Salad days are here again: Yotam Ottolenghi’s courgette recipes (2024)

I love food to look beautiful. With vegetables, in particular, it can be just the natural colour that gets me: the pink-through-white in a stick of rhubarb, say, or the spray of purple on an artichoke. The way a vegetable is cooked can work a similar magic: the black lines on a slice of chargrilled aubergine or butternut squash look stunning, as do black poppy seeds scattered through a cucumber salad, pink peppercorns mixed into aïoli, fried slices of red chilli and garlic on broccoli.

But the most exacting trial I put any recipe through is whether or not it passes my Very Delicious test. Like most people for whom English is a second language, I have a few stock phrases that I’ve made my own – even if they’re not quite grammatically correct. “Absolutely lovely”, I gather, is fine, as is “very tasty”, but the word “delicious” allows no room for improvement (my research tells me it’s a non-gradable adjective); so I’m all-too aware that describing something as “very delicious” is a bit OTT. It’s my phrase, though, and one that makes perfect sense to me; I have no plans to drop it any time soon.

Some of the most very-delicious dishes, however, are the least beautiful. I’m not sure what the correct grammatical term for that is, but I do know the dish that exemplifies this contradiction above all others: stuffed courgettes. Over the years, I’ve cooked, eaten and written about stuffed courgettes in many different guises, and they rarely make the grade under the glare of the camera. The long cooking time required, as the vegetables stuffed with rice, spices and herbs swell in their braising stock, turns that once-vibrant green skin dull and that once-firm flesh limp. The taste, on the other hand, is knockout level, and if anything it’s even better the day after, especially when served with some minty yoghurt.

If you want your courgette dish to pass both the Very Delicious and the looks tests, there are all sorts of things you can do to make it more attractive. I’m too much of a pasta-head to embrace the spiralising trend, which involves passing courgettes through a sharp blade and turning them into “courgetti”, but what do I know? The craze has taken off, with supermarkets reporting a huge rise in courgette sales.

For me, courgettes are gorgeous just as they are, in – for example – a simple salad of thinly shaved raw strips tossed in olive oil, and served with a sharp green leaf such as sorrel, parmesan shavings and toasted pistachios. Or roasted whole, the smoky flesh scooped out and used as a dramatic dip. I’m not sure there is anything that scores higher on the beauty front than courgette flowers, all yellow and billowy, stuffed with ricotta, dipped in a light batter and quickly fried, served as they are or on top of a vegetable pie. Beautiful and very, very delicious.

Chargrilled courgette and sorrel salad

Emphatic proof, if any were needed, of the beauty that chargrilling lends to courgettes. Serves four to six.

90ml olive oil
40g capers, drained and patted dry with kitchen paper
20g pine nuts
5 medium courgettes (a mix of green and yellow, if you can find them), trimmed and sliced on the diagonal into 1cm slices
Salt and black pepper
20g parmesan, shaved

For the salsa
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
10g tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
30g sorrel, shredded

Pour two-thirds of the oil into a small saucepan and put on a high heat. Once hot, add the capers and fry for about two minutes, until they have opened up. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the capers to a plate lined with kitchen paper. Add the pine nuts to the pan, fry for 15-20 seconds, until just turning golden-brown, and add to the capers. Discard the oil.

Put a ridged griddle pan on a high heat (ventilate your kitchen). Put the courgette slices in a bowl with the remaining olive oil, a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, and mix to coat. Grill in batches for about 90 seconds in total, turning once halfway through so both sides get dark char marks but the courgettes retain a bite. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the rest.

Put all the salsa ingredients in a small bowl, stir to combine, then toss into the courgettes. Spread on a platter, sprinkle over the capers, pine nuts and parmesan, and serve warm or at room temperature

Steamed courgette with garlic and oregano

Best made with young, tender courgettes, this dish works just fine with regular-sized ones, too. I love the final flourish of thinly sliced raw garlic, but if that’s a bit too much for your tastes, fry it with the oregano at the end. These make a simple and delicate starter, or as part of a meze. Serves four.

800g young courgettes, trimmed
Coarse sea salt

250ml chicken stock
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced paper-thin
20 sprigs fresh oregano
2 tbsp olive oil

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. If the courgettes are very small, keep them whole, otherwise cut them in half lengthways. Lay the courgettes cut side up in a high-sided ceramic baking dish (about 27cm x 22cm) in which they’ll sit quite snugly. Sprinkle over three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and set aside.

Pour the stock into a small saucepan with half the garlic and half the oregano sprigs. Bring to a boil, then pour the hot stock all over the courgettes. Cover the dish tightly with a layer of aluminium foil and bake for 45 minutes, until the courgettes are very soft, then set aside to cool a little.

Pick the leaves from the remaining oregano sprigs and discard the stems. In a small frying pan, heat the oil on a medium-high heat and, once good and hot and shimmering, fry the leaves for 90 or so seconds, until they start to crisp up, then tip into a small bowl.

When you are ready to serve, lift the courgettes out of the warm stock and arrange them on a serving platter or on smaller individual plates. Scatter the crisp oregano leaves over the courgettes, pour over the oregano oil, too, then sprinkle on half a teaspoon of salt and the remaining slices of raw garlic, and serve at immediately.

Salad days are here again: Yotam Ottolenghi’s courgette recipes (1)

Courgette and ciabatta frittata

This is my current weekend breakfast egg dish of choice. It’s light, fluffy and comforting (not least because the bread is soaked in milk and cream before it goes into the mix). Serve this with a mixed herb and bitter leaf salad, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, and perhaps a few chunks of feta. Don’t waste the ciabatta crusts: blitz them into breadcrumbs and freeze – they keep really well. Serves six.

500g ciabatta, crusts removed and roughly torn (about 250g net)
200ml milk
200ml double cream
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
¾ tsp cumin
80g parmesan, finely grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium courgettes, washed and coarsely grated
25g basil leaves, torn
2 tbsp olive oil

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Mix the ciabatta, milk and cream in a bowl, cover and set aside for 30 minutes, to give the torn bread time to absorb most of the liquid.

In a large bowl, mix the garlic, eggs, cumin, 50g parmesan, three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt and a quarter-teaspoon of ground pepper. Tip in the contents of the bread bowl, then stir in the courgette and basil.

Heat a 20cm x 25cm baking dish in the oven for five minutes. Remove, brush all over with oil, to grease, then pour in the courgette mixture. Level out the top, bake for 20 minutes, then sprinkle over the remaining parmesan. Bake for 20-25 minutes longer, until the frittata is golden-brown on top and cooked through (test by inserting a knife into the centre – it should come out clean). Set aside to rest for five minutes, then serve.

Salad days are here again: Yotam Ottolenghi’s courgette recipes (2024)
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