16 July 2014

Courgette, mint and chive salad

Courgette plants are one of the behemoths of the vegetable plot - huge spiny-leaved monsters, which produce an abundance of tasty fruits. I usually forget how large they grow, and for some reason lost in the mists of spring, this year I planted four plants, which seem to be rapidly taking over my small veg plot. The courgette is however a very versatile vegetable, which can be used in a myriad of ways. I could eat them nearly every day, and frankly with four plants probably will have to over the next few months.

Courgettes (or zucchini) are relatively easy to grow. They come in a number of varieties beyond the dark green variety usually found in the shops: bright yellow, light green and round ones (tonde) are all available. There are also a whole host of other squashes out there, but that's a topic for another day.

In Southern England I usually plant the seeds in pots in a cold frame in mid April. They can be planted out in mid-May, once all risk of frost has passed.  At this point they are vulnerable to slug attack, so watch out. The plants put on growth rapidly, and the first courgettes can be picked in late June/early July. They produce fruit at a great pace throughout high summer and into September. They slow down with the onset of autumnal weather, but will carry on fruiting until the first frost. I have often picked them well into October.

Apart from the ability to grow some more unusual varieties, the great bonus of growing your own courgettes is that you get lots of courgette flowers (which, if you can find them at all in the shops, are always expensive to buy) and that you can pick the courgettes when they are very small. In early July when the plants are relatively young, I find that they produce a lot of fruit, but can't develop all of them to a large size, so it is a good idea to use some of them when small.

Baby courgettes are delicious raw, and have a mild, creamy flavour. The salad recipe below uses both raw baby courgettes and the flowers, and I think it has a lovely fresh summery flavour. If you don't grow your own courgettes, you could make this with shop-bought courgettes: just use the youngest, shiniest courgettes you can find. As with all salad recipes, what follows is more of a suggestion than a rigid recipe. It works well as a starter or a side salad. If you want to make it more substantial you could add in feta or ricotta and some toasted pine nuts.

Courgette, mint and chive salad

Courgette, mint and chive salad

(serves 4)

1 red cos lettuce. An oakleaf lettuce would also work nicely
3 or 4 small courgettes (about 3-4 inches long)
6 courgette flowers, or as many as you can muster
a small handful of mint
10 chives

for the dressing
1 tbsp raspberry (or white wine) vinegar
1/2 tsp plain dijon mustard
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a very small pinch of sea salt

To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a jam jar and shake to emulsify.

Wash and dry the salad ingredients.

Carefully slice the courgettes lengthwise into thin slices. If you are all cheffy and have a mandolin, use that.

Cut the courgettes flowers in half lengthwise. Check that they are clean inside (slugs do occasionally crawl inside the flowers).

Pick the mint leaves from the stalks.

Cut the chives into batons.

Combine the salad ingredients, add the dressing and toss. Arrange the salad so it looks pretty. Serve.

Other recipes using courgettes on this site are: stuffed courgette flowers, grilled courgettes preserved under oil, plum chutney, piccalilli and tagliatelle with courgette, tomato and mozzarella.

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