stuffed courgettes

every year countless words are written by food journalists, writers and bloggers about the summer glut of courgettes and what to do with them. and it is true - there is a point in the summer calendar when you've had enough of them, however nice.

the truth is, courgettes are kinda bland. they either need to be fried, dipped in egg, griddled or grated in little patties, or paired with something that will impart sufficient flavour to them, like strong cheese.

the slightly bigger courgette - almost a marrow, really - can take being stuffed with meat and herbs and simmered in stock and tomato pure until it is pale green, soft and silky.

this is the treatment normally given to courgettes and marrows where i come from. in fact, this recipe is from my grandmother's cookery book, with a few minor modifications. i have eaten this countless times - it's the kind of thing your mum would make in advance and re-heat during the week. sometimes it's the peppers that get stuffed, or tomatoes, or onions. but i think i like courgettes best.

the original recipe calls for flour and rice but i have managed to eliminate both without much trouble. the rice is use to break up the meat so it doesn't end up in one big hard lump. i used ground almonds and whole pine nuts instead, which loosened the texture nicely. i also didn't chop the onions too finely for the same reason. the flour is used to thicken the sauce which i am not bothered about - i just reduced it until it was more concentrated.

the whole thing looks like it'd be hassle to make but it took no time at all and it tasted a lot better than you would think a combination of two basic ingredients would. i'd recommend leaving it in the fridge for a day.

for 2

2 very large courgettes or marrows, peeled
450g minced beef or half beef, half pork
2 onions, chopped finely (but not too finely)
1 egg
2tbs or more of finely chopped parsley
1tbs pine nuts
1tbs ground almonds
2tbs tomato pure
300ml chicken stock
olive oil

first, hollow out the courgettes with a little spoon or some other implement. i tend to use the veg peeler and it's slightly cylindrical shape makes it easier to get around the inside.

then, in a pan, lightly fry the onions in olive oil, the add the meat and brown. switch the heat off and leave to cool a little. add 1 egg, salt and pepper, the almonds and the pine nuts. stuff the courgettes with this mixture. use your hands and don't worry too much about bits falling out though try and pack the meat in as tightly as possible.

heat more oil in a deep pan and fry the courgettes carefully on all sides. i didn't bother waiting for them to go golden brown though i think that would look quite nice. add the stock and the tomato pure, season a little more, then leave to simmer until the courgettes are cooked. do check that there is enough liquid in the pan - the point is that they cook in stock rather than fry so add more stock or water if it looks a bit dry. or, you can use more stock as i did, then take the courgettes out at the end and reduce the sauce by boiling the stock vigorously for a few minutes.

the cooking should take 30-45 minutes - pierce with a knife to see if the flesh is completely soft. be quite gentle as you don't want them falling apart at this stage.

serve sprinkled with parsley, maybe with a dollop of creme fraiche.


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