chunks (soft goat's cheese or goat's curd, or a spoonful or two of cream cheese, work well too)
- Zest and juice of half a lemon (use the other half on the plate for diners to squeeze over if they like)
- Handful of basil leaves (you could use mint or fresh thyme also)
- 30g flaked almonds
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
- Put a frying pan over a moderate heat. Once hot, add the almond flakes to the hot, dry pan and toast them, tossing occasionally to spread them and turn them. It will only take a few minutes so keep a watchful eye on them. Take them off the heat and remove from the pan as soon as they are just turning golden brown.
- Heat a griddle pan until smoking hot. Lay the courgette batons or halved baby courgettes on the griddle pan cut side down and gently press them on to the ridges. Then leave them, don't move them around, and let them char for a couple of minutes or so, then turn them and do the same so that both sides get griddle marks. You can do this on a barbecue, but they'll need hawk-like watching unless the coals are not at their hottest. You don't want them to dry out. If you have neither a griddle pan nor a barbecue, use a sizzling hot frying pan, and very lightly oil it, and fry the courgettes until they brown.
- Wipe the frying pan you used to toast the almond flakes clean of nut fragments (just trying to save you washing up) and return it to the heat. Add the tablespoon of olive oil, let it get hot and then add the diced pepper. Toss or stir them to coat them in oil and then let them fry until they soften a little, just a few minutes as you want them to retain some texture. Spoon them out of the pan and into a bowl.
- Once the courgette batons or halves have griddled so that they are nicely marked but not dried out, spoon them into the bowl with the peppers. While they are still warm drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, squeeze in the lemon juice and add the lemon zest. Toss together well.
- Crumble the Feta, or whatever cheese you have chosen, into the vegetables and mix gently. If, however, you are using cream cheese don't add it at this point but wait until you are nearly ready to serve.
- Add ¾ of the toasted almond flakes. Tear the basil leaves into pieces and add those to the bowl and gently toss again.
- Pile the mixture onto plates or into bowls. It's at this point that I'd advise spooning on cream cheese if you're using that instead of Feta (quenelles of cream cheese are easy to do with two spoons, and they look good here perched on top of the courgettes). Scatter over a few more almond flakes, add a wedge of lemon to each serving, and season with some salt and pepper, but remember that Feta is salty if that is what you are using. Flakes of sea salt work best for their crunch and pretty, crystalline look. Serve with some crusty bread or chunks of focaccia.
The tangy cheese, peppers and tender green courgettes will work very nicely indeed with a zesty white wine, perhaps a sauvignon like the fruity Spy Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or the subtler poised Cheverny, Domaine du Salvard. Delightful too would be the floral Camel Valley Bacchus, Cornwall, or the citrusy, gentle The Society's English White 2019. A more robust and peachy but fresh pairing is the Greco Basilicata Le Ralle, Alovini, while the fragrant charms of the The Society's Greek White will suit the Feta beautifully if you use it. For a perfect summer's day pairing try the refreshing Umanu Rosé, Ile de Beauté, Vignerons Corsicans or finesse of the Côtes de Provence Rosé L'Echappé Belle, Mas de Cadenet. For a red match look to lightness, perhaps in the form of the juicy easy-going Cantoiseau Rouge, Vin de France or exuberant red fruit of Gamay, Jacques Dépagneux, Vin de France, both of which will be delicious served chilled here.