A Risotto of Courgettes? Zucchini? Baby Marrows?

Recipes kindly sponsored by Flahavan’s

I suppose we should say zucchini, otherwise it all gets rather too multicultural for comfort. I find it sets my teeth on edge when I hear people in These Islands refer to zucchini or eggplant. Unless, of course they are Americans who are on holiday. Actually, I’m going to stick with courgette, okay?

Anyway, those who grow their own courgettes (and they are amongst the easiest of vegetable crops) sometimes become enslaved by them. Such is nature’s bounty that they feel obliged to wade through oceans of the things and eat as many as possible, making chutney with the rest. There is no pleasure in this.

I long ago refused to be cowed by my courgette plants. They are there to provide me and my family with pleasure and nurture and if they overstep the mark and start dominating our Summer diet I put them firmly in their place: the compost heap.

Courgettes, depending on your point of view, have either little or no flavour, or a hauntingly subtle one. Actually, I believe that most varieties are just a source of texture, a kind of vehicle for real flavours, in something like the same way as tofu. Some, however, do have a subtle and rather delicate character that is enhanced with lemon and butter, perhaps even a suggestion of garlic. Courgette flowers, once the reproductive bits have been nipped out (try not to think of it in those terms or you may wince as you geld them), are one of the best excuses for eating tempura batter.

As to which courgette variety is which, when considered within these parameters, I’m afraid I have no idea. I tend to grow a new version each year and just hope for the best. But I do know that any round varieties I’ve tried have been actively unpleasant.

Courgettes are best eaten when they are in infancy; once they get to the vegetable equivalent of teenagerdom, they lose their fresh, youthful charm (and also start to accommodate a lot of water).

This is my latest culinary excursion in their company. So youthful were the courgettes on this occasion that they were about the size of my middle finger.  I can’t say how this recipe will work out using anything bigger but I’m sure it won’t be as good.

Credit where credit is due. The basis for this recipe is by Anna del Conte, one of the authorities on Italian cooking to whom I regularly turn; the others are Valentina Harris (particularly good on risotto) and the late Marcella Hazan.

Here goes…

Lemon and Courgette Risotto

1.3 litres chicken stock
olive oil
100g finely chopped onion
50g finely chopped celery
10g finely chopped garlic
300g arborio rice
juice and zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
4 – 6 finely sliced baby courgettes
1 ½ tsp finely chopped fresh sage
1 tsp finely chopped fresh French tarragon
60g grated Parmesan
100ml double cream
1 free range egg yolk
more butter
more grated Parmesan

You will need to keep the stock simmering, so get that sorted before you take a large pan and in it melt together some butter and olive oil.

Add the onion, celery and garlic, turn down the heat and cook very gently until softened. Now add the rice, turn up the heat and mix together until each of the grains is glistening.

Well, you know what comes next. You add the stock, ladle by ladle, until either it has all been absorbed or until the rice is almost cooked, whichever is the sooner. If the former, revert to hot water in the absence of stock. And, of course, you keep stirring the whole time.

But, there’s a twist here. When the rice is almost cooked, i.e. still has a little chalkiness in the centre of each grain, stir in the lemon juice and zest, followed by the courgettes and the herbs and cook for a further two minutes during which whisk together the Parmesan, the cream and the egg yolk. Remove from the heat and stir this mixture through the risotto. If you like (and I do), add a knob of butter at this stage. Cover and leave for two minutes.

Serve the risotto in warm bowls with lots of extra Parmesan for shaking over.