Ask Peter: Courgettes
I am pre-empting my usual glut of courgettes and the sighs as they are served on the dinner plate night after night. I incorporate them into cakes, pies and breads where I can but find they can be quite watery and make things mushy. Should I be salting or doing something else to them to reduce moisture before cooking? Megan
Courgettes are a delicious, versatile vegetable and you’re obviously used to making them suit all sorts of dishes.
The worst courgettes are those that have had too much watering before ripening. The best courgettes are really tight and firm, which means the flavour will be more intense and the texture great for all sorts of things.
Rather like a grape vine that is doused with rain before the fruit is picked — which ultimately leads to a dilution of flavour — waterlogged veges also lose their flavour. I remember many years ago reading a restaurant review of London’s The River Cafe. The dish being described was a zucchini (the Italian word for courgette, which is French) carpaccio. I was shocked that it could even be considered a viable dish, as I’d often found zucchini just a little too bland. I headed off to my local vege man and explained how I couldn’t believe a thinly sliced zucchini would offer up much and he, being Italian, said I’d obviously bought mine from the supermarkets where they sold on weight, not always quality. He handed me a yellow zucchini and a green one and I took them home, topped and tailed them, peeled them into strips with a potato peeler and tossed with lemon juice and some gorgeous extra virgin olive oil I’d bought in Tuscany a few months earlier. I sprinkled on flaky salt and coarsely ground black pepper and served with shaved parmesan and was really and truly surprised that they could taste so good. This was my first foray into “less plump, more tasty”.
However, if you’re unable to make sure your courgettes are firm and concentrated in flavour, then squeezing out excess moisture is what you’ll need do for many recipes.
You can grate or slice them then salt and drain in a colander (after leaving for 10 minutes in a bowl which you keep tossing), but this does add a saltiness that you’ll need to consider in your recipe. Otherwise, coarsely grate or thinly slice them, place in a thin tea towel or Chux cloth and squeeze the moisture out. Adding this drained mixture to an omelette or frittata will make the finished dish less watery. With any recipe that includes grated courgettes as well as milk or other liquid, you can add the courgette liquid back to the recipe (allowing for extra saltiness) and you’ll be adding extra courgette flavour. Let’s assume you grate 3-4 courgettes and squeeze out the liquid to get 1 cup of grated courgettes. You might end up with 100ml courgette liquid. The recipe may call for 250ml milk. If you substitute 100ml of courgette liquid for 100ml milk, you’ll have near enough the same result — although the finished recipe will have less (dairy) fat in it which may make it less appealing. Using cream instead of milk will make the dairy content the same.
Likewise, when making bread, and you’re fermenting your yeast in tepid water, use the courgette juice, warmed slightly in extra warm water, for the same effect — it will give you more courgette flavour in the finished bread.
Do try to use different coloured courgettes to give differing results.
Yellow courgette muffins, with the addition of lots of shredded basil, will be quite different in appearance to muffins made of green courgettes with a little grated carrot and tarragon.
Lastly, lucky you for having a garden that will produce a glut of courgettes in the first place — if only everyone grew their own vegetables.
You’ll also be able to pick the flowers before they wilt and serve them stuffed and battered. Now that’s a whole different story!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.