Remember- today is the last day to get your barbecue and braai recipes to me by for the Braai, the Beloved Country event to celebrate South Africa's Heritage Day this month!
And to be fair, courgettes have a bit of a head start in the rude vegetable stakes!
This seems to be the time of year that everyone who grows courgettes (that's zucchini to my non-British readers!) is positively drowning in them and can't get enough of ideas to use them up. When I planted my plants in the late spring, I had visions of me and Nick being buried under a mountain of courgettes. But it was not to be. Powdery mildew attacked the leaves; the fledgeling courgettes would start to swell at the stem end and rot at the tip simultaneously. It was carnage. But two courgettes seemed impervious to the depredations of powdery mildew and grew. And swelled. And grew. And swelled. And GREW!
[phew - is it just me or is it hot in here?!]
Moving rapidly along.
So I ended up with one that was approximately the length of a cucumber but with a disturbing kink at one end, like an umbrella handle; and the other a little shorter but with the girth of your average coffee mug. Say no more.
The problem (disturbing visuals aside!) with courgettes when they get to this size is that their flesh gets a little watery and tastless, so there was no point in my using these monsters in a salad or lightly sautéed. Instead I decided to use their impressive size to my advantage and make stuffed courgettes. Obviously there is a lot of scope for experimentation and creativity with the filling, but I went for a rich tomatoey minced beef sauce, topped with cheese and crispy breadcrumbs. The good thing about the slow-simmered sauce is that you can actually hide a lot of vegetables in it – perfect for fussy kids (or grown-ups!) who don't want their greens. Served with some brown rice and a salad, it's a quick, easy and tasty midweek meal.
COURGETTES STUFFED WITH BEEF MINCE (serves 4)
2 large marrows/zucchini/courgettes – the bigger the better
600g beef (or pork) mince
1 large onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 x 410g tin of chopped tomatoes
50ml red wine
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
a handful of fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
salt and pepper
Grated cheese of your choice (I used cheddar)
Cut each courgette in half lengthways. Using a grapefruit spoon or melon baller, scoop out all the pips and enough of the flesh to make a substantial trench down the centre of the courgette and reserve the flesh. Make sure you leave enough of a shell that it does not collapse when you stuff it! I also cut my hollowed courgettes in half to make them a more manageable size but this is optional.
Make the sauce first. Heat about 2 Tbsp oil in a large frying pan. Add the onions and garlic and fry until beginning to brown. Add the mince and stir vigorously to break up any clumps.
While the mince is frying, dice the flesh that you removed from the courgettes, and when the mince is browned all over, add the courgette flesh to the pan. Continue to cook until the courgette flesh softens and starts to release water.
Add the chopped tomatoes, the tomato paste, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and the red wine and stir until mixed well. Turn the heat down to medium low, cover and allow to simmer.
Steam (or microwave) the courgette shells until starting to soften, but not soggy. Pre-heat the oven to 190C.
After about 10 minutes, check on the sauce – if there is too much liquid, remove the pan lid and increase the temperature (but watch that it does not burn!). When the sauce has reached the right consistency, stir in the basil, check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as required.
Place the courgette shells on a baking sheet and spoon enough of the mixture into each to slightly overfill the central trenches. Top each with grated cheese, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and place in the pre-heated oven. When the cheese is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are beginning to brown, remove from oven and serve immediately.