The Incredible Shrinking Zucchini
What you see here are two overgrown courgettes (zucchini) weighing over a kilo each. They are two out of four, all the same weight, that I picked from my allotment yesterday. The other two, used in their entirety, I magically reduced into what you see on the plate.
I kid you not. I didn’t have my camera at the ready to go through the process at the time, but I promise, those two mammoths were reduced to a fraction of their original mass.
In the world of homegrown veg, size really isn’t everything. Anyone who is growing courgettes in their garden will be aware of this perennial conundrum. “What on earth can I do with all those enormous courgettes?” (often referred to as marrows once larger than your forearm.) You grow too many plants, the late-summer foliage gets prolific, the baby ones emerge overnight and then hide from you (I think cutting them when they are the girth of an unripe banana is best for flavour) and before you know it, you’ve got several obscene baseball bat-sized specimens. Copious amounts of flavourless, watery vegetable matter does not a happy gourmande make. Stuff ‘em? - boooooring. Soup? - well, yes, but let’s face it, there’s only so much courgette soup one can feasibly eat. Compost? - yeah, great, why grow them in the first place then?
So this is my most successful solution for 2009: shrinking them in the oven, into what I call “courgette jerky”. OK, it’s nothing like dried meat, but it’s incredibly tasty and moreish and restores the monsters to their sweet petite loveliness. I have been doing this over and over for the past few weeks. It takes hardly any effort, but does require lots of oven- and tray-space, and a bit of time at a slow temperature - all well worth it. Even my uber-carnivorous husband goes mad for it - in fact he coined the name.
Here’s how it’s done. (This is also worth doing with small ones.) Heat the oven to 150C / 300F. If the courgettes are exceedingly mature and have large seeds, halve the beast and scoop them out. Slice into very thin pieces - rectangles or discs or half-moons, whatever. Place in a bowl, then dribble oil over them (I used my current favourite, British cold pressed virgin rapeseed oil), just enough so they will get a light slick on each surface. Then use your hands to coat each slice. Add a tiny bit of salt and some freshly ground black pepper and toss again. Line several baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment (not greaseproof - they will stick) and lay the slices on them in a single layer. Cook until shrunken and dry but still pliable, and golden, about 45 minutes to an hour. Eat as a snack, add to salads, snip into pasta, bake in a gratin - the choice is yours. But I think you’ll find they get gobbled up just as they are.