Courgette antipasto rolls

Italian antipasto courgette rolls 1
I’m already hankering after summer. This recipe is an ode to hot summers days and dinner in the garden and holidaying abroad. It’s not at all seasonal, but I had to satisfy my cravings for summer somehow, and if I can’t hop on a plane I can certainly track down some sunshine flavours from lands far hotter than this one. The recipe is from BBC Good Food, with just a few changes of my own – the addition of red chilli for a spicy kick and lemon zest instead of juice for ultra-lemony flavour (plus, this dish seems wet enough without adding more liquid). I also find their quantities a bit odd – if you use 4 courgettes you’ll end up with rather a lot more rolls than 24!

This is the ideal bite-size canapé. We had ours with glasses of Prosecco, as nibbles before the main event of homemade pizzas, but they would work really well as part of a big antipasto platter. Buy some good quality cheese and meats, put out bowls of olives and marinated artichokes and a basket of fresh bread, and you’ll have yourself the perfect sharing starter, if not a meal in itself.
Ingredients for Italian courgette rolls
Ingredients (makes between 25-35 small rolls)
25g pine nuts
250g ricotta
1 small red chilli, seeds removed and flesh finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
1 small bunch of basil, finely chopped
2 small courgettes
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Put the pine nuts into a dry frying pan and turn on a low heat. Keep an eye on the pine nuts, stirring with a wooden spoon, as they can catch and burn in the blink of an eye.
Toasting pine nuts for Italian courgette rolls
You’ll know when to remove them from the heat as they will turn dark brown and you will be able smell the nutty oils in the air. Set aside to cool for later.
Toasted pine nuts for Italian courgette rolls
2. Add the finely chopped chilli and the lemon zest to the ricotta and mix well.
Adding lemon zest and finely chopped red chilli to ricotta
3. Stir through the chopped basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Adding chopped basil to the ricotta
Refrigerate the mixture until you are ready to stuff the courgettes.

4. Thinly slice the courgettes – to achieve super thin slices that will roll easily use a mandolin or simply a speed peeler.
Two small courgettes for Italian courgette rolls
Thinly slicing the courgettes with a vegetable peeler
5. Pour a little oil and balsamic vinegar onto a large plate (or two) and spread out the courgette slices.
Oil and balsamic vinegar for marinaging the courgette slices
Season with salt and pepper. You can now leave the courgette slices to marinade in the fridge until you are ready to roll.
Thinly sliced courgette marinading in oil and balsamic vinegar
6. Shortly before serving, mix the toasted pine nuts through the ricotta mixture.
Seasoning the courgette stuffing mix
Stuff the courgette by scooping a teaspoon of the ricotta onto one end of each slice. Roll and place carefully onto your serving plate.
Rolling the courgette slices with the ricotta mixture
These should be eaten soon after they have been rolled, but the ricotta mixture and the courgette slices will happily sit in the fridge for 5 or 6 hours if you’re one who likes to get ahead.
Italian antipasto courgette rolls 2
Serve with a refreshing Italian white wine, or some bubbly if you’re celebrating! Turn away from the snow outside the window, close your eyes, pop one in your mouth and imagine that the sun is beating down on your face. It’s almost like you’re in Italy! Almost.
Italian antipasto courgette rolls 3

Stuffed courgettes

Stuffed courgettes with tomatoes, basil and parmesan
Courgette season is still very much underway, as was evidenced by the gigantic courgette that my dad brought home from his allotment this week. With a glut of regular-sized courgettes already in the house, he offered this vegetable goliath to me, and of course I gladly accepted. Such a magnificent beast needed a fitting recipe, and keeping it (essentially) whole seemed like a nice way to cook it.

This recipe was inspired by a dish that lovely friends of ours made at a dinner party a couple of years ago. I didn’t have the exact recipe to hand, so this is a loose interpretation of the original incarnation, but I remembered the inside of the courgette being stuffed back into the filling, I remembered tomatoes being invited to the party, and I remembered two types of cheeses going in there. Let’s be honest, I mainly remembered the two types of cheese. Then garlic had to be added, as it is to basically all of our food in this household, and then a few herbs which work well with both courgettes and tomatoes made an appearance too. Although it may have deviated from the initial recipe we ate a few years ago, I’m very pleased with the results: a vibrant, vegetarian* dish packed with summery tastes.
*Excuse the parmesan! Use a substitute if you’re very strictly veggie.
Ingredients for vegetarian stuffed courgettes
Ingredients (serves 2 as a main course, or 4-6 as a starter)
1 very large courgette
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
Small handful basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 mozzarella balls
Small handful grated parmesan
Salt and pepper
Good quality olive oil

