Last week we had some friends visiting, and while we helped them put up their tent, someone snuck into our house and left a huge marrow*. I figured I knew who it was – last year our neighbour Ann brought us three courgettes, with a total combined weight of over 6 kilos. Let that register for a minute: six kilos. That’s over 12 pounds. For just three courgettes.
“We didn’t go into the garden for a few days,” she said, by way of explanation.
I went back out to the tent to report Ann’s gift to everyone, and our newly arrived friends said, “Oh, we put it there. It’s from David’s mum’s garden.” Ahh, Now we’re getting overgrown courgettes from 200 miles away. What people won’t do to get rid of these things!
What I wonder is, why does anyone ever plant more than one courgette plant? We don’t have a vegetable garden, and yet we are never short of courgettes, thanks to everyone else’s zeal for planting these things. I think I can understand; once winter is over and the ground is warm, it’s easy to get a little giddy with the idea of fresh produce and things growing and so much abundance! But the reality is that once the courgettes start growing, there’s no stopping them, and it takes heroic efforts to keep up.
At the college, we were given about 40 kilos of marrows from a neighbouring farm – this on top of the courgettes we are already growing! We’ve been trying to use them all up, but I have to confess that if one is even a little bit dodgy, I have no hesitation in popping it into the Ridan.
At home, because we don’t have our own glut of courgettes, I actually make use of the ones we are gifted. Dave’s mum’s courgette found its way into this pasta dish, but even though I used over a kilo, I still had over 600g left to use!
Courgettes. The gift that keeps on giving.
* apparently marrow are not just overgrown courgettes (who knew?), but it seems to me that they are similar enough to use them interchangeably.
Courgette Pasta with Breadcrumbs
(Inspired by a recipe from Bob Andrew of Riverford Field Kitchen)
Serves 7-8 people
Because of the number of steps, this recipe seems complicated, but it is actually pretty easy. One factor is that the courgettes require some time to cook down, so that enables you to do the rest of the prep at a relaxed rate.
In addition to using up lots of courgettes, this recipe also makes use of one of my favourite ingredients: breadcrumbs! Toasted with the anchovies and garlic, they add an extra burst of flavour to the sauce. and could replace the cheese entirely, if you’re so inclined. If you don’t fancy anchovies, you can omit them from the crumbs, but unless you have an allergy or moral restriction, I urge you to give them a try like this. They disappear into the sauce and add a lovely, deep note. That said, this is a very good dish without them!
- 1k courgettes (or slightly more marrow)
- ¼ cup olive oil + 1 TB for breadcrumbs
- ¼ tsp chilli flakes
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp freshly cracked pepper
- 3 anchovies (optional, but I suggest you use them – they’re so good!)
- 4 cloves garlic (3 chopped, 1 puréed and kept separate)
- 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (or a heal of stale bread to make them)
- 450g fusilli pasta
- fine zest of one lemon
- parmigiano cheese (as much as you like, but 120g would be adequate)
If you are using a marrow, cut it lengthwise into long thin wedges, and then slice or scoop off the seeds and discard them. If you are using average-sized courgettes, cut them in half lengthwise – you shouldn’t need to worry about the seeds, as they are likely to be very small.
For both preparations, continue by thinly slicing the vegetable cross-wise, so that you end up having manageable, bite-sized slices.
Heat the olive oil on medium-to-low heat in a large skillet, and then add the courgette and ½ tsp of salt. Cook this for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure that all the pieces are getting their share of heat and that it’s not sticking.
While the courgette is cooking, grate the bread (on the coarse grate of a box grater or in a food processor). Set aside. (Omit this step if you already have the breadcrumbs!)
Chop the anchovies. In a frying pan that is big enough to later hold the breadcrumbs, heat 1 TB of olive oil and add the chopped anchovies, cooking and stirring until they are slightly dissolved. Stir in the pureed garlic until combined, then add the fresh breadcrumbs. Stir the breadcrumbs around frequently; they need some time at the bottom of the pan to get a nice golden colour, but if they stay there too long, you will end up with burnt toast crumbs. When the colour is right, remove them from the heat and set aside.
After the courgettes have been wilting away for 20 minutes, stir in the sliced garlic and cook for another 20 minutes at the same low heat.
After the first 10 minutes, put 4 quarts of water in a large pot over high heat. When it has come to the boil, add 1-2 tablespoons of salt* and wait for it to come back to the boil. Stir in the fusilli and let the water come back to the boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is almost done how you like it.
Drain the pasta (reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water) and add it to the courgettes, stirring so that all the pasta is coated with the sauce. If it seems a bit dry, add some of the pasta water to the pan. Cook until the pasta is done, then stir in the lemon zest and top with the breadcrumbs.
Serve with freshly grated parmigiano cheese. Repeat until courgette season is over.
*Apparently adding salt to the water before it comes to the boil can cause pitting in the stainless steel of the pot. Adding it after the water has boiled does not have the same effect because boiling water lacks the oxygen necessary for the chemical reaction. And of course, you want to salt the water because it flavours the pasta!