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6.
2. Halve the courgette lengthways, so that both halves can sit steadily cut-side up. Use a spoon to scoop out the soft flesh, leaving at least 1-2cm of skin around the outside, but don’t throw away the insides – roughly chop the flesh and place in a large bowl.
Scooping the flesh out the courgette and leaving aside for stuffing later
3. Use a pastry brush to spread a thin layer of oil on both the outside and the inside of the cut out courgette. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper and place on a large baking tray.
Oiling and seasoning the courgette skins ready for stuffing
4. Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and chop into small pieces. Add to the courgette flesh, along with the oregano, thyme and chopped garlic and basil. Mix well.
Ingredients for the courgette  stuffing
Stuffing for the courgettes
5. Chop the mozzarella into small cubes and stir through the stuffing, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.
Chopped mozzarella for courgette stuffing
Courgette stuffing with mozzarella added
6. Pack the stuffing inside the courgette skins – don’t be afraid to pile this high, as it will melt and sink in the oven.
Stuffing the courgette skins
Stuffing the courgette skins
7. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and drizzle with a little extra olive oil.
Topping the stuffed courgettes with parmesan
8. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the skins are tender and the stuffing is golden brown. Cooking times will depend on the size of your courgettes – if your vegetables aren’t quite as giant as this one was then reduce the cooking time by at least 10 minutes (baby courgettes will need as little as 8-10 minutes in the oven).
Stuffed courgettes
We had these as a vegetarian main course, served with some paprika-spiced sweet potato wedges, but this is a great dish to have as a starter. Find some mini courgettes at the shop and serve up one per person for a cute and tasty start to a late-summer meal.
Stuffed courgette served with sweet potato wedges
What’s your favourite way to cook courgettes? Grilled, stuffed, sautéed…?

Fennel and Courgette Salad

Courgette and fennel salad  topped with fennel fronds and red chilli
We’re finishing off Salad Week with a vegetable that is very much in the love-hate category for most people. If you love fennel, then you are definitely going to love this salad and will take no convincing to try making it. However, even if you think you dislike fennel, I’m going to try to persuade you to give this recipe a go anyway. I used to despise fennel – I found the flavour of cooked fennel overwhelming and just couldn’t understand how anyone could enjoy it. Then I discovered Jamie Oliver’s raw fennel and radish salad and suddenly I saw the light. Raw fennel is crisp, sweet and juicy. It still has a strong aniseed flavour, but somehow this worked for me in its fresh, raw form. After a few years of enjoying raw fennel in salads, I now find myself liking cooked fennel in certain dishes – particularly with white fish. I’m on the path to fennel enlightenment.

In my mind, this is a perfect way to get on board with fennel. The intense vegetable can stand up to the chilli heat and zesty lemon, and the courgette adds a sweet mellow flavour. If you really can’t stand fennel, but want a similar salad then substitute it for a bunch of raw asparagus sliced into thin shavings with a speed peeler. Or just double up on the courgette quantities, especially if you can get your hands on both green and yellow courgettes for a burst of colour.
Ingredients for courgette and fennel salad
Ingredients
1 medium courgette
2 small fennel bulbs
A few sprigs of mint
1 red chilli
1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Slice the courgette into thin ribbons. You can do this with a sharp knife if you have the patience and don’t want the thinnest possible slices, but the easiest way to achieve ribbons is with a speed peeler. You can also use a mandolin or the slicer attachment on a food processor, if you have those. Place in a large bowl.
Thinly slicing the courgette with a speed peeler
Thin ribbons of courgette for a courgette and fennel salad
2. Remove the fennel tops (keeping the fronds for decoration) and the bases. Thinly slice with a knife (or again with a mandolin or food processor if you wish) and add to the courgette.
Thinly slicing the fennel for a raw salad
3. Finely chop the leaves from the mint sprigs. Slice the chilli thinly on the diagonal. It’s a good idea to try a small piece of your chilli first to find out how hot it is – I used about half of the chilli shown.
Chilli and mint for a courgette and fennel salad
4. Add the chilli and mint to the vegetables along with the zest from one lemon. Mix thoroughly, adding the juice from half the lemon and the olive oil. Season to taste and place in the fridge to chill for half an hour or more.
Seasoning the courgette and fennel salad with lemon zest, chilli and mint
Mixing the ingredients for courgette and fennel salad
5. Once chilled give the salad another mix up and transfer to your serving bowl. Top with some of the delicate fennel tops and some extra sliced chilli.
Courgette and fennel salad topped with fennel fronds and sliced red chilli
This salad is very versatile. We had it with steak, chips and a large glass of red wine, but it would be perfect served with some grilled chicken or fish and chilled white wine.
Courgette and fennel salad served with steak, chips and red wine
How do you feel about fennel? Have you always loved it, grown to like it or is it firmly on the hate list? Might this recipe change your mind….?